Overview Of The History Of EPRP
The EPRP: The Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party (Yethiopia Hizbawi Abyotawi Party in Amharic and "Ihapa" in abbreviation) . Established in April 1972 (founding congress was held from April 2-April 9) as the first modern political party in the country. Its first political program called for the overthrow of the monarchy, the removal of the feudal system and the setting of a popular democratic republic. The party was forced into clandestinity because the monarchy, headed by Emperor Haile Sellasie, did not allow political parties or legal dissent.
The EPRP was born out of the radical struggle waged by students and intellectuals, workers and peasants against the feudal system and as such was a progressive and radical organization. When the February 1974 popular revolution erupted in Ethiopia , the EPRP was not yet strong enough to assume the leadership of the upsurge. Yet, it was in the forefront of the revolutionary struggle and its militants and publications (specially its organ DEMOCRACIA) played a key role in deepening the struggle and raising the consciousness of the people. When the military committee known as the DERG took over power, the EPRP opposed this usurpation of power and called for the immediate formation of a representative and all inclusive PROVISIONAL POPULAR GOVERNMENT which would pave the way for the formation of an elected popular government.
In August 1975, the party openly declared its existence by clandestinely distributing its political program all over the country. Copies of the program were distributed in Amharic, Tigrigna, Oromiffa, English and French. It was subsequently translated into other local and foreign languages. The declaration of the party, an event hailed by the people at the time, was preceded by a secret party conference in Addis Abeba during which the organization finished the preparation for the declaration, amended its program, elected new members to the central committee, etc....
The EPRP took the mantle of the main opposition force to the military government whose power was progressively concentrated in the hands of a minority clique led by then Major Mengistu Haile Mariam. The EPRP called for an end to the rule by the military, for the unrestricted respect of democratic rights, for the formation of a representative government, for the cessation of the repression of dissent. The DERG outlawed the EPRP and gathered around itself groups which supported its rule. It also moved with force against unions and associations, broke up labour unions, rounded up civic leaders and carried out an all round repression against any form of dissent. Peaceful demonstrators were shot at, dissenters jailed and tortured, others hounded into exile. The EPRP struggled with the people to prevent the DERG from consolidating its power.
The military government declared open war against the EPRP in 1976 and the party resolved to resort to self defense acts in the urban areas. In the rural areas, at the time in Tigrai and Gondar regions, the guerrilla force of the party, known as the EPRA (Ethiopian People's revolutionary Army), was becoming active. The spiraling violence in the urban areas also led to the declaration of the infamous RED TERROR campaign by the military regime against the EPRP. ( For vivid details of the Red Terror campaign read: TO KILL A GENERATION, The RED TERROR IN ETHIOPIA, by Babile Tola. Copies can be ordered from ESPIC, 202-986-2851). The bloody campaign caused the deaths of some 250,000 Ethiopians and was wound up only in 1978. The urban armed defense was pursued to an extent and dimension which harmed the party by forcing it to work in circumstances of unfavorable balance of forces.
In the rural areas, the Eritrean people's Liberation Front (led by Isayas Afeworki) prodded its satellite front, the so called Tigrai People's Liberation Front (TPLF) to declare war against the EPRP. The EPLF's opposition to the EPRP stemmed from the fact that the party refused to endorse Eritrea as the colony of Ethiopia (a position maintained by the EPLF). On its part, the narrow nationalist TPLF was also advocating the session of Tigrai from Ethiopia (refer to the 1975 TPLF MANIFESTO) and called for the withdrawal of the EPRP from Tigrai. The EPRP, an organization made up of Ethiopians coming from varied ethnic groups ( there are no less than 70 different ethnic groups in Ethiopia), was the first organization to call for the self determination rights of all nationalities while at the same time proposing a unity based on democracy and equality.
The EPRP was the first political party in the country, it was the first party to have mobilized a vast section of the population around a political and country wide program, to have brought in women, the elderly, the oppressed into the struggle. many EPRP leaders were martyred in the struggle (Tesfaye Debessai, Yohannes Berhane, Tselote Hizkias, Melaku Markos, Tekalign Wolde Amanuel, Yosef Adane,Woubsihet Retta, Fikre Zergaw,Benyam Adane, Mohammed Mahfuz, Kiflu Tefera, Mulugeta Sultan,etc.. ...) along with the militants thereby proving once and for all the EPRP as a militant fighting party, courageous and committed to the cause of the people.
Following the Red Terror and the wars launched by the TPLF-EPLF against it, the EPRP concentrated its armed force in Gondar region and tried to recuperate its strength. However, the war launched by the TPLF against it in Wolkait region and other factors combined to cause what the party terms the Liquidation Campaign (1979-80): very many members of the party and the army left the organization, some fled to the Derg, others ran to the TPLF and many more left for the Sudan. The EPRP held a conference to asses the situation and continued the difficult armed struggle. Through sacrifice and undaunted courage, the party was able to regain its strength and was able to hold its Second National Congress in the liberated area of Quara in 1984.
The Quara Congress, attend by party delegates from inside and outside the country, approved the new political program of the party (which called for multipartism and pluralism, for democratic elections, for federalism to solve the ethnic problems within the framework of unity, for the respect of the right of private property, for a mixed economy, etc.), elected anew Leadership Committee and charted the path the party had to follow to achieve its objectives. Long before the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, specially at a time when the TPLF was forming its Marxist Leninist League of Tigrai (MLLT) and proclaiming its adherence to an Albanian Stalinist brand of Marxism, the EPRP rejected, by itself, all totalitarian options and championed a democratic path which put the interest of Ethiopia and her people first.
The EPRP tried to unite with all anti-totalitarian and patriotic forces to wage the struggle against the Mengistu regime. While the TPLF refused to cooperate with it, others welcomed its call and it was able to form a front with the conservative Ethiopian Democratic Union (EDU), and later on in 1990-91 it formed with other movements and groups the Coalition of Ethiopian Democratic Forces (COEDF).
In 1991, the TPLF assumed power in Addis Abeba after declaring and waging war against the EPRP forces in Gondar and Gojjam. Many EPRP members were killed or captured; EPRP leaders like Tsegaye Gebre Medhin, Yishak Debretsion, Sitotaw Hussein, Amha Belete, Teklai Gebresellasie, Hagos Bezabih, Abera, Azanaw Demile, etc.. were captured and have disappeared since. The TPLF also declared the EPRP illegal and despite the party's open and public declaration of a readiness to struggle peacefully and legally, it was not accepted. The TPLF excluded COEDF from the July 1991 Addis Abeba Conference which set up the Transitional Government.
The repression against the EPRP was continued in a relentless manner and many of its militants captured and jailed in Gondar, Bahr Dar, Addis Abeba, Arba Minch and other places. Gebre Igziabher (a.k.a. Gaim), a member of the EPRP leadership Committee, was killed in Addis Abeba and others (Lemma Hailu, Tesfaye Kebede, Aberash Berta, Wondusirak Desta, etc...) jailed: they have all disappeared since 1993.
The EPRP stayed true to its principles and championed the path of dialogue and peaceful political struggle. Through COEDF, it was behind the 1993 Paris Peace and Reconciliation Conference attended by various opposition groups and fronts. The ruling TPLF (also called the EPRDF) refused to attend. In December 1993, the EPRP sent its delegates, as part of COEDF, to the Ghion Peace and Reconciliation Conference in Addis Abeba. All the peace delegates were arrested as they arrived in Addis Abeba, EPRP leader Ghennet Girma stayed in Addis Abeba Prison for two months, EPRP leader and COEDF chairman, Mersha Yosef, was blocked by the arrests from arriving in Addis Abeba and Abera Yemaneab, head of the COEDF Foreign Relations Department is still in the Addis Abeba central prison despite a court order calling for his release.
The EPRP has presently a new political program which champions democracy and human rights, a free economy, popular elections to set up et up governments, the respect of the right to private property, unity based on equality and a non ethnic federal system, ending state control of the mass media, protection of the environment, etc..... The EPRP continues as a COEDF member and as a part of the recently formed Ethiopian Unity Front which has been forced by the intransigence of the TPLF government to resort to armed struggle in several regions.
The EPRP is a party which some have described as a patrimony of the Ethiopian people. It has for sure become part of the Ethiopian history dealing with a generation's struggle for democracy and social justice. The EPRP is Ethiopian, it is democratic, it is opposed to ethnic and all other forms of discrimination and is consequently a determined opponent of the illegal government in Addis Abeba
- Unity based on equality and democracy;
- Democratic and human rights for the people;
- A government freely elected by the people;
- National sovereignty as a country;
- An end to ethnic politics and discrimination;
- Economic, social and cultural freedom and well being;
- Protecting the welfare of the vast majority of the people;
For a Better Tomorrow, for an end to the cycle of tyranny and repression, for an Ethiopia worthy of its own glorious history and a fitting place in the fast changing world. The EPRP is committed to serve Ethiopia to realize her objectives.