A Trip to the DDR - "The Journey of my Life"

Chapter 2: Living on the Battlefield

Shimelis Haile Aga visited the DDR in 1987. He still remebers his journey vividly, also because his story began far less memorable. It all started in the troubling times of war between Ethiopia and Somalia. As many young men, also Shimelis' father was sent to the battlefield, and thousands of families and children were left behind. by Michael Geithner (26 Sep 2017)

Ethiopia's darkest Era

Somalia, which was under the leadership of General Siad Barre, proclaimed official war on Ethiopia to take advantage of the severe civil war, which scattered the whole country in all directions. That time was the worst and darkest era of Ethiopia among many other troublesome, tempting periods. General Siad Barre, then Somalia’s president, had the illusion of building a giant empire known as the Great Somalia.

HISTORY BOX: Cold and "hot" War in Ethiopia

In 1977 the Somali Government tried to obtain control over the area Ogaden, which is located in between Somalia and Ethiopia. Since Ogaden was dominated by native Somali, the Somali General Siad Barre claimed the territory for his country and declared war to Ethiopia. Simultaneously, while Ethiopia was supported by the Soviet Union, Somalia broke the alliance and stood aside of the USA. Moreover, the war was part of the Cold War.

Due to an unexpected ambush of the Ethiopian-Cubanian army in February 1978, the Somali defense collapsed and Ethiopia prevailed. On March 9th 1978 Siad Barre commanded his army to retreat and on March 15th the last Somali military unit left Ethiopia. That marked the end of the war. Shortly afterwards both leaderships signed a truce.

War equals Loss

When I was five years old, my father and his younger brother, who were members of the local police squad, were called to enroll in the army that marched to the North. So, Daddy left my two elder sisters and me in his mother’s mercy and marched to the North with the army to protect the territorial integrity of his country. He was killed in action, while our uncle returned back home safe after the war.

Even though my country won the war, there was no loser and no winner at all. Because the loss of life and material damage on both sides was incalculable. The number of orphans and widows were numerous on both sides. I was one of those children, who suffered from a broken family. Material damage, destruction of all infrastructure and social services made life difficult in both countries.

Shimelis' father, Haile Aga Guta, at the war front in the north, July 1975

The Children's Camp

The military government recruited some children, who became victims of the war. A number of children were given to different districts of the country and I got the chance to join the Revolutionary Ethiopia Children Amba (RECA). There were about 1.000 children around my age in the camp. We were recruited from different parts of the country, spoke different languages and came from various ethnic groups. First we faced hardships, but after some time we could understand each other easily.

I dare to say, my personality was shaped there. As little children, we were given various vocational trainings and academic as well as non-academic lessons. The camp had many income generating businesses like fish production, bee keeping, large agricultural plantations, wood work and metal works. We were trained in cultural topics, too.

Socialist Principles

Every child was obliged to go around and engage in different activities. We learned work discipline at a very early age. It was probably similar to a military camp. There were serious sanctions, whenever a child misconducted, such as corporal punishment and deprivation of privileges. Our children camp was organized and guided by fundamentals of Socialist principles, mimicked from youth policy of other socialist countries, such as the United Soviet Socialist Republic, the DDR and Cuba.

We were taught and educated through Marxism-Leninism. We were also expected to memorize some significant Socialist principles. The shelves of our libraries were filled with different books of the USSR and the DDR. I read a bit about the DDR General Secretary Erich Honecker.

To be continued...


Text: Shimelis Haile Aga
History Box: Lisa Laubner, Elke Sieber
Editorial staff: Michael Geithner, Lisa Laubner
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