Many Africans were kidnapped, incarcerated and shipped out of Africa to be traded like animals. Since Europeans could not easily travel inland and navigate through the West African kingdoms to capture slaves, they employed Africans to carry out the task . West African rulers for example exchanged prisoners of war for firearms . One slave, Olaudah Equiano records in his memoirs that at the age of eleven when ‘I and my dear sister were left to mind the house, two men and a woman got over our walls and in a moment seized both of us and without giving us time to cry out or make resistance [they grabbed us] and ran off into the nearest wood’ . Children such as Equiano, along with other adults, would then be marched to the coast .
The transformation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to the African Union (AU) saw the commemorative history of Africa under colonialism being largely delegated to individual African nation – states. Continental commemorative initiatives today act subsidiary to national independence celebrations. However, as outlined in this article, it still remains essential for Africa to collectively remember the shared painful history of the continent under the yoke of colonialism.
Colonial Africa ‘Gulags’: Transforming centres of rights abuses to seats of citizen protection and empowerment
The system of racial segregation that pervaded the generality of South Africa’s society was also well enunciated at ‘Number Four’. Non-white prisoners were placed at the bottom of the racial hierarchy even in prisons.
In October 1977 alone an estimated 3,000-4,000 individuals were killed and all opposition members in high-level government positions were removed.The Red Terror officials conducted two major house to house searches that lasted days, killing many in their path. Bodies of those killed would then be placed on display in the streets with posters on their corpses branding them as enemies of the revolution. Many accounts state that security forces did indeed often simply dump dead bodies along the side of the road and piled them on street corners. Some victims were even forced to dig their own graves before being murdered, while families were made to pay a fee to retrieve bodies of their relatives25. Even more shockingly, children also became the target of the kebeles26. Save the Children protested in early 1978 against the alleged execution of 1,000 children, many under thirteen, whom the government labelled as ‘liaison agents of the counter revolutionaries’27. Clearly, during the Red Terror, no one was safe.
Much of the debate over memorialising human rights abuses centres around concerns for the future; critics of memorialisation find it difficult to accept that remembrance serves to honour the past and avoid being bound by it. Memorialisation however is not about vengeance or blame, but about remembrance and recognition. As Ellie Wiesel, one of the Holocaust’s most famous chroniclers put it, those who refuse to remember the victims of atrocities “. . . are committing the greatest indignity human beings can inflict on one another: telling people who have suffered excruciating pain and loss that their pain and loss were illusions.”
Ethiopians were hopeful. The new government promised to strip away a history of fuedalism and promised to liberate the masses. But, within months, Mengistu made it clear that we would brink no opposition, slaughtering over 60 of the former Emperor’s ministers. Emperor Haile Selassie was killed in August 1975. Later in the year, Mengistu unleashed a campaign of mass murder and terror which he officially dubbed “The Red Terror” on the civilian population, targeting mainly the educated youth and urban elites.
“Those who do not live in Rwanda need to understand where this tragedy came from in order to prevent it from happening in their own country. Others need to understand so that they can help the Rwandan people end the violence.” - Fr. Modeste Mungwarareba
Rwanda has been — and will remain to be for some time — defined by the genocide. A day spent talking to ordinary Rwandese, the first lady, a judge from the supreme court and the ministry of justice showed us that the genocide and its aftermath informs the development agenda of the country.
The Commission of the African Union (AU) and the London-based Non-Governmental Organisation Justice Africa have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Wednesday, 21 December 2011, at the AU headquarters
Much blood was spilled on this land. In 1937, soon after Alem Bekagn, was built, thousands of Ethiopians were rounded up there and executed for trying to assassinate the Italian governor. When Haile Selassie was restored to power, in 1941, he too found the prison useful to warehouse political prisoners. Ethiopia had regained its independence, but its people won few freedoms.
Yet Selassie, the fearsome autocrat at home, was also an inspiration to African independence leaders. In 1963, Ethiopia became host to the Organization of African Unity, newly set up to promote pan-African solidarity. The O.A.U. was given a momentary residence in a police academy set on the sloping compound directly across from Alem Bekagn. Then the temporary became permanent, and an intimate relationship between the organization and the prison was accidentally created.
The Memorial is also an acknowledgement at a continental level that African peoples anywhere cannot ever again be the victims of such abuses. And in the event of such gross violations, it is a collective responsibility to come to the rescue of those targeted and to make sure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.
On the afternoon of January 28th, as the African heads of state met inside the new conference center and office complex, I stood with a handful of others in a windy corner of the compound, at the spot where human rights memorial will stand. Now, there is only a block of [...]
The new headquarters of the African Union have been built on the site of Addis Ababa’s former central prison, officially called Akaki, but known in Ethiopia as Alem Bekagn, or ‘farewell to the world’, and the site of detentions and massacres, from the Italian occupation of 1936 to the Red Terror of 1977-78.
The AUHRM places a burden of obligation on African leaders and the AU to be responsive to human rights violations in the continent. By ratifying the AU Constitutive Act African nation–states made a commitment to never shy away from gross human rights violations should they occur in member states. As the people of Africa commemorate and reflect on human rights violations through the AUHRM they also monitor and evaluate the commitment of the AU and African leaders in working towards the promotion of peace and respect for human rights on the continent.