Thursday, May 28, 2009

Celebrate the "Downing of the Derg"

Today is an Ethiopian Holiday celebrating the downfall of the Derg. 1974 a powerful and radical military group deposed (disposed of too) the emperor and a committee (Derg) took over the running of Ethiopia. A socialist state was declared, banks, businesses were nationalized and by 1977, what had been hailed by the western world as a viable movement to socialism and onwards to democracy turned into the “Red terror”. Brutal massacres took place to suppress all dissident voices and the Derg became increasingly more an arm of the soviets. Drought and famine ravaged the country; unrest grew into organized opposition factions eventually forming the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) that in 1989 began an historic military march towards Addis Ababa. Finally, in 1991, with support from Eastern Europe dwindling, his country in chaos and his rule definitely over, the army colonel Mangiest, fled to Zimbabwe. On May 28 1991, the EPRDF entered Addis and the downfall of the Derg was complete. Cannons booming at daybreak this morning commemorated what was by all accounts a relatively peaceful (at the end) take over and Ethiopia took the road to democracy.

Ethiopia is now a democracy but privately people wonder if the bright minds that “liberated” the country are going the way of other idealists who cannot bear to let go of power once they achieve it. Inflow of information (internet) is definitely limited and there is despair amongst many of the aid workers I talk to about distribution of funds. Same old story I suppose. Still, I do see children in school uniforms and a large middle class.

Annie and I celebrated a day of mercifully quiet traffic by taking Maxine to a playgroup at the Sheraton, opulence and luxury the norm in this massive, manicured and gilded enclave - difficult to reconcile the poverty outside the gate with this sanctuary of all that is elegant and beautiful.

Later this afternoon we go to a BBQ at the home of a British aid worker. It will be a multi-national gathering. Tomorrow we are heading out to the Rift Valley for a few days – rural Ethiopia, or as one Ethiopian told me yesterday – “…you will experience real Ethiopia. Addis in not real”.


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