According to the CIA report Ethiopia: Political and Security Impact of the Drought, published in 1985, the famine crisis under Mengistu mirrored the downfall of the former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974. Mengistu was aware of this and tried to retain his power by giving the military and their family members all kinds of benefits including food in return for support at the expense of the rest of the population. Eighty percent of the population affected by the famine lived in the north of Ethiopia, however, relief efforts to the north were sabotaged by Mengistu’s government and rebels. At the same time, concentration on relief efforts to the north distracted attention from other (though to a lesser extent) affected areas in the south. Subsequently, the famine crisis worsened.
In terms of Ethiopia’s foreign affairs policy, president Mengistu regarded the US as his biggest enemy as he believed that the US supported the rebels. He also continued to place limits on Western donor access. Despite this, however, the US still succeeded to reach an agreement with the Ethiopian Government to let the RRC handle the aid relief directly. Other key players in Ethiopian aid relief included the FAO’s World Food Program, the Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children Federation, Lutheran World Federation, Church World Services, World Vision and Oxfam.
Furthermore, in the CIA’s view, Mengistu would survive the famine crisis if both the West and the Soviet Union would continue to support Ethiopia, the first with humanitarian aid and the latter with military and security aid. Mengistu also heavily relied on his own army and security services in order to stay in power.