The successful overthrow of Abboud’s long-standing military despotism in the Sudan in late 1964 was a major victory for revolutionary forces everywhere in Africa. It transformed, almost overnight, the prospects of the Congolese National Liberation Army—rendering impossible a consolidation of counter-revolution in the Congo. At the same time, it has brought the day of reckoning closer for Ethiopian feudalism. Defeated in 1960, the struggle against the barbarous tyranny of the Imperial regime in Ethiopia is today gathering strength again, on a new basis and in a new perspective.
Very little is known about Ethiopia: even the most basic fact of all—the size of its population—can only be placed in a range of 15 to 22 million. As for more explosive details about national income, literacy, the distribution of wealth, none of this is forthcoming.
For a description of the society’s dominant class, there is no better source than the official Guide to Ethiopia. ‘There have as yet been no basic changes in the structure of Ethiopian society. The Emperor is the hereditary ruler. . . Then there are the great land-owning families whose heads bear titles of nobility and who serve as ministers, officers of state, governors of provinces, military leaders and Church officials. Below the Imperial Family and the nobles are the Amhara and Galla landed gentry who have been the major beneficiaries of educational opportunities abroad and make up much of the government service personnel.’ Below this feudal class, entrenched in the Church, the Army and higher posts of the Administration, comes the wealthy merchant class, most of whom are foreign—apart from 50,000 Arabs there are many Italians, Greeks, Armenians and Indians. There is definite nationalist feeling among the indigenous Ethiopian traders, in favour of the expropriation of the foreign merchant class, and among professionals and general intelligentsia—although the educated members of the middle classes are liable to defect to the materially rewarding feudal establishment.
Below this small stratum of the well-to-do is the vast majority of the population: illiterate peasants subject to savage feudal exploitation by their landlords, the social content of the ‘colourful medievalism’ and ‘surprising contrasts’ praised by tourists and apologists. The Imperial Family owns 50 per cent of the land, and the Coptic Church owns another 20 per cent or so. The economic consequences of this regime are devastating. 180 million hectares of the world’s richest farm lands lie fallow. According to Mennen Williams, an official us economist has calculated that, if properly cultivated, the Ethiopian highlands could feed all of Western Europe. Under feudal exploitation, Ethiopia suffers from a fast-growing trade deficit and periodic famines. The per capita income is generally placed between 35 and 40 dollars a year, although some estimates put it as low as 17 dollars. The real income of the feudal peasants in the subsistence sector (90 per cent of population) is naturally still lower, since the per capita figure covers the ostentatious riches of the wealthy as well.
More than 20 years after Haile Selassie announced that ‘a free public education is the right of every child’, illiteracy claims somewhere between 95 per cent and 99 per cent of the population. 3.8 per cent of children aged 5–15 were in school in 1961 (unesco calculation), and 0.2–0.5 per cent of children over the age of 15. The University, until 1960 run by French Canadian Jesuits and since then by Mormons from Utah, mustered 426 students in 1961 and produces only 75 graduates per year. Under the Five-Year-Plan 1961–65, the Government plans to spend 1.8 per cent of its total expenditure on education (per capita expenditure on education rising to the sum of 3s. 6d.).