Four facts about Mengistu, the Ethiopian dictator who overthrew Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974

Mildred Europa Taylor Feb 15, 2021 at 11:06am

February 15, 2021 at 11:06 am | History

Mildred Europa Taylor

Mildred Europa Taylor | Head of Content

February 15, 2021 at 11:06 am | History

Mengistu took control of the government after the overthrow of Haile Selassie, and served as its Communist head of state from 1977 to 1991. (Fair use image)

Haile Selassie was the last emperor of the Solomonic Dynasty that ruled Ethiopia until September 12, 1974, when he was deposed at the age of 82. Haile Selassie, born Ras Tafari Makonnen, was everything from monarch to the returned messiah as believed by the Rastafari movement which reveres him as God incarnate. He was also the Chairperson of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) from 1963 to 1964 and 1966 to 1967.

But his reign in Ethiopia was cut short by the Soviet-backed Derg military regime. Mengistu Haile Mariam, a former Lieutenant Colonel in the Ethiopian Army, led the coup which ousted Emperor Haile Selassie from power. After Haile Selassie’s overthrow by the military following public discontent over economic inflation and low salaries, the emperor was placed under house arrest at the 4th Army Division in Addis Ababa and later imprisoned in a small apartment in his former palace, the Grand Palace. His imprisonment fatally ended after 11 months on August 28, 1975, when the state media reported that Haile Selassie had died the previous day after suffering from “respiratory failure following complications from a prostate operation”.

But many did not believe the story, and to date, it is widely believed that he was assassinated. Mengistu, who took control of the government after the overthrow of Haile Selassie, and served as its Communist head of state from 1977 to 1991, was accused of being behind the emperor’s death. Mengistu’s attempts to mold Ethiopia into a communist state threw it into a reign of terror instead, leading to the deaths of an estimated half a million people.

Here are some facts about the former Marxist-leaning leader, Mengistu, who was convicted of genocide in Ethiopia and remains in exile in Zimbabwe.

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