A new film, YeNegen Alweldem (‘I Will Not Bear Another Child’) has been causing a stir for probing what was probably Ethiopia’s most bloody period, the “Red Terror”, from the mid-1970’s to the late-1980s.
It began with the 1974 revolution that overthrew the country’s last Emperor Haileselassie.
Mengistu Hailemariam and the other military officers who led the coup then refused to hand over power to a civilian government, enraging leftist student activists.
These students launched a campaign of “White terror” for democratic change and the overthrow of the military junta. Hundreds of officials and supporters from the new military government were assassinated.
The military government retaliated with what was later dubbed the “Red Terror”, eliminating real and imagined enemies of the “revolution” and the country.
Although no reliable figure exists, scholars have estimated the death toll of the Red Terror at about 150,000, with many others tortured.
In 1991, the military junta was overthrown by a coalition of rebel groups, which prosecuted many of the perpetrators of the Red Terror – many charged with genocide – in mass trials.
YeNegen Alweldem, nearly two hours long, is based on a book written by veteran sports journalist Genene Mekuria about youths who used football as a distraction from the claustrophobic fear of the Red Terror.
The main character is a football coach played by Berhanu Digafe, a veteran entertainment journalist and personality. The coach uses his job as an escape from the danger of forcible recruitment into a local government-approved security force.
He trains his players on roads littered with dumped bodies of “anti-revolutionaries” and anti-government leaflets as he tries to juggle family disapproval with his desire to build a great football team at a dangerous time.
At a time when every young man not affiliated with government-approved structures risked torture and death, with a round-the-clock curfew in place to monitor illegal activities, it wasn’t long before the football team’s “rising stars” were under government surveillance.
Eventually many of the young players of the football club are put in jail and tortured, while the coach’s wife urges him to quit his passion.
But not before one last assignment where his players’ tormentors coerce him into a bizarre match between a government-approved team and his team of rising stars. If he doesn’t agree to the match he will be killed or imprisoned, he knows.
While the “Red Terror” period is etched in many people’s minds through personal memories, or tales of survivors or of relatives of the dead, and a “martyr’s monument” in the middle of the capital city, Addis Ababa, YeNegen Alweldem is one of the few films to date to turn this particularly harrowing part of Ethiopia’s often troubled past into cinema.
The English sub-titles to the film suggest the producers intend an unusual move, to showcase to an international audience a period which most people outside Ethiopia know very little about.
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