Ethiopia Table of Contents
Although volunteers made up a large part of the regular army, the government had to rely increasingly on conscripts to fill the lower ranks. In mid-1991 approximately 6 million Ethiopian males aged eighteen to thirty-two were eligible for military service. This number constituted an adequate source of personnel for the country's defense needs and in fact was more than the country could support logistically or train effectively.
Under the National Military Service Proclamation of May 1983, all Ethiopians aged eighteen to thirty were required to undergo six months' military training followed by two years' active service and assignment to reserve status until age fifty. In reality, the national call-up, which was administered by regional military commissars, was selective rather than universal. According to the conscription law, each peasant association or kebele was required to forward lists of eligible recruits to the Ministry of Internal Affairs military commissariat. The ministry then would issue call-up orders, after which the peasant associations were required to ensure that conscripts reported for duty.
The first two national call-ups occurred in May 1984 and January 1985. Each raised about 60,000 recruits. The armed forces used the first group mainly for back-up duties and the second for duty in Eritrea. The EPLF captured many soldiers belonging to the second group around the Nakfa front. The third national call-up, which sought to recruit 120,000 men, took place in December 1985. Growing public disaffection with the wars in northern Ethiopia manifested itself in popular resistance to the call-up. Many young men moved in with relatives outside the kebeles where they were registered. To prevent desertions, the government sent conscripts from Addis Ababa to training camps in outlying regions such as Kefa and Welega and transported Eritrean and Tigrayan recruits by air to Addis Ababa.
After the November 1986 national call-up, which also prompted widespread opposition, the Mengistu regime increasingly had to resort to force to satisfy military manpower requirements. In mid-1989, for example, armed press gangs often roamed the streets of Addis Ababa and other major cities looking for males as young as thirteen years old, or they held families at the local kebele office and then inducted their sons when family members went to the authorities to report their relatives missing. Parents who could afford to do so sent their sons abroad or to remote areas in Ethiopia where chances of escaping the call-up were greater.
A number of debilitating conditions, such as dietary deficiencies, endemic diseases, and illiteracy, often affected the quality of the available manpower. Despite these factors, the average soldier, with proper training and guidance, appeared capable of using modern equipment.
The ratio of officers to enlisted personnel was approximately one to twenty. Officers generally were committed to active service until they retired or were released from duty because of incapacity. Retirement benefits were modest, but officers received many perquisites, particularly in housing and transportation.
At the time of the 1974 overthrow of Haile Selassie, a generational cleavage existed between older, conservative field-grade officers and younger, better-trained, and increasingly radical officers who had joined the military in the 1950s and 1960s. Another factor in these differences was the variety of countries in which Ethiopian officers had been trained. By 1989 this problem had diminished, as an increasing number of officers had the shared experience of being trained by Soviet, East German, or Cuban military advisers. However, opposition to Mengistu and the wars in northern Ethiopia continued to cause cleavages throughout the armed forces.
The officer corps was composed largely of volunteers and included many who had risen from the enlisted ranks. Since the early 1950s, however, a significant proportion of officer candidates had been conscripted into military service for life (or until retired or physically incapacitated) from the upper levels of secondary school graduating classes and from among the most promising firstyear university students. Not all of those selected in this manner were suited for military life, and many resented not being allowed to pursue civilian careers. Prior to 1974, an estimated 10 percent of all Ethiopians educated beyond secondary school level were members of the armed forces.
The officers who were among the Derg's original members came largely from the junior-grade ranks. Although many subsequently received promotions to mid-level grades, rank alone did not necessarily indicate an officer's importance. Many lieutenants and captains, for example, received assignments to important government posts. Mengistu himself became a lieutenant colonel only in 1976. In early 1977, be became chairman of the Derg. Starting with Revolution Day 1979, however, he was referred to as "commander in chief." When he appeared in uniform as commander in chief, he wore shoulder insignia identical to those worn by field marshals of the old imperial army.
Up-to-date official information on the ethnic composition of the officer corps was not available in mid-1991. However, in the early 1970s about 65 percent of officers at the rank of lieutenant colonel and above were Amhara, whereas 20 percent were Oromo, the latter proportion having nearly doubled during the previous decade. Below lieutenant colonel, the percentage who were Amhara was 60 percent, while 30 percent were Oromo. Estimates published in the late 1970s suggested that 50 percent of the officer corps was Amhara, 20 percent Tigray, and 30 percent Oromo and Eritrean (see Ethiopia's Peoples, ch. 2).
Many enlisted personnel had joined the military because it offered steady, well-paid employment, service-connected benefits, and the opportunity for advancement. Others enlisted because they could not find suitable work in the cities. Basic pay for the lowest-ranking personnel in the armed forces equaled that of an experienced skilled worker in industry. In the late 1970s, the ethnic composition of the enlisted ranks in the army was about 33 percent Amhara, 33 percent Oromo, and 25 percent Tigray, with the remainder coming from other groups. The proportion of Eritreans serving in the air force and navy was greater than in the army, the result of better access to higher education, which made Eritreans more suited for technical training.
Data as of 1991
Ethiopia Table of Contents