Well I'm sure many of the rebel fighters started out with ideological goals, but, you know, as they say, power corrupts.
Yes, the Eritrean separatist movement was moribund by late 1973. This was primarily because of the conflict between the (primarily Muslim/lowland/Arab-oriented) ELF and the (primarily Christian/highland) EPLF, which had sapped the two movements of manpower, money, and strength generally. The EPLF was largely composed at that time of political figures who had wound up marginalised one way or another, one might call them "victims of discrimination" while another might call them "sore losers". ELF's objectives are self-evident, although they did have support from highland Tigres (not Tigrayans or "Tegaru"- the native exonym-, they are different) and did not have support from the Afars, as the Sultan was a staunch vassal of Haile Selassie (You can read more about him on Wikipedia
, and I can vouch for the quality of the article as I wrote it).
Also this shooting war between the two factions did not do much to increase their appeal amongst the local people. Eritrea, contrary to what the EPLF might say, the Haile Selassie years were ones where the province generally had a robust economy, which was often subjected to attacks by the separatists
. Had Haile Selassie not been overthrown the movement would have almost certainly have died out, following the successful imposition of martial law in 1970 that knocked the wind out of the movements reduced them to the state of infighting I mentioned before.
But the Derg and its military cadres very swiftly decided to crack down hard, on Eritrea in particular, and killed a popular Eritrean general who had been the nominal leader of the junta. The brutality of the new regime inflamed the local population, which swelled the ranks of the EPLF, allowing it to assume supremacy over the ELF and gain strength. The problem of the perception of Eritrean oppression under Ethiopian rule is that it was not a uniquely Eritrean phenomenon under the Derg, and under Haile Selassie it didn't actually exist (or at least nowhere near the degree it is presented as, and again, not a unique phenomenon).
There are some interesting, if rather complex
articles reappraising Eritrea under Haile Selassie:http://asmarino.com/articles/2046-the-eritrean-oblomov-loving-asmara-the-superfluous-wayhttp://asmarino.com/articles/1621-qindependent-eritreaq-a-crumbling-nation-and-a-tragedyhttp://asmarino.com/articles/1798-part-iii-independent-eritrea-a-crumbling-nation-and-a-tragedy-the-architects-of-destruction
One hopes more Eritreans take a critical look at the historical narrative they've been fed and come to the fairly... unspoken conclusion the above pieces come to. If what I mean is not apparent, look at my signature.
Also reading these pieces one wonders how on earth the idea of Haile Selassie as some reactionary absolute monarch opposed to change is still held by people. I mean, God, just pick up a book, any book, that deals with him in the 20s, or the 30s, or the 40s, or the 50s... and so forth. But the 20s are remarkable for his power struggles with real
reactionaries (Zauditu et al), and the 40s-50s remarkable for the immense efforts made to establish institutions of all sorts.
Had Haile Selassie truly been an absolute monarch who didn't have to seriously contend with the aristocracy (who were the real reactionaries) or provincial revolts and such, there'd have never been a revolution. Or at least no grounds for one (the big thing being land reform- which would have been done). Several land reform bills were floored in Parliament... which were voted down. Perhaps he was too deferential to Parliament, in 1972 or so there was a such a bill proposed when Parliament was not in session... it was expected he would decree it into law (and thus challenge Parliament to defy him), but he instead deferred to them, and they voted down the bill. Indeed, on one occasion Parliament vetoed an approval of an Italian loan to build the Koka Dam, on the grounds they had not yet returned the Axum Stela, and he had go to them and pretty much tell them "don't be stupid" and approve the loan... which they then did.
One might question if Haile Selassie was too
cautious and overestimated the power of the aristocracy to resist him in his later years, but their power isn't really ever taken into account by people, and you must remember he cut his teeth clashing with those in the aristocracy who opposed any kind of modernisation. There was one book I once read that criticised him for encouraging people to wear shoes
(note on phrases:
Ghedli = EPLF/PDFJ (the political party EPLF became)
Jebha = ELF
Kebessa = Highlanders )