‘A profound and arduous revolutionary process is unfolding in Ethiopia. In my opinion, nothing would be more absurd than to refuse to get to know it.’ This is how comrade Gian Carlo Pajetta motivates the trip that took him, in the space of ten days, to Addis Ababa and Mogadishu—the two capitals of the war-troubled Horn of Africa. Was he then just interested in deepening his knowledge? In Italy, there has been much talk of pci mediation and of Berlinguer’s letters to the two heads of state: Mengistu Haile Mariam and Mohammed Siad Barre. ‘We do not arrogate to ourselves diplomatic tasks’, Pajetta replied. ‘Nor do we have any authority to undertake diplomatic initiatives. But we consider ourselves friends of both sides, and we therefore wanted to make known to them our views concerning the dangers and harmful effects of a continuation of the conflict—not to mention the possibility that we might use the occasion to examine together the problems involved. These undeniably complex problems certainly cannot be solved by the tanks of any army. The war is already costing the blood of Africans who, on either side of the lines, believe in their national rights and in the independence and anti-imperialist unity of Africa.’

Accompanied on his trip by Gianni Giadresco of the Central Committee of the pci, Pajetta met the top leaders of both countries. In Addis Ababa, he had a long discussion with Dergue president, Mengistu Haile Mariam, and Major Berhanu Baye, the Dergue official responsible for international questions. In Mogadishu, he had similar talks with Ismail Ali Abukar, Assistant General Secretary of the Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party (srsp) and vice-president of the republic, and with Mohamed Aden, party secretary for ideological matters.

Let us begin with Ethiopia. I asked Pajetta whether the trip had allowed him to deepen his knowledge of the Ethiopian revolution. ‘It is always unwise to say or think that you have understood everything after a trip lasting a few days. Nor is it possible, in the framework of an interview, to explain the nature of a revolution. However, I would like to mention some important points. The land has been distributed to the peasants, who now work with rifles on their shoulders. Addis Ababa has been divided into 289 “districts” or kebele, which are in some ways reminiscent of rudimentary soviets or the sections of the French Revolution. A people’s militia has grown up alongside the army. The students all participated, and still participate, in the movement of national renewal and liberation—albeit with diverse positions, that sometimes stand in sharp contrast or even open conflict with one another. The workers have formed a large, country-wide trade-union organization. A co-ordinating committee of five Marxist groups is working towards the creation of a single party for the defence of the Ethiopian revolution. In my opinion, all this illustrates the importance of the process shaking Ethiopian society.’

Nevertheless, the process is a contradictory and disturbing one. Ethiopia is passing through a dramatic stage, as is shown by the recent execution of the Dergue vice-president, Atnafu Abate. ‘I noticed that the Ethiopian rulers have no desire to play down the gravity of the situation, or its exacerbation in the last few weeks. The situation is difficult both within the country and at the various fronts. But it is all the more serious and painful in that it involves a confrontation with popular forces (such as those in Eritrea and the Ogaden) who lay claim to the ideals of national liberation and socialism. In any case, the most acute problem today is that of nationality. I am referring to the seventeen-year-old armed independence struggle in Eritrea and to the war in the Ogaden. This is an altogether distinct question. We made this very clear during our talks; and in general, it seemed to be understood that, without a resolution of this objective problem, no effective renewal would be possible. The very Arab régimes that used to oppose the Eritrean movement may now be interested in encouraging it. But that does not detract from its character as a national popular movement.’

And what about the struggle taking place in the Ogaden? ‘In Addis Ababa, they say that the guns in use around Harar and Dire Dawn are those of a regular army, not of guerrilla fighters. As we forcefully stressed, however, this does not alter the fact that the inhabitants of the Ogaden are Somalis; and that a peaceful end to the war presupposes recognition of the autonomy and self-government of these inhabitants. But for us, as you well know, such a recognition is not the same as raising the question of border changes today. For that would spark off huge conflicts in every corner of the continent.’

Do these positions not risk endangering the positive relations we have long enjoyed with the Eritrean movement and with the Somalis? ‘We shall continue to have relations with the Eritreans. Just before I left for Addis Ababa, I myself visited their representatives. Today they do not share our assessment of, or hopes for, the Ethiopian revolution. But I think it our internationalist duty to help in restoring contact between Eritreans and Ethiopians.’ With the Somalis too, we have for a long time had friendly relations. ‘Certainly. As you can see from the communiqué, both the Somalis and ourselves wished to stress that our mutual relations are still ones of fraternal collaboration and that they should be maintained and developed.’

Do you think that this friendship will stand the test of the dramatic situation now facing the Horn of Africa? ‘We came back from Mogadishu convinced that we were still friends of the Somalis. We put forward our positions and listened to theirs. We found people who were open to reason—who were concerned both to defend positions they thought just and to take account of concrete realities. When the communiqué states that even positions which are not identical ought to allow joint work, it is not without meaning. The very letter in which Berlinguer explains our position to comrade Siad Barre also expresses our resolve that present events should not alter or diminish the weight attached to bilateral relations by the pci and the srsp.’