There’s a reason why “may you live in interesting times” is a curse.
Ethiopia in the mid-1970’s was one of the most interesting places in the world.
After the Derg, a shadowy committee of leftist officers, toppled the monarchy in 1974, factional violence between Ethiopia’s two main Marxist parties soon came to the fore.
It was as dirty as it sounds, “one of the most systematic uses of mass murder by the state ever witnessed in Africa” according to Human Rights Watch. This was the context of Mengistu’s most notorious public appearance, at an Addis Ababa rally later this same month of April 1977 when he theatrically smashed bottles of (apparently) blood while inciting his supporters against “enemies.”
Now that is red terror.
The Derg-MEISON alliance* built up Kebeles, small neighborhood militias — “essentially a matter of arming the lumpenproletariat against members of the urban intelligentsia,” writes Christopher Clapham.
But even these MEISON-allied goon squads were liable to run afoul of revolutionary justice if their indiscriminate mayhem failed to discriminate at the most essential moment.
On two occasions, March and again in May 1977, house-to-house searches were carried out in Addis Ababa, and suspected EPRP members rounded up for execution. Attempts by the EPRP to launch a school strike were likewise countered by the execution of students who failed to attend classes. The press regularly reported the execution of ‘anarchists’ and ‘paid assassins’. Along with the conflict between the rival political factions went the settling of personal scores, and gratuitous killings by psychotics on either side. The most notorious of these, Girma Kebede, was a Meison kebelle chairman in the Arat Kilo area of Addis Ababa, and the well-educated son of a former high official; he overreached himself by taking away for execution a group of ‘reactionaries’ from the Ministry of Education who included Mengistu’s uncle, and was then shot on the charge of seeking ‘to alienate the people from the Government and incite the broad masses against the revolution’.
On this date in 1977, Girma Kebede paid the forfeit. His, er, strategy of killing scores of humans to alienate the people from the government would take many more years and bodies to succeed.
* Later that year, the Derg-MEISON alliance also fell apart, Mengistu cemented his power, and MEISON got the same treatment it had once meted out to its EPRP enemies.