In 1974 conditions in Ethiopia were ripe for change and calls for reform remained unanswered by the monarchy. The aging Emperor Haile Selassie made his last visit to the US in 1973 and explained to the Nixon Administration, mired in the Watergate scandal, that Somalia, armed by the USSR, was planning to attack Ethiopia. He requested improved US weapons but received none. The Emperor then visited Moscow to shop for weapons.
Somalia had fifty MIG fighters including twenty-four supersonic MIG 21s, several Ilyushin bombers, and T-54 tanks. At that time, Ethiopia had 37 combat planes, all obsolete with the exceptions of 9 F-5As.1 The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) reported in 1975 that Somalia had 250 medium tanks and approximately 300 armored personnel carriers compared to Ethiopia’s 12 medium and 50 light tanks, and just over 100 armored personnel carriers.2
The cold response of the US to Ethiopia’s request disappointed the Emperor but emboldened General Siad Mohamed Barre of Somalia, who supported irredentists in the Ogaden region, secessionists Eritreans, and domestic groups such as the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) who opposed the monarchy. Ethiopia’s intellectuals, armed forces, farmers, and the emerging business sector were all alienated, the economy was stagnant, and many were desperate to see some kind of reform in Ethiopia. Radical Ethiopian students, who had been opposed to the Emperor since the first coup d’état attempt in December 1960, led the movement for revolutionary changes. The students at the various Haile Selassie I colleges also had their grievances against the government. According to Fentahun Tiruneh, who was one of the five students dismissed from the university in 1965, “Between 1952 to 1957 students at the various Haile Selassie I Colleges were confronted with oppressive feudal regime and oppres-
1 Tom J. Farer. 1976. War Clouds on the Horn of Africa: A Case for Détente, Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, p. 98.
2 Ibid., pp. 98-99 as quoted from IISS, 1975, The Military Balance, 1975–1976. London: IISS, p. 43.