Mengistu Haile Mariam
President of Ethiopia
Mengistu Haile Mariam led a military coup that removed Ethiopia's emperor HAILE SELASSIE I from power in 1974. As head of state, Mengistu hoped to modernize Ethiopian society and unify the country by lessening ethnic rivalries.
Mengistu's military career began when he joined the Ethiopian army at the age of 14. After attending officer training school, he rose to the rank of colonel.
As president, Mengistu tried to limit the influence of the AMHARA people in Ethiopia's government. Following socialist policies, he brought many of the country's private industries under state control and also took over vast tracts of land. However, a series of attempted coups, failed governmental programs, and an independence movement in the province of ERITREA led to his downfall. Mengistu fled the country in 1991 and was given refuge in ZIMBABWE. (See also Ethiopia, Independence Movements.)