Cold War childhood: An African dictator's daughter in Pyongyang

Wed Oct 2, 2013 5:30am EDT
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By James Pearson

SEOUL (Reuters) - Monique Macias spent 15 years growing up as an exile in Pyongyang and her school days firing Kalashnikov rifles at the same prestigious military academy where Kim Jong-il earned his first stripes as heir to North Korea's seat of power.

"All my childhood memories start from when I arrived on that plane in Pyongyang," said Macias, the youngest daughter of an African president-turned-dictator. "I know how Koreans think and how to talk to them because they taught me. They made me."

This week, state media in North Korea criticized a report by a U.S. think-tank on scenarios for the collapse of a reclusive country with a grim record of famine, prison camps and nuclear brinkmanship - an event that Macias sees as unlikely.

"There are people in North Korea who know that this is not the right way to live," she told Reuters in Seoul. "I don't think it's going to collapse easily. What I'll say is that it can open up like China but very, very slowly."

Chirpy, bubbly and now in her 40s, Macias has published her memoirs - "I'm Monique, From Pyongyang" - in Korean about an unusual upbringing decided upon by her father Francisco Macias Nguema, whose reign in Equatorial Guinea ended with his trial and execution in the late 1970s.

Shortly before his death, and with few friends left, Macias Nguema turned to North Korea for help and sent his wife and children to Pyongyang, where they would spend the next decade and a half.

The relationship between the two fringe states was not unusual in the Cold War tension of the time. North Korea strived to build ties with smaller nations stuck on the periphery of the splits that pitted the United States and its allies against the Soviet Union, as well as China and other communist countries.

Being one of very few black people in Pyongyang and living in a strange country taught Macias to see the world differently. This, she said, is what inspired her to publish her memoirs now, with tensions between the Koreas high and relations at a low.   Continued...

Monique Macias poses during an interview with Reuters in central Seoul September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won