By Issayas Tesfamariam
On Friday, March 9, Hoover Archives hosted a visit by Captain Michael G. Haile, one of the former executive committee (Planning Committee) members of the military junta known as the Derg which ruled Ethiopia from 1974 to 1987. The Derg, also known as the Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police and Territorial Army, overthrew Haile Selassie, the former Emperor of Ethiopia.
Haile served the Derg for seven months in 1974–75 and then left to join the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) in 1975. From 1975–1991 he served the EPLF in various capacities: as the Foreign Economic Affairs in Kuwait and Rome; the Foreign Relations Bureau in Brussels and London; and EPLF representative at the U.N. Commission for Human Rights in Geneva.
After Eritrea's independence in 1991 he became the Deputy Commissioner of the Eritrean Police Force. Currently, he is working for the Eritrean Ministry of Justice as coordinator and member of the Law Drafting Committee.
While in the Derg, Capt. Haile was the only person (out of 108 Derg members) who kept notes of everything that went on during his tenure, including the infamous meeting ("Vote of Death") whereby sixty people (Emperor Haile Selassie's Government officials, two Derg members and, the Chairman of the Derg, Lt. General Aman M. Andom) were condemned to death by voting.
As a police officer (trained in Israel in the 1960s), a criminologist (trained in West Germany in the 1960s–70s), and a lawyer, he was the only Derg member who vehemently objected in writing to the illegality, cruelty, and inhumanity of that infamous day's process. Lt. Col. Mengistu Hailemariam (who later became a leader of Ethiopia until he escaped in 1991 to Zimbabwe, where he still resides) who chaired the “infamous meeting” of the Derg read Captain Haile’s letter of objection during the “Vote of Death”; Captain Haile’s life was perhaps spared due only to the fact that Hailemariam did not reveal the name of the letter’s author.
Captain Haile has visited Hoover three times to view collections related to Africa; during his most recent visit he consulted the papers of Tom Killion, which contain a series of interviews Captain Haile conducted in 1985. Haile has just published a book entitled Downfall of an Emperor: Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and the Derg's Creeping Coup, a first-hand account of the inner workings of the first seven months of the Derg.
*Lt. General Aman M. Andom was not a member of the Derg but was appointed by Derg members to be their chairman.