There have been a multitude of coups throughout the past, many of which have monumentally shaped the course of history in bold and dramatic fashion. The 20th century in particular was marred by the age-old struggle for power. George Orwell chronicled these struggles in great detail in 1984, where he wrote, “We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.” Orwell’s words ring true, as power has been ripped from the grasps of many former leaders and governing bodies, only to be used in the same way or worse by others.
On occasion, though, there have been groups of people who set out to acquire power and control, only to have their attempts end in disaster, ruin, and even death. This list seeks to highlight some of the more noteworthy failed coups d’etat of the 20th century.
10. Coup Attempt Against Haile Selassie Ethiopia, 1960
Ras Tafari, the man that inspired and became the heartbeat of the Rastafarian religion, was the last person crowned Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930 and took the name Haile Selassie I. Even before his coronation, Selassie was focused on moving Ethiopia into the modern era, having introduced advancements such as the printing press, cars, telephones, and an overhauled legal system. Although his continued reign would bring further progression in education, health care, and foreign affairs, the emperor failed to eliminate the class system that governed agriculture. He also held a firm grip on the country’s legal system; he essentially put up a facade of reformation even though he reportedly made revisions to the country’s constitution in 1955. Festering disapproval of the emperor’s rule began to surface and would take the form of an attempted coup in December 1960.
A group of determined military officers and associates led by brothers Germame and Mengistu Neway (commander of Ethiopia’s Imperial Guard) plotted to capture Addis Ababa (the capital) while Selassie was out of the country. General Mengistu attempted to rally the soldiers under his command by falsely claiming that there was an uprising that needed to be thwarted in the capital. With the aid of the Imperial Guard, the rebels eventually captured the crown prince and a host of government officials. They were held hostage for a number of days, and 15 of them were later killed. Unfortunately, the rebels’ plan was poorly thought out and had little support from the population as well as key government ministers and officials. It would be the demise of the coup attempt.
Selassie, who had returned from his trip after hearing of the disturbance, outmaneuvered the rebels and retook the capital. Many of the perpetrators later fled into the city’s outskirts and were hunted down and killed, including Germame Neway. Mengistu was court-martialed.