1960 Ethiopian coup attempt

The 1960 Ethiopian coup attempt was an attempted coup d'état staged in the Ethiopian Empire on 13 December 1960.

The Council of the Revolution, four conspirators led by brothers Germame Neway and Brigadier General Mengistu Neway, commander of the Kebur Zabangna, sought to overthrow His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie during a state visit to install a progressive government. The coup leaders declared the beginning of a new government under the rule of Haile Selassie's eldest son, Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen, that would address the numerous economic and social problems Ethiopia faced. The Council gained control of most of the imperial capital city, Addis Ababa, and took several ministers and other important personages hostage. Initially successful, the majority of the military and populace quickly aligned against the coup, and by 17 December loyalists had regained control of Addis Ababa. At least 300 people were killed during the coup, including most of the conspirators.

The coup attempt is considered the most serious threat to Haile Selassie's rule between 1941 and his deposition in 1974 during the Ethiopian Revolution.[1]

1960 Ethiopian Coup Attempt
Part of the List of coups d'état and coups attempts
Date13–17 December 1960
Result Loyalist victory
Ethiopian Empire Emperor Haile Selassie loyalists

Ethiopian Empire Council of the Revolution

Commanders and leaders
Asrate Medhin Kassa
Mared Mangesha
Germame Neway
Mengistu Neway
Warqenah Gabayahu
Tsege Dibu


Germame Neway
Germame Neway

Germame Neway, widely seen as the motivator of the coup, was a high-ranking civil servant who was serving as a district governor in Ethiopia's provinces. Neway was a progressive and activist governor who was frustrated in his attempts to improve the standard of living of the subjects in the districts he was assigned to govern, and grew to resent the absolutist and feudal central government under Emperor Haile Selassie. When Neway had attempted to encourage the Oromo inhabitants of Wellamu to build roads, bridges, and schools, he was opposed by the local landlords who agitated for his replacement. Neway was then reassigned to Jijiga, where he "was immediately confronted with the abject poverty and underdevelopment of the region and with obvious signs of official neglect."[2] Concludes Bahru Zewde, "The obstruction he encountered even in these remote posts convinced him of the need for change, and he began to work with his brother to that end."[3]

Mengistu Neway
Mengistu Neway

Germame then managed to persuade his brother, Brigadier-General Mengistu Neway, that a successful military coup against the current government was feasible. Mengistu was vital to the success of Germame's plan because he commanded the Kebur Zabangna, the Emperor's imperial guard whose members were expected to follow orders without question, and had connections throughout the Ethiopian armed forces.[4] Two more important members, Colonel Warqenah Gabayahu, imperial Chief of Security, and Brigadier-General Tsege Dibu, the Commissioner of Police, were recruited to form a clandestine "Council of the Revolution", and the group began planning their move. According to Paul Henze, fearing that their plans had already leaked out, the conspirators rushed into action when the Emperor departed on a state visit to Brazil without sufficient planning.[5] According to the memoirs of John H. Spencer, Makonnen Habte-Wold had been seriously suspicious of Colonel Warqenah's activities two years prior to the attempted coup, and only five months before the conspirators acted Makonnen confided his renewed suspicions about both the Colonel as well as Brigadier-General Tsege to Spencer.[6]


On the evening of Tuesday, 13 December 1960, the group duped several Ministers of the Imperial Crown and other important political personages into coming to Guenete Leul Palace in the imperial capital, Addis Ababa, for an emergency meeting where they were taken hostage. At the same time, followers of Colonel Warqenah occupied the central bank, the radio station, and the Ministry of Finance. The Kebur Zabangna surrounded the other army bases in and around the capital.[7]

The next morning, after the members of the coup had secured control of most of Addis Ababa, Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen, who is generally regarded as having acted under duress, read a proclamation. This proclamation attacked Ethiopia's economic backwardness in relation to other African countries, announced the formation of a new government under the Crown Prince, and promised the start of a new era. In response, the students of Haile Selassie University demonstrated in support of the new government.

The leaders of the coup obviously expected this demonstration would convince the other branches of the military to join them. An uneasy 24 hours followed while the conspirators awaited developments. During this period Mangestu and his colleagues issued an 11-point programme of proposed reforms, and appointed as Prime Minister Ras Imru Haile Selassie and Major General Mulugeta Bulli, who was popular in the army, as Chief of Staff. Meanwhile, the loyalists within the military were able to come to a consensus on how to respond to this threat. (Clapham shows that the civilian leaders, who in previous coups that created new rulers of Ethiopia, had been effectively isolated from the military. Makonnen Habte-Wold, whose own intelligence network had uncovered this plot, was unable to do more than send frantic telegrams to his Emperor "until the coup took place and he was captured and shot."[8]) Dejazmach Asrate Medhin Kassa, Major General Mared Mangesha, and the other loyalists spent their time more usefully; they secured the support of the tank squadron and the Imperial Ethiopian Air Force, both stationed within reach of the capital, and made up their initial shortage of troops by airlifting about 1,000 loyal soldiers in from outlying provinces; they also issued leaflets signed by the Abuna of the Ethiopian Church, which condemned the rebels as anti-religious traitors and called for loyalty to Haile Selassie. These leaflets are believed to have had a great effect on the uncommitted.[9]

Fighting broke out in the afternoon of the next day. Heavily outnumbered, the rebels were slowly driven back. Many ordinary soldiers of the Kebur Zabangna, once they learned they were fighting against the Emperor, lost heart as they had been given to understand that they were fighting for him.[9] Once the fighting started, the inhabitants of the capital gave their support to the loyalists. Before abandoning the capital, Germame and the others turned their machine-guns on their hostages in Genetta Leul palace, killing 15 of them. The dead included not only Ras Abebe Aregai, the then Prime Minister, but also Makonnen Habte-Wold and Major General Mulugeta.[10]

General Tsege was killed in the fighting; Colonel Warqenah committed suicide.[11] Mengistu and Germame evaded capture until 24 December 1960 when they were surrounded by the army near Mojo. Rather than face capture, Germame committed suicide; Mengistu surrendered. He was publicly hanged in a church square a few months later. Germame's body was brought to Addis Ababa and hanged as well, as a manner of demonstrating the Emperor's resolve.[12] Official casualty figures state that at least 300 people were killed, many of them civilians caught in the street fighting; Christopher Clapham considers them "likely to be underestimates", noting in a footnote that The East African Standard in Nairobi, in what was then Kenya Colony, estimated about 2,000 dead and wounded in its 20 December 1960 story.[11]


Although Paul Henze asks the relevant question, "Was the 1960 coup the harbinger of the revolution of 1974?", he denies that there was a significant connection with his next sentence: "Only in a very general sense, if at all."[13] Henze emphasises the inside nature of the coup, how much of the population of Ethiopia was illiterate and had little awareness of events in the capital city. However, Henze admits that the threat to his rule caused a change in the Emperor's behaviour: after reorganising his government and appointing the Tsehafi Taezaz ('Minister of the Pen'), Aklilu Habte-Wold, as Prime Minister, Haile Selassie "gave less attention to domestic affairs and devoted more time to foreign affairs, making a place for himself in the Pan-African movement and championing decolonization. ... Not to be overshadowed by many of the new personalities on the African scene – Nkrumah, Sekou Toure, Kenyatta, Nyerere – he continued to take a leading role in Pan-African politics."[14]

On the other hand, Ethiopian historian Bahru Zewde finds a very clear chain of connection between the two events. First, in his history of modern Ethiopia, Bahru points out an ironic element in this event: "By his colleagues he [Mulugeti Bulli] was more than half-expected to emulate the Egyptian colonel, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who staged a coup in 1952 that overthrew the dynasty, a century and a half old, of Mohammed Ali."[15] Yet Professor Bahru draws an even more apparent connection between the two, in a strikingly elegiac passage:

The torch of change that the rebels had kindled was not extinguished with their physical elimination. On the contrary, it sparked a more outspoken and radical opposition to the regime. This can be seen in some of the underground leaflets that began to circulate soon after the end of the coup. They had such uncompromising motifs as "Better be a lion for a day and die than live the life of a lamb for a thousand days", "There is no solution without blood", and "What is sinful is to be ruled by despots, not to rise against them." Above all, the students became the true heirs of the rebels. They had come out on the streets in support of the rebels in 1960. Thereafter, they gave breadth and coherence to the opposition that the rebels had conceived and executed in such a confused manner. As for the imperial régime, unprepared to concede reform, it condemned itself to being swept away by revolution.[16]

Edmond Keller adds that following the coup, "rather than being able to dictate comfortably the rate and direction of change, the emperor was placed ever more on the defensive, having to work harder to mediate the demands of increasingly politically significant social groupings."[17] Keller also disagrees with the assertion that the leaders of the coup were the only organised group critical of the imperial monarchy and its policies, pointing to nationalist organisations coalescing among the Oromo, Somali, Eritreans, and Tigreans, noting that "these pockets of opposition might never have emerged if the emperor's policies had been more sensitively directed at building legitimacy among the masses rather than simply at securing compliance or acquiescence to laws and policies."[18]


  1. ^ For example, see Bahru Zewde, A History of Modern Ethiopia, second edition (Oxford: James Currey, 2001), p. 211, where Bahru states "The nearest the emperor came to losing his throne was in 1960."
  2. ^ Keller, Revolutionary Ethiopia (Bloomington: Indiana University, 1988), pp. 133f
  3. ^ Bahru, A History, p. 213
  4. ^ Keller, Revolutionary Ethiopia, p. 134
  5. ^ Paul B. Henze, Layers of Time (New York: Palgrave, 2000), p. 254
  6. ^ Spencer, Ethiopia at Bay: A personal account of the Haile Selassie years (Algonac: Reference Publications, 1984), p. 316
  7. ^ Paul B. Henze, Layers of Time (New York: Palgrave, 2000), p. 254; Keller, Revolutionary Ethiopia, p. 132
  8. ^ Christopher Clapham, "The Ethiopian Coup d'Etat of December 1960", Journal of Modern African Studies, 6 (1968), p. 505
  9. ^ a b Clapham, "The Ethiopian Coup", p. 496
  10. ^ Henze, Layers of Time, p. 255
  11. ^ a b Clapham, "Ethiopian Coup", p. 497
  12. ^ Paulos Milkias (18 May 2011). Ethiopia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 65–. ISBN 978-1-59884-258-6.
  13. ^ Henze, Layers of Time, p. 256
  14. ^ Henze, Layers of Time, p. 258
  15. ^ Bahru, A History, p. 207
  16. ^ Bahru, A History, pp. 214f
  17. ^ Keller, Revolutionary Ethiopia, p. 133
  18. ^ Keller, Revolutionary Ethiopia, p. 135

Further reading

  • Richard Greenfield, Ethiopia: a new political history (London and New York, 1965), pp. 337–452.

1960 (MCMLX)

was a leap year starting on Friday of the Gregorian calendar, the 1960th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 960th year of the 2nd millennium, the 60th year of the 20th century, and the 1st year of the 1960s decade. It is also known as the "Year of Africa" because of major events—particularly the independence of seventeen African nations—that focused global attention on the continent and intensified feelings of Pan-Africanism.

Aklilu Habte-Wold

Tsehafi Taezaz ፀሐፌ ትዕዛዝ ("Minister of the Pen" ) Aklilu Habte-Wold (12 March 1912 – 23 November 1974) was an Ethiopian politician under Emperor Haile Selassie. He was foreign minister of Ethiopia from 1947 to 1958 and 6th Prime Minister from 1961 until shortly before his death.

Ethiopian Civil War

The Ethiopian Civil War was a civil conflict fought between Ethiopia's communist governments and anti-government rebels from September 1974 to June 1991.

The Derg overthrew the Ethiopian Empire and Emperor Haile Selassie in a coup d'état on 12 September 1974, establishing Ethiopia as a Marxist-Leninist communist state with itself as a military junta and provisional government. Various left-wing, ethnic, and anti-communist opposition groups supported by the United States began armed resistance to the Soviet-backed Derg, in addition to the Eritrean separatists already fighting in the Eritrean War of Independence. The Derg used military campaigns and the Qey Shibir (Ethiopian Red Terror) to repress the rebels. By the mid-1980s, various issues such as the 1983–1985 famine, economic decline and other after-effects of Derg policies ravaged Ethiopia, increasing popular support for the rebels. The Derg dissolved itself in 1987, establishing the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE) under the Workers' Party of Ethiopia (WEP) in an attempt to maintain its rule. The Soviet Union ended its support for the PDRE in the late-1980s and the government was overwhelmed by the increasingly victorious rebel groups. In May 1991, the PDRE was defeated in Eritrea and President Mengistu Haile Mariam fled the country. The Ethiopian Civil War ended on 4 June 1991 when the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of left-wing ethnic rebel groups, entered the capital Addis Ababa and overthrew the WEP. The PDRE was dissolved and replaced with the Tigray People's Liberation Front-led Transitional Government of Ethiopia.The Ethiopian Civil War left at least 1.4 million people dead, with 1 million of the deaths being related to famine and the remainder from combat and other violence.

Ethiopian National Defense Force

The Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) is the military of Ethiopia. Civil direction of the military is carried out through the Ministry of Defense, which oversees the ground forces, air force, as well as the Defense Industry Sector. The current defense minister is Motuma Mekassa.The size of the ENDF has fluctuated significantly since the end of the Ethiopia-Eritrea war in 2000. In 2002 the Ethiopian Defense Forces had a strength of approximately 400,000 troops. This was roughly the same number maintained during the Derg regime that fell to the rebel forces in 1991. However, that number was later reduced, and in January 2007, during the War in Somalia, Ethiopian forces were said to comprise about 300,000 troops. In 2012, the IISS estimated that the ground forces had 135,000 personnel and the air force 3,000.As of 2012, the ENDF consists of two separate branches: the Ground Forces and the Ethiopian Air Force. Ethiopia has several defense industrial organisations that produce and overhaul different weapons systems. Most of these were built under the Derg regime which planned a large military industrial complex. The ENDF relies on voluntary military service of people above 18 years of age. Although there is no compulsory military service, armed forces may conduct call-ups when necessary and compliance is compulsory.Being a landlocked country, Ethiopia today has no navy. Ethiopia reacquired a coastline on the Red Sea in 1950 and created the Ethiopian Navy in 1955. Eritrea's independence in 1991 left Ethiopia landlocked again, but the Ethiopian Navy continued to operate from foreign ports until it finally was disbanded in 1996.

List of heads of government of Ethiopia

This is a list of heads of government of Ethiopia since the formation of the post of Chief Minister of the Ethiopian Empire in 1909 (renamed to Prime Minister in 1943). Since 1909, there have been 3 chief ministers and 11 Prime Ministers and one was both Chief Minister and Prime Minister, making a total of 15 persons being or having been head of government.

Most of the Prime Ministers were regular Prime Ministers, appointed through a regular political process. Some others were acting Prime Ministers only (indicated in the list below), while others were both acting and regular Prime Ministers during their term(s). In addition, there is one Prime Minister who was acting Prime Minister first, then was regularly appointed and finally served as a caretaker Prime Minister of an outgoing government: Hailemariam Desalegn. During the 1960 Ethiopian coup attempt, two Prime Ministers served at the same time, the regular one and an irregular one appointed by the leaders of the coup. Also there was an Interim Prime Minister after the end of the Ethiopian Civil War.

In modern Ethiopia since 1995, the Prime Minister is not only the head of government, but also the commander-in-chief of the Ethiopian National Defense Force. The current Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, took office on 2 April 2018.

Mulugeta Buli

Mulugeta Buli (1917–1960), was an Ethiopian military general and politician.

After completing mission school Buli attended the Tafari Makonnen School and the Holeta Military Academy, and was the only Oromo officer cadet in the latter institution. He was an opponent of Italian fascism, and fled to Kenya and Djibouti during the Italian occupation of Ethiopia. He fought in the Battle of Maychew as an officer in Haile Selassie's elite Guard contingent which was better trained and equipped than most other Ethiopian units. As commander of the Imperial Body Guard from 1941 until 1955, he established the Kagnew Battalions and the Ethiopian Public Security Department. He served as chief of staff of the armed forces, chief of staff of the emperor, and as a member of the Ethiopian government, in which capacity he created a private security cabinet for Emperor Selassie.Organizers of the 1960 Ethiopian coup attempt wanted Buli to become Chief of Staff because of his popularity among members of the armed forces. After refusing he was taken hostage (along with 20 other government officials) by the rebels. When it became apparent that the take-over was doomed to fail General Buli was killed with 14 others on 17 December 1960 by forces under Brigadier-General Mengistu Neway, a leader of the coup - and a fellow veteran of the battle of Maychew.Ivo Strecker of Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz called Buli "one of the most charismatic figures among the young Ethiopian elite" of his era. Author Bahru Zewde suggests that Buli was rumoured to be engineering a coup of his own to depose Selassie in the early 1950s, but had never substantiated these rumours. There is now a technical college in Addis Ababa named in honour of Buli.

Coups, self-coups, and attempted coups in Africa since 1960

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