The Attempted Coup of 1960 and Its Aftermath

The Attempted Coup of 1960 and Its Aftermath

Haile Selassie's efforts to achieve a measure of change without jeopardizing his own power stimulated rising expectations, some of which he was unwilling or unable to satisfy. Impatient with the rate or form of social and political change, several groups conspired to launch a coup d'état on December 13, 1960, while the emperor was abroad on one of his frequent trips. The leadership of the 1960 revolt came from three groups: the commander of the Imperial Bodyguard Mengistu Neway, and his followers; a few security officials, including the police chief; and a handful of radical intellectuals related to the officials, including Girmame Neway, Mengistu's brother.

The coup was initially successful in the capital, as the rebels seized the crown prince and more than twenty cabinet ministers and other government leaders. The support of the Imperial Bodyguard, the backbone of the revolt, was obtained without informing the enlisted men--or even a majority of the officers--of the purpose of the rebels' actions. The proclaimed intent of the coup leaders was the establishment of a government that would improve the economic, social, and political position of the general population, but they also appealed to traditional authority in the person of the crown prince. No mention was made of the emperor.

The coup's leaders failed to achieve popular support for their actions. Although university students demonstrated in favor of the coup, army and air force units remained loyal to the emperor, who returned to the capital on December 17. The patriarch of the church, who condemned the rebels as antireligious traitors and called for fealty to the emperor, supported the loyalists. Despite the coup's failure, it succeeded in stripping the monarchy of its claim to universal acceptance and led to a polarization of traditional and modern forces.

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