Home > Books, Tower in the sky > The death of a revolutionary

The death of a revolutionary

Getachew Maru

Getachew Maru


On June 1977 a young man who represented one possible future for Ethiopia left his friend’s house in Asko area and headed to Haya Hulet Mazoria to meet members of his party. His host had an eerie feeling and advised him to take a gun with him. However, he was not happy about the suggestion. “How can I bring a gun with me when I am going to see comrades?” he asked. Getachew Maru— a former engineering student at the then Haile Selassie University (now Addis Ababa University), — had led the University Students’ Union of Addis Ababa (USUAA) as secretary general in 1971, for a few months. He later formed with like-minded friends Abyot group which was incorporated into the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP), the best-supported party among the intelligentsia at the time.
Find full story at the Ethiopia Observer.

  1. July 26, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    The answer for who killed Getachew could be found in Tesfaye Reste’s book ምስክርነት ከባለሥልጣኑ አንደበት (Testimonies from the officials). In it, citing interviews conducted with former Derg officials, the author links Kiflu Tadesse to the murder. He states that Kiflu was nearly caught by the Derg while dumping Getachew’s inhumanely dismembered body. Kiflu is living now in America.

  2. Berhanu
    July 27, 2013 at 3:16 am

    valedictorian in 1996 ?? I think there is an error right there, Arefe. 9th paragraph.

    • July 28, 2013 at 4:14 pm

      Thanks for pointing that out, and yes, it’s a typo. I’ve corrected it now.

  3. Sam
    July 29, 2013 at 9:04 am

    Hiwot Tefera’s highly readable account of Getachew Maru is one of the best I’ve read. The prose was simple and effective, and very revealing. This book is probably of most interest to those who already have some knowledge of the basis facts of pre and post Revolution Ethiopia, but it’s written in such a way that, even if you don’t, it’s still a remarkable account of the desperate last days of one of the most contentious historical figures of all time. I was impressed.

  4. July 29, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    Our continent has lost many promises. Revolutions used to eat their children. What a shame!

  5. Abraham Atta
    July 31, 2013 at 10:26 am

    Hiwot Tefera wistfully yearns for a distant past and the so-called heroic, aspiring intellectual in their heyday and the country they were trying to transform into God knows what. Their directionless movement which started as a challenge of authority ended up in a fiasc not only because of Derg’s suppressive measures and brutality but also to their own ignorance, hunger for power, snobbery, and frat boy irreverence. They were more radical than the Derg and they were like one of those spiders who eat each other when they are done with them. What Hiwot was trying to capture about this group of people and our feelings about this period of time, something ephemeral and evanescent, did not really even exist. All they were able to do was to recite some alien theory without really knowing their relevance and application in their own country. I for one wasn’t inspired.

    • Djemal.
      August 8, 2013 at 7:53 am

      But Abraham Atta, you must be a derelict to say the revolution that began from the historic student movement was directionless. Being uninformed opportunist is, in fact, the order of the day. So, eat and die worthless.

  6. Abraham Atta
    July 31, 2013 at 10:51 am

    Getachew was second rate, contrary to what this blog post and Hiwot Tefera’s book seem to imply. He wasn’t quite so intellectual nether the true champion of the working class. He held the view that kimtel bourgeoisie women should be destroyed from the earth for once and for all. He lost the struggle against EPRP and Mengsitu not because he was less ruthless but because he was less wily. Hiwot is idealizing someone who has made love to her. May be that was what he was good at.

    • Djemal.
      August 8, 2013 at 7:58 am

      If ignorant people like Abraham Atta could zip their empty heads and stop howling history will take its rightful course.

    • Noah Mengistu
      October 15, 2013 at 11:38 pm

      Abraham
      There are so many wrong things about that comment you have made. I (his sister) am living proof of his intelligence. I know many stories of his examples of pure intelligence, for your information you can go back, ask the ethiopian ministry of education for his academic record (because you’re obviously not doing anything important now) some of the many academic achievements of Getachew are
      -was asked to give a speech at a college ceremony for seniors, as a freshman
      -earned the highest gpa in engeneering, which was posted by the door of the university for everyone to see
      That being said, Abraham before you go around trashing someone as intelligent as Getachew, have some background knowledge instead of spite based off of evidence you don’t even know is true.

      • Tamirat Kaba
        October 28, 2013 at 4:10 am

        I am not sure if intelligence has anything to do with personality and a know how of doing revolutionary leadership. He was unable to influence his friends, so where did his intelligence go for this matter. Leadership is at last the power to influence people, to give and take. I am not sure if intelligence alone matters. I felt bad to know about his views and beliefs, I would prefer to stay in support, but I am washed away. Sorry!

  7. Mike
    August 2, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    Hiwot’s book fascinatingly account the struggle within EPRP leadership. I think that it is highly likely the murder of Getachew was ordered by Kiflu Tadesses, and Girmachew Lemma. Leadership members such as Kiflu tadesse and Eyasu Alemayehu (aka hama tuma) are still alive and we need them to tell us we actually instructed that tragic event.

  8. Alem
    August 6, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Arefe, Thank you so much for your untiring work to keep us abreast of events and also to have us look back at our recent past. I have some reservations regarding some items in the present post. 1/ It is only with the help of a hindsight that we managed to criminalize or to exonerate actors in the mindless 1974 revolution. I submit the case with Berhane Meskel was internal power struggle and not necessarily his opposition to urban terrorism. 2/ A hundred thousand dead is greatly exaggerated. 3/ I wonder why Hiwot wrote in English and not in Amharic – something is not quite right about that choice. 4/ Derg killed “59 royals” is wrong; those executed were came from all walks of life – and in high office. 5/ Meison “supported Mengistu’s methods” is misleading; if the reference is to terror tactic then you need to say the same thing about Eprp. 6/ The bottles Mengistu smashed in 1977 did not contain “blood” but red paint; there is a difference; the backdrop for the event was Somali invasion of our country. Hiwot’s book should serve cathartic purposes for her and also generate a debate about the retelling of our painful past. In the end, the point should be how to bring closure to the whole episode rather than be defensive and continue to wallow in it. That was what was wrong with that generation; the venom still swamps our living room. Take care.

    • Dani
      August 11, 2013 at 2:33 pm

      Dear Alem,
      It turned out that Getachew’s ideas were correct. The EPRP did not have an ideology that stressed high ideals. They had an immediate program for the time when they would attain power but had made few plans for what to do after they had gained power. Their urban guerilla move terribly backfired causing the loss of thousands of young people while hopelessly splitting the ranks, weakening the party’s capacity and then eliminating it.

  9. Minassie
    August 9, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    I know Hiwot when we were at Harar Medhane Alem Secondary School. I was wondering whether she was alive or not. I am glad to hear her voice. I also remember her friend Abaynesh. My point here is there were many deaths during the Derg including Getachew and the reason was because the whole party of EPRP was wrong. It shouldn’t have been a party after all. The responsibility for the death of many party members lies on EPRP next to the Derg.

  10. Tamirat Kaba
    October 28, 2013 at 3:46 am

    In the older times, I was very sympathetic to the dismay of Getachew Maru, until I read Tower in the Sky. Now I learn he disserves the punishment justified by the radicals. I met Berehane Meskel before he was executed by Derg, and seriously took him responsible to cause the down fall of the EPRP. I was not sure about Getachew, until I read this story, but now if the whole write up by Hiwot is true, Getachew is as well responsible as the previous for the dawn fall of the youth and the revolution. To my surprise, Hiwot was a girlfriend, whereas none of our comrades were accepted to have one, what a dismally. To the pleasure of the writer, it is a good literature. For the fellow Ethiopians, I say make your own judgment by taking the hands of time back to the 1969 Eth. Take it like the Syria of today. That time does not contain a dispassion or easiness, tomorrow’s trauma but today’s trauma; it was so bloody every day, torture every day, loss of a brother or a comrade every day, hiding every day, suspense every day. There was no time to seat calm and cool, have a girlfriend, discuss trivia, and in that traumatic scenario to see Mengistu removed or dead was what all Ethiopians wish to see, opposing to this wish was insanity. /in 1968 a peasant in Menze, after she lost two of her children grieved like this “Mengistu Haile Mariam yegezer tanash wondim! Yezaren tewulegn huletegna alwoldem!” Getachew erred big time. The worst thing, he and Berehane Meskel sent their fellows to hand in to Derg, who then became the worst torturers of all the evil guys; we cannot forget how those guys of Getachew bit us to death. All in all, the military government came to power with no idea of where to go, how to lead a country, and was nonnegotiable, nondemocratic, but gangs of men in uniform. Right at the start, they executed high officials of the old regime and other individuals among whom Major Tesfaye and Yohanes Fetewy who were Derg members and progressive individuals who forcefully advocated the need for provisional peoples government. Thousands of peasants and progressive people were killed, arrested or abducted. All this happened under the eyes of Getachew and how come he justifies inadvertency of these losses. EPRP has fallen to stand strong because of so many reasons, one and above all is lack of leadership that can see the power of the enemies from outside and from within, not by losing a kind of Berehane or Getachew. I can now see Getachew would have not taken us anywhere an inch, if this was his profile as described by Hiwot. At last, I am off course unhappy on Hiwot, because she did not write her book in Amharic, for the new generation to learn from it than to miss the insight of the old time.

  11. Seble Assefa
    November 11, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    Tamirat shame on you!
    Who knows you may be one who killed both men. Or even have blood on your hands.

    • Dessalegne
      November 29, 2013 at 1:04 pm

      Seble shame on you too. You cannot say Tamirat is the killer of the two just because he wrote the above. There are many remnants of the derg and and Eprp time who know everything about Getachew and Berhanemeskel. Getachew’s mistake was not his stand against urban armed struggle (many members did not support that) but his mistake was the compromise he made to expose all Eprp’s structure to the Derg and thus become the cause for the death of many. He should have done some other thing rather than compromise (leaving the country may be one option).
      Seble you may not know the situation at that time or you may be a close relative of Getachew/Hiwot or you may have a different political view, whatever the situation you are in, what you said about Tamirat based on his writing is totally wrong.

      By the way I personally do not know you or Tamirat.

  12. solomon
    December 12, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    The leadership misstep or addressing important issue face on within the central committee of EPRP was a great reason for loosing such a selfless promising young people. Those who sold secret to the fascist Mengestu’s regime to save their own life at the cost of their comrades are worse than the Mengestu’s hired killers. the worst and rat minded weapon of low minded people is exposing their comrades when they can not win an argument against their colleagues. If and if Getachew gave away and exposed to Mengestu cadre’s the name of his comrades his punishment is out right. As for Hiwot, your narrative is well organized but it comes short of telling what Getachew really did, my friend that generation was an amazing selfless generation; right or wrong many died and offered to die for the principle they believe in and the country they adore, hats off for them.

  13. Tamirat Kaba
    December 12, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Thank you Desalegn, Seble looks angry on nothing, I wish I had that power to eliminate anyone, I know we would have not fail. I think she has never been in that gruesome life that the generation passed through, tortures, fingers cut out, eyes poked out, burnt alive, thrown down the hills of limalimu alive; the Getachew Angas did put their dirty hands on their comrades and brothers, let us forget all these. I read the new release of Berehanemeskel interrogation report, and there I learned two things, one, tower in the sky has a bunch of lies about Getachew, this is shameful, two Getachew was a floater. When I met Berehane in prison, he told me he signed 110 pages of investigation report, but this report is 97 pages and page 71 and 75 missing, and where are the other 13 pages. In this report it is evident that he Berehane and Getachew did not work together at the end of Berehanes despair. Berehane said Getachew was dealing with the clique, while on the other hand he was dealing with him against the Clique. With this dual activity Getachew never mention to Berehane about his attempts. When I asked Berehane about Getachew, he said Getachew is a useless, absconder, etc and gave me all the negative images about Getachew. Because of Berehane’s replay to my question, I was so confused about the party’s address on comrade Ha and Le. That is why I said I was very sympathetic about Getachews’s dismay, because In one hand I thought Berehane hate Getachew for no reason but for his great ego, and on the other hand I thought the Clique hate Getachew because he did not agree with what was going on . Poor Getachew was alone and was a floater. With all Getachew’s great efforts to bring the youth movement meaningful, he failed to bring himself meaningful. Now we can not hear from Getachew and can not take a balanced note for a lesson. Getachew’s advocate Tower in the Sky caught untruthful and blocked another avenue to see where Getachew can stand about the cavity he made.

    • Endashaw
      March 23, 2014 at 7:41 am

      Dear Tamrat Kaba, I was a 1 yr baby when Getachew died. I just finished reading Tower in the sky, and yours is one of the names that were not changed. I adore Hiwot, you(Tamrat), Kifle, Berhanemeskel, and of course Getachew Maru (and all the other beautiful human beings in your generation) for having genuinely tried your best to make Ethiopia’s politics better for us(my generation?), and that willingly putting your very lives on the line before the very eyes of hell-boy embodied in the person of Mengistu. Having said that, I have to ask you a favor Tamrat. It is about getachew Maru. He is indeed a hero of sublime quality by the standards of Ethiopian modern politics and the time -I came to this conclusion based on textual analysis(solely based on the text of tower in the Sky) and no other source for the time being. I know about ‘sources’ who are Ethiopians, have participated in that, supported this, fought against that, and some are very close to telling the truth while others are not. So I ask you a favor please, Tamrat, and for once be truthfull as you were then to your party and its ideals. Tell me, Tamrat, tell me your sources (without evaluating them yourself, leaving that to me) which made you say that Getachew Maru compromised … to give to derg eprp’s structure and to say he and Berhanemeskel reda sent their fellows to hand in to derg. This matters for me; I want to understand.

      • Minassie
        March 28, 2014 at 12:27 pm

        I read Hiwot’s book “Tower in the Sky” and I found out that she is the Hero but not Getachew. She was a committed revolutionary but the party failed her. I appreciate her book more than any other person because I lived in the same context that she lived (Hara).

  14. geg
    December 27, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    Surely there are truths about G exposed in the book. His wit was high, no doubt. But a fact is, that the party of his comrades started going astray from the begining, when G’s group was being approached.
    If not plans then dreams of insurrection were there in the eprp heirarchy from the derg’s initial days, a reason for their opposition to the derg’s ‘zemetcha’. The word insurrection was perhaps the most important of their vocabulary at that time. A likely reference to the bolshevik putsch.
    There was wild rumour mongering in the so called activist milieue. Secretiveness, acting as if in danger… giving false impression of oneself to the extent of being ununderstandable in ones expressions was the rule of the day. It is only a complete naiveness that could be excuse for taking note of it and therefore the falsehood in the so-called movement. With a naivete of such caliber, not a fly could come to deal with the sharks that already were calculating in terms of how many lives.
    I am not sure of what G would have been capable of at the event that he could define one of his comrades as antirevolutionary.

  15. ayide
    January 16, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    Now I understand why those old men during “those times” say Lij Yabokaw lerat ayibekam!!!!!

    • Endashaw
      March 24, 2014 at 9:16 am

      Dear Ayide, how can you dismiss the genuine efforts of a virile but vibrant generation like that? Have you read about failed revolutions in other countries, especially at the time of our own? I know the whole thing makes you, and me, angry, but we’ve got to be fair. Don’t you think?

  16. Noah Mengistu
    March 14, 2014 at 1:58 am

    Tamirat, i posted the comment supporting his intellectual abilities bc/ Abraham Atta said “He wasn’t quite so intellectual…” being his sister I ushered in evidence supporting his intelligence. Nothing more, nothing less.

  17. Shewit
    April 14, 2014 at 3:43 am

    There are many Tamerat’s generation spared that ruthless era, scattered in many western cities, and while most of them live inconspicuously ashamed or traumatized by the blood drenched practices, there are few that have the impudence to write events. Tamerat’s comment shades a light to that epoch and he behaved as if he had taken part in the killing spree. It shows he is not remorseful but bold in his desire to repeat if he had the means.
    It pains me a lot to learn so many bright Ethiopians died in vain assuming it was worth of dying for. Berhanemeskel, Getachew and the so many other Ethiopian youths had everything to live for but forfeited all so that to create better Ethiopia.

  18. tihut
    April 15, 2014 at 8:47 am

    no words! hiwot well done! one of astonishing books that i have read. but we need so many books to understand this generation better. Getachew was lucky because he got his place in this book. what about Berahane meskel and others? they deserve recognition. this generation had lived beyond its limitations. fought the odds of society. so their history should be preserved.

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