Red Terror Memorial Museum – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

The “Red Terror” Martyrs’ Memorial Museum in Addis Ababa is one of the most emotional experiences I have had when visiting a dark tourist destination.

This could be because I was completely unaware of the atrocities that took place in Ethiopia during the 1970s. It may also be because of the museum’s hard-hitting approach.

Despite its humble appearance, the museum leaves little to the imagination when you step inside.

Established in 2010 as a memorial to the citizens that were murdered under the Derg government, the artifacts include coffins, bloodied clothes, and graphic images documenting the devastating period in the country’s history.

The Red Terror in Ethiopia

Derg

Ethiopia’s “Red Terror” took place between 1977 and 1978. During this time, Ethiopian men, women, and children, endured a reign of fear and death at the hands of Mengistu Haile Mariam.

Tragically, this new leader had originally brought hope to the citizens of Ethiopia.

After a coup e’etat on the long-ruling monarch, the military, led by Mariam took over the country. What should have ushered in a new era, quickly spiraled into a brutal dictatorship?

Various ethnic groups were tortured and killed as the General ruled the country under a regime of bloodletting. Students and intellectuals met similar fates.

Anyone that allegedly opposed his party was made an example of. The military junta known as the Derg would murder indiscriminately, dumping bodies into the streets as a message for the public to fall in line.

It is estimated that 30,000 to 750,000 people were killed over the course of the many purges.

Where is the Red Terror Memorial Museum?

  • Address: Africa Ave, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Opening Times
Tuesday8AM–5PM
Wednesday8AM–5PM
Thursday8AM–5PM
Friday8AM–5PM
Saturday8AM–5PM
Sunday8AM–5PM
Monday8AM–5PM

Inside the Museum

Red_Terror_Martyrs'_Memorial_Museum_in_Addis_Ababa
Image: Ninaras / CC BY

As I have already mentioned, the museum doesn’t hold back on what it has for display. Torture instruments, human remains dug from mass graves, and bloodied clothes are just some of the more graphic exhibits.

It is advised that you opt for an English speaking guide as some of the explanations supporting the exhibits lack detail. Unfortunately, the museum assumes that visitors are aware of the atrocities so background context is on the sparse side.

That being said, with a guide you will find out the history leading up to the beginning of the Red Terror.

Then, as you proceed around the various displays you are told of the suffering endured by citizens that opposed the Derg.

The guide also explains how prisoners were treated and the methods they used to get messages to the outside world.

ET-Red_Terror_Martyr_Memorial_Museum,_Addis_Abeba
Image: Soman / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Many of the guides actually lived through the period of the Derg atrocities and their explanations are all the more poignant for it. In some instances they actually experienced the types of torture they are speaking about.

In one section of the small museum, an entire wall is reserved for the photographs and names of some of the victims killed by the Derg.

In another area, the skulls and bones of a murdered victim are on display alongside a photograph of the person before they were killed. In some cases, their personal artifacts are on display too.

Good to know

Image: Insights Unspoken (CC BY 2.0)

While signage is in English it lacks detail so an English speaking guide is recommended.

Due to the unreliability of local electrical infrastructure, power can often be lost at the museum. This does make some exhibits difficult to see.

The entrance fee to the museum is free, however, they do rely on donations to keep it running. It would take a special kind of person not to be moved enough to leave something at the end of their visit. Please give generously.

Featured Image: Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada / CC BY-SA

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