Testimonies from Beyond the Grave: The Ethiopian Red Terror Victims

A visit to Addis Ababa is one that everyone who loves culture and history would like to take. The sights and sounds take one to a place of inner joy. From the black Lion at the former King’s palace to the old Orthodox churches, one takes in a variety of colourful sights that remind us that Ethiopia has earned its place as an ancient historical site in Africa. Among the beautiful sites however, is a reminder that all has not been a bed of roses in the nation’s evolution. A visit to any museum in Addis Ababa will have a series of images to share with visitors. One is the historical artifacts of ancient kings and queens, famous among whom are Menelik I and II and Haile Selassie. Secondly, one would see relics of an ancient religion and other anthropological artifacts that showcase the culture and beliefs of the people. The third thing however, which I found very interesting is the evidence of revolution and the painful process of repression that the people have gone through.

Unlike in other countries, Ethiopia has exposed its dirty linen for the entire world to see. The Red Terror Martyr’s Memorial Museum is one of such exhibitions. It is a place where the dead speak to us; where they lead us into their lives and remind us of their dreadful end, refusing to stay quiet in the grave. Most importantly they remind us of what we have done. The Red Terror Museum contains the story a dark period in Ethiopia’s history, during the rise to power of the Derg (a pro-communist party). Due to the struggles among other parties for control of the country, Mengistu Haile Mariam, the then president of the Derg party, led a reign of terror that saw the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians, among them women and children.

    Some identifed, others not 

Such is not strange in the history of Africa, but what is amazing about the Ethiopian story is that it is being told by the people who died – hundreds and hundreds of skulls, bones and clothes that were collected from mass graves and exposed in the museum. Some have been identified, yet many hundreds more could not be identified. The one thing they tell us however is that they lived, they died horribly but they are still present to remind us of who they were and the sacrifices they made for a better society. Their stories hopefully will keep reminding leaders never to engage in such acts of violence and betrayal against the people they are supposed to lead. Their stories will remind us of our beastly natures and maybe reawaken our consciences towards seeking more peaceful solutions to conflict resolution.

The current Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed, recently received a Nobel Peace Prize for the negotiated peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia and also for his efforts to resolve the internal ethnic conflicts that today threaten the survival of the people. This could only be made possible by the honesty with which the country has admitted its errors of the past and how they have opened the wound for proper healing. Let’s hope that other African leaders who visit Addis Ababa will take away important lessons from the ‘living dead’ of the Red Terror Museum.

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