Addis Ababa, and the history of Ethiopia

Addis Ababa is one of the fastest growing capital cities in the world and is a good place to try to get to grips with Ethiopia’s interesting history. I have been trying to get my head around it, especially this century’s political dramas and tragedies*….

Centuries of fighting between tribes were finally ended when one leader, Tewodros II, united Ethiopia in 1855. It became a kingdom with Gonder as its capital. In 1896 an invasion by the Italians was successfully repelled by the king at the time, Menelik II.
In the thirties, Haile Selassie became king and is generally regarded as a good leader who brought modernisation and development but was also viewed as a dictator, and at the same time as a god by the rastafarian religion. We visited his palace in Addis Ababa, which is now just the Ethnology museum and part of the university . But you can walk around his bedroom and even his bathroom. It’s pretty cool.
He fought a second invasion by the Italians but was forced into exile in 1935 when Mussolini’s fascist troops rolled in. However with the help of the British, he fought off the Italians and was able to return to power in 1941. Steps are still standing outside the museum which were built as a symbol of the number of years of fascism. Also two good things remain… people still say “Ciao” for goodbye and coffee machines mean you can get a great macchiato.

Haile Selassie’s decision to make Eritrea a region of Ethiopia sparked a war in 1961 which raged for 30 years.
Beset with economical difficulties and with mounting criticism of imperialism, he was deposed by a communist group called the Derg in 1974, who seized power and imprisoned him in his palace, until his death in 1975 which is now commonly believed to have been murder at the hands of the Derg.
The communist period ended in disaster as it became clear it was no more than a military dictatorship, and continued fighting with Eritrea and poor leadership lead to worsening drought and famine and the death of millions. The worst period was called the “Red Terror” when the government hunted down and killed up to 500,000 of its own people in an attempt to crush any opposition. We visited the “Red Terror Martyrs’ museum” which is small but effective as a memorial and as a message about the evils governments are capable of when they do not have limited power. The Derg Leader Mengistu was found guilty of genocide but remains living in asylum in Zimbabwe.
The EPRDF who fought and overthrew the Derg in 1991 have remained in power since then, although with a poor human rights record including a police massacre of protestors and imprisonment of opposition leaders, Ethiopia today is still a very dubious democracy. However the large African Union building is a symbol of Africa’s growth towards real Democracy and the recent meetings which have resulted in a peace treaty for Sputh Sudan sets Addis Ababa and Ethiopia as a leader in this period of hope for a country still beset with so many challenges.


The above photo shows a communist statue from the seventies a reminder of its turbulent history while the man lying in the middle of the road is a reminder of the country’s continuing problems.

I visited SOS children’s village, an orphanage which gives stability and education and was originally founded by an Austrian. Foreign aid and international support is still critical for the lives of the everyday Ethiopian in building infrastructure (such as the roads we cycled which are being built by Ethiopians working for a Japanese company) and modern services such as healthcare. The struggle is to move from a culture of handouts to something sustainable and long-term.

(*Please refer to Wikipedia which was my source for verifying dates)