At the fringe of a compound belonging to the Black Lion Hospital, there is a well-tended park owned by the Lideta District, a local administrative unit under the Addis Ababa city government. It stands facing the Post Office, across Churchill Avenue. There, bisecting the park’s more than 4,000sqm of space into two halves, stands a slender curving obelisk that can easily steal one’s attention.
This appears to be one of a handful of vestiges left over from our communist past. The tall monument represents a missile locked-and-loaded on its launching pad. Though left to rot in the sun now, it used to be celebrated for its architectural feat.
Its North Korean architects must have been excited to carve and engrave the images of our former dictator, Colonel MengistuHailemariam – his images embossed both in a civilian outfit and in a full military uniform. The carving of his key cabinet members congregated before him attests to their total submissiveness. The monument was originally known as ‘Our Victory’ and its Amharic equivalent goes by ‘Delachen’.
Having been there for more than three decades now, and its symbolism attached to the prestige of Communism barely recognisable today, there are visitors who come to take a glimpse of the monument. I met some foreign visitors and was surprised to find that they were from formerly communist countries.
I was forced to ask myself, why does this monument particularly attract visitors from the east and not elsewhere?
As an age-old dictum has it, “blood is thicker than water”.
I traced this line to prove the maxim when I came across a group of Georgians snapping photos of the monument. I asked one of them what relevance this monument bore to them.
A middle-aged Georgian female shot back at me enthusiastically, “finding such a monument half a world away is a fascinating experience for us, making us feel at home.”
What surprised me most was the fact that I continued to meet other foreign nationals, including Cubans, Russians and Vietnamese, at the same place at different times and my question for each one of these groups was met by a similar outlook towards the monument. They paid homage to this particular statue for no better reason than for its communist heritage, honouring the glory of communism.
In the past, I maintained strong feelings that the obelisk could not have had any historical importance beyond signalling an era that lurked in the days when communism was a force to be reckoned with. But, this very monument is still venerated by people, whose hearts and minds remain close to the communist ideals.
Most recently, on my route to the post office, I took one more tour of the monument just before the park was sealed off for some refurbishing. There again I ran into a guy who was inside the park observing the kids riding rented bicycles and playing soccer. After I greeted him, he softly returned my greeting with an accent reminiscent of someone from Iberia.
If it had not been for our pleasant exchanges that quickly revealed his country of origin, I would have mistaken him for a Brazilian or someone from one of the countries across the Atlantic. In fact, he was Cuban. Upon learning that, for a good reason, my curiosity ran high.
Aware that the park the Cuban guy and I stood in is called the Ethiopia-Cuba Friendship Memorial Park, I refreshed his memory of the Cuban sacrifices for this nation.
Given that, in a mild sense of sarcasm, I asked, “why is it the Ethiopian government does not appropriate a better site than this park in honour of the two countries’ historical relationship?”
He reacted positively to my reference and took it as a compliment. However, there was no reason for him not to be pleased seeing a park bestowed in memory of the countries’ diplomatic relationship, in the same compound where a statue of communism stands.
He replied, “this is one of my favourite monuments in Ethiopia and, above all, I feel emotionally comfortable to see the monument being inside a park honoured for the Ethio-Cuban friendship.”
It is true that at one point in their history, Ethiopia and Cuba have had a shared vision of friendship.
The friendship between the two countries dates back to the late 1970’s when the southeastern region of Ethiopia was invaded by the Somali Democratic Republic. Historically, Ethiopia and Somalia have had a bloody territorial dispute. For Ethiopia, it was a time of unstable transition after Emperor Haileselassie I was deposed of power. This was also the time when the path to Ethio-Cuban friendship was paved, opening the door for communism. Cubans were among the chief advocates of a pro-Marxist regime in the Horn of Africa.
Soon, the Cuban soldiers, along with their Ethiopian comrades, fought to repulse the invasion from Somalia. From that point on, the communist regime in Cuba, under its leader Fidel Castro, sent a legion of Cuban teachers and medical professionals to Ethiopia.
Cuba also became one of the key enablers of the former military dictatorship in Ethiopia. With a population of less than 10 million, Cuba could afford to send its professionals to faraway places such as ours at the time, we had over three times as many Cubans.
Cuba, being a close ally and advisor to the regime in Ethiopia, stood by as the infamous red-terror campaign that became a state policy to suppress dissent all across Ethiopia. During the 17-year reign of the former military junta, a generation of some of the best-educated youth perished. A good number of the death squads, who were responsible for executing the campaign of terror were trained in Cuba under Castro.
All had come home to perpetrate enhanced tortures and mass murder. According to Amnesty International’s sources found at the Red Terror Martyrs’ Memorial Museum in Addis Abeba, as many as half a million Ethiopians perished during the reign of Dergue. All was done in the name of communism, through the base of which international proletarianism was to be advanced.
To this day, Cuba has been stuck with communism, while Ethiopia was liberated from it 26 years ago. But the communist ideology stubbornly remains in the political ideology of the current administration. Like its communist allies in Europe, Cuba took no responsibility for being an accomplice in the murderous regime that ruled Ethiopia.
The monument to cement the friendship between Ethiopia and Cuba was built by another diehard communist state, North Korea. Although an economically impoverished hermit kingdom, North Korea was able to finance and build the monument for its ideological ally. Until Communism was proved obsolete worldwide, and the military regime in Ethiopia had ceased to exist, more frugal resources were expended on monuments, obelisks and statues, instead of housing units and draughts.
When the time was up, some of those monuments were left to rot under the sun and a few others were either deteriorated or brought down.
In the aftermath of the downfall of the Marxist government in May 1991, a prominent statue of Lenin that once stood in front of the office of the Economic Commission of Africa (ECA) was dismantled. However, a number of other communist-era monuments were left untouched. One of which must have transcended the odds of being irrelevant to renew its purpose and visibility. Despite the odds, this monument continues to be one of the dominant features in the heart of the city.
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