The sudden, forced departure this week from Ethiopia of longtime dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam brightens the prospects for peace in an African country torn by 30 years of civil war.
Consequently, it also brightens the prospects of increased American influence in a nation once a staunch U.S. ally that Mengistu took into the Soviet camp. Subsequently, however, Moscow spurned him as part of the Kremlin's global retrenchment forced by the failure of the Soviet Union's economy.Despite this improvement in long-range prospects, the immediate likelihood is more fighting, since Mengistu's departure for Zimbabwe is bound to encourage rebels in the breakaway province of Eritrea to keep battling for a peace settlement on their own terms.
Sadly, the rebels have yet to spell out specifically what those terms might be aside from the overall goal of independence for the Red Sea province, a former Italian colony.
In any event, the fall of Mengistu is still a case of good riddance to bad rubbish.
Holding on to power for 14 years, the former junior army officer became one of Africa's most successful tyrants because he was easily one of the bloodiest. Millions of Ethiopians died in his unrelenting wars on a dozen rebel movements, including the Eritreans. Up to a million more died when he ignored one of the worst famines of the century. Tens of thousands of his opponents, real or imagined, simply disappeared.
After the dust finally settles following Mengistu's departure, Ethiopia - one of the world's poorest countries - will require massive amounts of international aid if its self-inflicted wounds are to be expeditiously healed.