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Alem Bekagn: the African union's accidental human rights memorial

de Waal, Alex and Ibreck, Rachel (2013) Alem Bekagn: the African union's accidental human rights memorial. African Affairs, 112 (447). pp. 191-215. ISSN 0001-9909

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Identification Number: 10.1093/afraf/adt006


The African Union's new offices in Addis Ababa stand upon the site of the city's former central prison, known as Alem Bekagn, where thousands of people suffered and died. This article traces the history of the prison and examines efforts to create a memorial at the site. These initiatives illustrate the African Union (AU) in transition. They echo AU commitments to act against atrocities and in support of rights and justice and suggest a distinct vision of pan-African community and a corresponding institutional culture. But, much like the AU itself, the meaning of the planned memorial is ambivalent and contested. The fact that the AU bulldozed Ethiopia's most notorious prison in order to establish its new offices and a conference hall is richly symbolic of ‘buried memory’ – the tendency of post-colonial elites to suppress the memory of victims of state violence while celebrating chosen heroes. The AU still venerates leaders and is quiet about current violations, but the organization's promise and process to remember the ordinary victims of state violence indicate a political opening and may contribute a novel space for the recounting of human rights abuses.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2013 Royal African Society
Divisions: Justice and Security Research Programme
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Date Deposited: 21 Jun 2013 11:04
Last Modified: 20 Aug 2021 01:55

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