Former outlawed opposition leader returns to Ethiopia

Sunday September 09 2018

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


The popular leader of a formerly outlawed opposition group returned to Ethiopia on Sunday where he was greeted by a crowd of thousands after 11 years in exile, an AFP reporter witnessed.

Mr Berhanu Nega, the leader of the former armed movement Ginbot 7, returned with scores of other senior members of the group, after reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed removed the group from a list of "terrorist" organisations in July.

Speaking at a ceremony in the capital Addis Ababa, Mr Berhanu said he had been forced to wage an armed struggle to fight for Ethiopians' rights, however recent political changes had convinced him to return to the country and conduct a peaceful campaign.

Since taking office in April, Mr Abiy has released imprisoned dissidents and prioritised reconciling with the country's various opposition groups in a country long under the iron-fisted rule of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition.

His support

"We didn't return to Ethiopia in the belief that all is settled, the political reform process faces risks from those who want to sabotage it as well as those impatient with the pace of change, however we've returned with the belief that we should contribute to the reform process," said Mr Berhanu.


One of Ginbot 7's supporters, Mr Sileshi Bekele, told AFP he believed Mr Berhanu was capable of transforming Ethiopian politics due to his support from the youth.

"There is a young population which wants to see change, this youth has come out in mass to see the change, I as part of this group have come out to support the change, he said.

Ginbot 7 had been accused by authorities of armed banditry and small-scale terrorist plots.

Security forces

Mr Berhanu was elected mayor of Addis Ababa in a contentious May 2005 election, however was imprisoned before assuming office and accused of leading a civil insurrection with intent to overthrow the ruling party after accusing the EPRDF of trying to rig the results.

His party called for street action that was violently suppressed by security forces, leading to the death of around 200 people.

In the aftermath of the bloody protests Berhanu and other opposition leaders were jailed for 20 months before being released as part of a pardon agreement in July 2007.

Ever since then the party has been based in neighbouring Eritrea -- former arch-foe of Ethiopia.