Sunday, 9 August 2015

Stamps from Ethiopia

The first thing that I remember about 1975 is that I started collecting stamps, the second is that the Emperor had been forcibly removed in  coup d'├ętat  by a group of people. My parents, my brother and I had been insulated from the goings on in the rest of the country because we were living in the backwaters of the country, Arbaminch, the town with forty springs way back south of the country. When the crash came, there was a kind of confusion, a kind of stillness just like the moment of calm that, I am told precedes the Tsunami or the thunder storm.
It is surprising that the regime was using a stamp commemorating the 20th Anniversary of  the Haile Selassie I Foundation way back in 1976 and a good two years after the Emperor had been removed.
The coup had taken place in 1974, but then it was probably in 1975 that the monarch was finally disposed off.The new regime continued using the old currency and  stamps that bore the image of the Emperor long after he had been removed from his throne.
The Logo in the middle of the star includes the hammer, sickle and sheave of wheat, symbols of the Socialist Philosophy of Dignity of Labour in an agrarian society. The stamp commemorated the fifth anniversary of the Socialist Revolution.
The resettlement of people from the North to other areas in the country was meant to quell dissidence and curb public unrest against the Socialist Regime with which they had nothing much to do!
Issued in the early eighties, this stamp was issued to commemorate the eleventh year of the revolution, but also presents a rather romantic image of the ubiquitous and much criticised forced resettlement of people from the North to places in the South and other places - reminiscent what was once practised in the Soviet Union.
In those days I knew very little about how to stick the stamps on the the stamp album which was in fact just a notebook! A few of those stamps exist in my collection even today, and the telltale marks of the gummed up strips of papers continue to exist. The year that I remember with stamps in mind is 1975, the year when everything changed, a new regime, a new philosophy, Karl Marks, Fredric Engels and Lenin were the new poster boys, the whole for me was in a state of turmoil and unrest, slogans resounding all around, "Down with Imperialism!" - "Long live the Proletariat!" and so on. The man running the country, Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam was projected as the protector of the revolution, attaining an almost godlike stature. The stamps post 1975 however rarely, if ever show the protector of the revolution in one corner with the right fist raised as if to drive home the challenge to American Capitalism. The stamps in my collection post the 1975 revolution don't show much about the changed philosophy although they do project the efforts of the common man, the proletariat in working towards his own emancipation, and perhaps the withering away of the state. The Socialist revolution in Ethiopia saw the rise of the cooperative society, and days when all the people of the town had to go to the farm to collect cotton or they had to go to the outskirts of the town to clear a part of the forest for cultivation. The socialist revolution taught everyone the dignity of labour!
Seen in the centre of the logo is the traditional single toothed plough drawn by oxen with the farmer pressing the tip into the earth. A typical stamp that was used  throughout the Socialist Regime depicts the ethos and philosophy of Socialism.
The period starting from 1975 and ending in 1989 was a period when I witnessed the effects of the Cold War. The political posturing of the Soviet Union and the United States of America was rather grandiose although sinister in nature, and Ethiopia was like small fry caught in between two giant sharks sharks circling around each-other playing mind games but not yet physically attacking each other! Of course I had left Ethiopia in 1985, although I did stay in close contact about developments in that country through my parents who stayed there till 1993. The falling of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the setbacks faced by the Soviet Armed forces in Afghanistan meant that the Soviet Union no longer felt supporting Ethiopia militarily viable. The dwindling resources and increasing boldness of the E.P.L.F.,T.P.L.F and dissent amongst the ruling apparatchik meant that Mengistu's hold was steadily growing weaker. The reforms that he brought into the parliament were too few and too late!
The 1982 World Cup Football matches however brought in a welcome break for Socialists, Imperialists, Capitalists, and Rebels alike. The months leading to the games saw many countries around the world printing stamps that depicted the games. Similarly the months after the World Cup continued printing stamps that glorified the game. It seemed after all that sports had brought in some form of sanity into the minds of the people although temporarily!
Issued in 1993, you will notice  in the stamp above that the common motifs of Socialist Philosophy are missing from this stamp, this is because there has been yet another change of regimes. With Mengistu fleeing the country and settling down at a ranch in Zimbabwe, Socialism came to an end.
By nineteen ninety two Ethiopia saw a yet another regime taking the role of running the country after Mengistu had fled the country. Comprising of educated people from the North, like Meles Zenawi, whom my parents had probably taught at a school in Adowa, the new Government also overlooked the session of Eritrea from the rest of Ethiopia. The Eritreans  had finally won the independence that they had been promised so often starting from the first world war on to the second world war . I guess if it had not been for “trouble in the North” then Mengistu would surely have continued for many more years!
A change of  regime and you can see yet another change in the design of the stamp shown above.
Stamps have always been a source of information for historians and scholars. One of the finest hobbies till a few years back, stamp-collecting has unfortunately been on its way out! There is little that Philatelists can do except to look after their existing collections and to write about them as much as possible. I have found this hobby to be most fulfilling and I have been at it since 1975. The oldest contemporary stamp that I remember collecting was issued in 1975. I have taken you through a journey of a country from 1975 to 1993, a good eighteen years in the past, a past that is most beautifully recorded in the stamps that I have  photographed for my valuable readers.
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