Also known simply as the “Derg Monument”, this is a monumental complex in the heart of Ethiopia
’s capital city Addis Ababa
that was constructed during the Derg regime days (cf. Red Terror Museum
) and celebrates in particular the Cuban-Ethiopian friendship – or rather Cuba
’s military support in the late 1970s conflict with Somalia. It’s a classic socialist glorifying design, to which even North Korea
More background info:
The monument was erected in 1984, ten years after the overthrow of emperor Haile Selassie by the Derg (see under Ethiopia
, Red Terror Museum
and Trinity Cathedral
) – and while it does celebrate this in typical socialist-realist
and symbolic fashion, the main point of the monument is to honour the Cuban fighters that came to the support of Ethiopia in the Ogaden War of 1977--1978
. This was started by an offensive by Somali troops who invaded the disputed region, but with the help of Soviet
and Cuban military aid and soldiers, Ethiopia managed to win in this conflict.
Hence the other, and more explicit purpose of the monument is that of a Cuba-Ethiopian Friendship memorial – as a marble stone outside the fence clearly spells out in three languages (Amharic, Spanish and English).
The statuary parts of the monument complex were supplied by the Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang
, North Korea
, i.e. another communist
“brother state”. And it shows in style! This fact is perhaps slightly less remarkable if you know that North Korea has contributed a number of grand monuments elsewhere in Africa even much later – such as the African Renaissance Monument in Dakar
, or the Independence Monument in Windhoek, Namibia.
In any case this is a remarkable relic of the Derg years, and indeed it’s no small wonder it survived – certainly the biggest and most visible trace left of that period of history.
What there is to see:
The main element is a tall column, 50m high (160 feet) crowned by a red star. Two thirds up the column an oversize replica military medal is attached involving the obligatory hammer-and-sickle emblem. At the bottom of the column, atop a marble plinth, stands a group of sculptures that seem to have marched right out of North Korea
(there’s a reason for it – see above
This is flanked by two large flag-shaped bas-reliefs depicting various scenes, such as peasants, workers, revolutionary meetings and, of course, military scenes. This too is very North-Korean in character (even more so than the sculptures). In addition there are two panels with photos of Cuban “martyrs”, i.e. soldiers from the Cuban military support troops who perished in the Ogaden War.
The main column can be seen from far away, but to get close you have to get through the fence and up some steps … and that is no longer so easy, as I found out when I visited the site as part of a city tour of Addis in early January 2020. I had read in older accounts that the site would be largely abandoned and unmaintained, but when I got there I found it staffed by very eager guards and a manager who immediately stopped me photographing (the little photo above is the only quick shot I managed to get in from outside the fence). They said no photography was allowed inside the complex – but in fact even from outside it, as they made clear next. My guide and I tried to argue but to no avail. My guide surmised that the reason for the restriction was that they wanted to sell pictures or even a video of the site. But I don’t know. After I was told that at best mobile phone photos were permissible but I had to leave my pro camera in the car if wanted to go inside the fenced area, I declined and said “no, in that case just no”. So at least they didn’t manage to squeeze money out of me. In hindsight I somewhat regret not having gone to see the artwork close up, but I just found the whole aggressive atmosphere too off-putting at the time.
Now I wonder what had brought about such a change – from unloved, unmaintained and unguarded old reminder of the Derg regime that people would rather forget about (as is very much the case elsewhere in the city), to this ultra-protective and restrictive approach. I also wonder who actually owns the site and whether this whole regime is really legit. Or could it still be some Cuban influence? Unlikely, but you never know.
on the western side of Churchill Avenue between Zambia Street and Yared Street in the centre of Addis Ababa
Access and costs: easy enough to find, but no longer freely accessible, in fact quite restricted.
Details: as already described in the what there is to see section above, the site is now surprisingly protected and access tightly controlled. You can see the main column from the street any time, but to get behind the fence and walk up close you have to obey the strict rules imposed by the guys by the gate. And that mainly means: no (real) photography (with a camera, that is – phones are apparently tolerated, so if you can tolerate phones for photography you’ll be fine).
As far as I could tell, though, no admission fee as such was levied, but my guide made noises about a visit being followed by a hard sell …
Nor could I make out any opening times – none were advertised on the fence, so I guess you just have to take your chances. I’d say go mid-morning on a normal working day or Sunday (that’s when I was there).
Time required: not too long – either just a quick glance from outside the fence or maybe up to ten minutes if you go inside.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
in general see under Addis Ababa
- close by would be the National Palace in the park to the south-east of the monument, within easy walking distance.