Ethiopia Table of Contents
The EPLF, the TPLF, the EPDM, and the EPRDF were the most militarily significant opposition movements challenging the Mengistu regime in 1991. In addition, several other groups, composed mainly of ethnic Oromo, Afar, and Somali, were also active.
The Oromo, representing about 40 percent of the population, occupy areas in south and central Ethiopia that only became part of modern Ethiopia during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The people in these areas largely became tenants on their own land as the empire consolidated its rule. Many Oromo resented the alien rule of Amhara and Tigray from the highland core of the empire. Haile Selassie tried to win Oromo loyalty by developing alliances with key Oromo leaders. Although this strategy enabled the emperor to co-opt many Oromo into the imperial system, it failed to end Oromo resistance. Examples of this opposition to Addis Ababa included the Azebo-Raya revolt of 1928-30; the 1936 Oromo Independence Movement; and the establishment in 1965 of the Mecha-Tulema, an Oromo self-help organization.
From 1964 to 1970, a revolt in Bale presented the most serious challenge to the Ethiopian government. During that time, separate Oromo rebel groups in Bale conducted hit-and- run raids against military garrisons and police stations. Until 1969 the Somali government provided military assistance to these rebels as part of its strategy of reestablishing a "Greater Somalia." In addition, Oromo rebels attempted to coordinate their military activities with the Western Somali Liberation Front. After Mahammad Siad Barre took over the Somali government in 1969, the Oromo rebels lost Somali support and found it impossible to sustain their campaigns in southeastern Ethiopia. In 1970 the rebels agreed to a truce with the Haile Selassie regime.
In 1973 Oromo dissidents formed the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), an organization dedicated to the "total liberation of the entire Oromo nation from Ethiopian colonialism" (see The Oromo, ch. 5). The OLF began an offensive against the Ethiopian government in Harerge in 1974, but sustained activities did not begin until 1976. The OLF subsequently extended its sphere of activity to Welega.
Young, educated Oromo from Arsi initially composed the OLF leadership, but by 1976 the organization claimed a broadbased leadership with a following from all Oromo areas. Beyond national liberation, the OLF's program called for the establishment of an independent Democratic Republic of Oromia, which would include all of central and southern Ethiopia, excluding the Ogaden and Omo River regions.
In late 1989, the OLF had approximately 200 combatants in Harerge and about 5,000 in Welega. OLF troops were poorly armed and unable to pose a serious threat to the Ethiopian army. In addition, the OLF had been unable to mobilize popular support against the Ethiopian government. This failure resulted from the OLF's inability to organize an effective antigovernment movement, to convince the majority of Oromo people that separatism was a viable political alternative, or to sustain military operations in the geographically separated areas of Welega, Arsi, and Harerge. In spite of these difficulties, in 1989 the OLF announced several military successes against the Ethiopian armed forces, especially in Asosa, a town on the SudaneseEthiopian border.
On the political side, in February 1988 the OLF convened its first national congress at Begi in newly created Asosa Region. Apart from expressing support for the EPLF and the TPLF, the congress condemned the Mengistu regime and voiced opposition to the government's villagization and resettlement policies.
Data as of 1991