THE end of the tyrannical Mengistu government in Ethiopia and the takeover of Addis Ababa, the capital, by rebel forces means things in Ethiopia are going to be messy for awhile. It would be nice if the utterly corrupt 17-year dictatorship of President Mengistu could suddenly be replaced by a sunny democracy, as Ethiopians in Addis Ababa tell Western reporters they want. But that development will take time and patience. Tensions are running high in the capital. A transitional government is forming. Rebels are holding student demonstrators and other disaffected people at bay. Last week thousands streamed through the newly occupied capital protesting what they call a ``betrayal'' or ``interference'' by the United States. They feel the US sold out to the rebels during last week's peace talks in London - a Washington-sponsored effort to create a coalition between the rebels and the old regime.
Ethiopians surely deserve fair treatment and a better government. But popular feeling in Addis Ababa ought to be examined a bit. The charge that US Assistant Secretary of State Herman Cohen ``fixed'' the London talks is a result either of bad information or disinformation - both of which are common in a Marxist culture. The idea that Mr. Cohen had great leverage strains credibility. More fanciful is the idea that Cohen and the US could have called in a UN force.
Accurate information is hard to come by. But it appears the Ethiopian army in Addis Ababa fell apart under increased rebel pressure. By the time the London meeting was held, in fact, the army was collapsing. The rebels, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) entered the city after it became clear that the Ethiopian army was becoming factional and violent. Chaos was imminent. The US didn't betray Addis Ababa; events overtook it.
Anti-rebel interests are rife in the capitol. Any EPRDF government is bound to be opposed by old Mengistu cronies. The secret police, for example, are expert at manipulating crowds. Also, the Amharic population has run Addis Ababa for decades; changes by the more egalitarian EPRDF will run counter to their interests.
Two needs in Addis Ababa:
First, the people of Ethiopia must get to know the various rebel groups - the Tigreans, the Oromos, and other EPRDF factions. Such groups have never been allowed a voice in Addis Ababa - a city that for the most part has been blissfully isolated from Ethiopia's epic violence and starvation. For years the rebels have been typecast by Mengistu's propaganda machine. Blaming the US is a cheap tactic. Public education is needed.
Second, Eritrea's push for independence must be acknowledged by all parties. Eritrea was unlawfully annexed by Haile Selassie. The US has correctly shifted policy to support an Eritrean referendum. If Ethiopia blocks such a vote, the fighting will continue. That would be a tragedy - something Ethiopia has had enough of.