Seeing General Aman Michael Andom and witnessing his larger than life charisma was the primary reason why I was drawn to join the military. He always looked sharp in his uniform and carried himself with the dignity befitting of a true gentleman. I met Genral Aman for the first time when he came to visit the widow of General Mengistu Neway, who eventually became my wife, and her children in in early 1967. I had the pleasure and honor of inviting him for dinner to my house and also at the officers’ mess at the Massawa Navy Base. During his three day visit, I witnessed first-hand the goodness of his hearth, his passion and decency.
The second time I met General Aman in person was in 1974 under very different circumstances when he became the Chairman of military committee also known as “Dergue”. Upon the overthrow and subsequent assassination of Emperor Haile Selassie, General Aman became the de facto head of state. When he visited Eritrea, I once again hosted him for dinner. He was exploring a peaceful way to end the Eritrean conflict; General Aman believed in the unity of Ethiopia and believed that a true federal system of government was the only way to resolve the Eritrean war.
During his visit to Eritrea, he elected to stay at the Massawa Naval Base where I was stationed. During this time, I had lot of opportunities to raise concerns, feelings, and opinions on both Ethiopia and Eritrea with him. The greatest concern in our discussion centered on the danger posed by the untrained and non-commissioned Military Members of the Committee (Dergue). We both believed and agreed that there will never be a peaceful transition to civilian rule until junior members of the Army were disbanded and returned to their barracks.
General Aman foresaw the unprecedented cruelty, suffering, misery and killings that Ethiopians would face under the leadership of such crass men. General Aman had disdainful and scornful dislike for all 140 members of the committee and he believed, just like I did, that they were all immoral men. Drunk on power and full of hubris, their intention was not to lead a nation but to rule with an iron fist in order to quench their flesh.
On November 17, 1974 Sunday, all Commanders of the Armed Forces were instructed to present our yearly budget proposal to the provisional Military ruling committee (Dergue). General Bahru Tuffa of the ground force, Genera Yohannes Woldemariam of the Air Force and I, representing the Ethiopian Navy, met at the Defense Ministry meeting room. We were waiting for General Aman, Chief of Staff General Gizaw Belayneh and the Defense Committee to join. They all came to listen to our presentation and our assessment of the state of Ethiopia’s military.
General Bahru of the ground force was first and presented the situation on the ground and put forth his budgetary request. The head of the Committee General Aman was startled and surprised by the proposed budget. General Aman asked how he will be able to raise that kind of money from a poor country like Ethiopia. General Bahru replied that they have looked at the total amount and have already approved the budget because of the threats he supposedly faced from the Eritreans and the new threat emerging from Somalia. His response was hubris at its apogee, instead of asking, General Bahru was presenting his request as a demand in what was tantamount to insubordination against the head of state. Brash junior military members of this committee have already predetermined the outcome of the budget meeting.
Upon witnessing General Bahru’s level of contempt, General Aman became visibly angry. He dressed down General Bahru and told him that the proposal should have been presented as a request and not as a forgone conclusion. He expressed his disappointment and asked why junior officers were allowed to decide the budget and in the process override protocols set to ensure chain of command. General Aman stormed out of the meeting and refused to sit with such disgusting junior officers. I was surprised that his own Chief of Staff General Gizaw Belayneh did not make any effort to calm the situation. I suspected that he was contemplating betraying General Aman at that point. Exasperated at what was taking place, General Aman walked out of the room. I ran after him and begged him to finish the meeting. With the help of General Yohannes and me, General Aman came back and finished the meeting. That day marked the beginning of the end for General Aman with the Military Committee. He never came back to office.
On Thursday, November 21, 1974, he called to tell me about a telegram he sent to the Armed Forces and said that he will not come back to work unless he gets a reply. Said telegram was supposedly sent to all Armed Forces units. But General Aman was unaware that his telegram message to the Armed Forces was intercepted by Colonel Tesfaye Woldesellasie, who was once a trusted confidant to General Aman. I have on several occasions in the past witnessed the closeness of General Aman to Colonel Tesaye. General Aman invited Colonel Tesaye Woldesellasie and me for lunch at his sister’s house. Sometimes the people who betray you the most are the ones who are the closest to you.
When Major Mengistu, the shadowy leader of the Military Committee, found out about the incriminating telegram against him to Armed Forces, he sent his assassin and hit man Colonel Daniel Asfaw to General Aman’s residence near the old Airport. On Saturday November 23, 1974 Colonel Daniel Asfaw attempted to arrest the General. A big gun battle ensued for couple hours. The General gallantly and courageously fought them back. Even after he took his own life, the cowards were scared to move into the house. They stormed his living room with Abrams Tank as if they were taking on an invading army instead of trying to subdue one man. In the end they only found a brave decorated soldier dressed in full uniform.
Mengistu was fearful of the consequences of General Aman’s death. He was terrified that there would be military uprising against him. He panicked and decided to massacre another 60 high ranking Haile Sellasie officials at 2 in the morning. This massacre was a precursor of what would happen to Ethiopia, 60 was a down payment for more than 500,000 Ethiopians who would eventually lose their lives under Mengistu and his ruthless Dergue junta.
Highlights of General Aman’s military career:
- Served the military in many places of operation, training officer and Commander of Holeta Military School
- Commander of First Kagnew Brigade to Korea in 1950 under the auspices of the United Nations.
- Commander of 3rd division where he earned the nickname “Lion of Ogaden Desert” and was noted for using his canteen as a pillow
- Assistant chief of staff of the Armed Forces.
- Military attaché in Paris and America
- He was also member of Senate for 12 years.
- In 1974 he became chief of staff and Mod with rank of Lieutenant General.
- He was also the Chairman of Dergue and head of Council of Ministers
Commodore Tassew Desta was the commander of the Ethiopian Navy who had a long and distinguished military career during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie that lasted briefly into the era of the Dergue regime. Now retired and living in Ethiopia, Commodore Tassew is an avid historian and has fascinating first hand accounts of events that took place in the mid to late 1900’s in Ethiopia.