Tareke's perceptive and readable history of contemporary Ethiopia and its violent conflicts is billed as a military history. But only the last third of the book provides the kind of detailed description of military campaigns that would qualify it as such. There, making judicious use of extensive internal Ethiopian military records and interviews with key officers, Tareke recounts the major battles that Mengistu Haile Mariam's regime fought and lost against the Eritrean and Tigrayan guerrilla movements during the Ogaden War against Somalia in 1977-78 and during the 1980s. The first two thirds of the book place these battles in their context, analyzing the country's political dynamics since the 1970s. Tareke blames the downfall of Mengistu's communist dictatorship on its repeated purges of public officials, which weakened the military and left too many mediocre sycophants in charge of state institutions. Tareke also dissects the Eritrean and Tigrayan secessionist movements and investigates the sources of their battlefield victories. In Eritrea, the single-minded discipline of the secessionist movement's leaders -- particularly the country's current strongman, Isaias Afwerki -- helped account for its resilience and military success. But it also explains the movement's dogmatism in power and the authoritarian stagnation of the independent nation it created.
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