Ethiopian Rulers Search for Stability
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA
A YOUNG soldier, wearing a travel-stained Army uniform, sits on the sidewalk with head bowed, cradling a dazed comrade in his arms. He strokes the cheek of his uniformed friend and feeds dry bread into his slowly chewing jowls.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
They are successful: While hundreds of other begging ex-soldiers in Ethiopia's capital go hungry, these two attract a crowd and win a small fortune in coins.
Almost half of Ethiopia's 500,000-man Army has been transported to their homes across the country in the last six months by the International Committee of the Red Cross, says Rainer Baudendistel, head of the ICRC delegation in Addis Ababa. It is the largest and fastest demobilization of an army in Africa; most of the soldiers now have nothing to do.
Some in Addis Ababa beg. At night, ex-soldiers - and the lack of a police force - make the capital the most dangerous it has been since a small guerrilla army overthrew the brutal regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam last May. On roads outside Addis, well-armed ex-soldiers have joined with bandits to ambush travelers. Reversing the violence
The threat posed by the country's more than 250,000 unemployed soldiers underlines the myriad difficulties faced by the Transitional Government of Ethiopia, a coalition headed by the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), after eight months in power.
Correcting the legacy of mismanagement and repression left by Mr. Mengistu's Marxist regime has stretched the EPRDF to its limits. Many demobilized ex-soldiers are well-armed.
"Guns are nothing new," a diplomat says. "In the last three years of the civil war, Mengistu threw guns at these people. A village would receive 100 guns and be told to 'defend yourselves
Ordnance is plentiful: Moscow Radio recently reported that Soviet military aid to Mengistu's regime totalled $13 billion.
Despite the security problem, the transitional government recently announced a bold new provincial map of Ethiopia based on ethnic divisions. After decades of being forced to bury their ethnic differences, Ethiopians will have some degree of regional autonomy according to their tribe.
The government has not published the new map because it fears violence.
"People are beginning to hate the EPRDF because it is dividing the country into ethnic groups," says a student here from the Amhara community. "People are not asking to be divided, and already in many places they are trying to reject other ethnic groups."
Amharas formed the ruling class when Emperor Haile Selassie and Mengistu were in power and now are the group most unhappy with the EPRDF.
"It is very possible that Ethiopia will break into ethnic clashes like Somalia, though people here are different and want to live together. The government is forcing them apart," the student adds. "The people genuinely want democratic leadership, not someone who will divide them."
The government's plan is a "high-risk strategy," says a Western diplomat here. "Success will depend on how genuine those groups are about running their own affairs, such as regional police, education, and tax systems. The balance of power between the center and the regions will be most important, and so far that is not at all clear."