The political philosophy of German sociologist Karl Marx inspired the imaginations of many aspiring revolutionaries. While he did not live to see his theories played out on the large scale of the Soviet Union, Marx did leave volumes of written instructions for his followers in The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital.
During the mid-1950s, while Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were busy installing the first communist oligarchy in the Western Hemisphere, a parallel partnership was emerging half-way across the globe in eastern Africa. Meles Zenawi and Tamrat Layne (pronounced “lie-nay”) were born just months apart in 1955 in the northern market villages of Ethiopia.
As the boys matured into adulthood, their close friendship was solidified in a shared admiration of Karl Marx. They read and reread every Marxist writing that they could get their hands on. By the time they reached their thirties, Zenawi and Layne were convinced that they themselves were called to lead the transition of Ethiopia into the utopian ideal of communism.
By the late 1980s, Zenawi and Layne had initiated a methodical and escalating plan towards replacing Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. Over the course of years, Zenawi and Layne accumulated soldiers, weapons, tanks and loyalties. Working from their mountain refuge, they would confront Mengistu‘s army in small battles. Many times, an entire battalion would defect to their cause rather than fight. By 1991, Zenawi and Layne marched their Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front into the capital of Addis Ababa.
Having easily overthrown the Ethiopian government, Meles Zenawi was installed as President and Tamrat Layne as Prime Minister. There had been previous attempts at standing up a communist regime in Ethiopia, but it always ended up looking more like a dictatorship. Aspiring utopian leaders frequently convince themselves that, this time, it really will work.
Predictably, the experiment eventually proved a disappointment for the expectations of the young despots. Following Karl Marx’ rollout plan did not result in a happy and prosperous nation. And after a series of trial and error, the boys tossed the roadmap and ruled by their own intuitions. Then in 1996, Meles Zenawi also tossed Tamrat Layne in prison and assumed for himself a more powerful version of Prime Minister.
The melee surrounding this mini coup d'état saw many Ethiopians fleeing the country in fear of the recurring nightmare of violent unrest. Among the refugees to Kenya was Tamrat Layne’s wife and two young children. In time, they made their way to the United States Embassy in Nairobi.