Dinaw Mengestu on the Red Terror

Dinaw Mengestu: The Red Terror had two parts, where one, there was this sort of a military revolt against Haile Selassie. And that ended up taking on sort of Marxist strains. Partly also because the military leaders needed alliances, and during that time it was, who's going to give them the most aid? And the Soviets stepped in. But there were genuine students who had Marxist philosophies, who had Marxist beliefs, because they saw the poverty of their country, they saw the enormous economic disparity, and wanted to move the country in that direction.

My father left during The Red Terror, 1978, which is when the Communist government began this purge of the Ethiopian bourgeoisie and a lot of intellectuals and academics, who they viewed as a threat. My father worked for Ethiopian Airlines, and his family was sort of an affluent, prominent family. And my father's brother was a very prominent lawyer in Ethiopia, and so he was the first one who was arrested and then killed. And then on my mom's side, her brothers, because they were young men, they were supposed to sort of join one side of the revolution or another, and so there became these also competing factions inside of the country, of different Marxist, Communist movements. And so there was also sort of side civil war conflicts happening in the streets of Addis Ababa. And so young men were either thrown into prison or forced to join these movements. And so one of my uncles ended up in prison; another left the country. And during that period, my father recognized that there was very little left for our family to hold onto. A lot of what they had had been taken away by the government. His brother had been killed. And he wasn't sure about his own safety any more. So he chose to leave.

Dinaw Mengestu on the Red Terror in Ethiopia.