By Adualem Sisay Gessesse – Over the past few days, an Amharic Language song, “Lanchi new Ethiopia” meaning, “it is for you Ethiopia”, is what you hear on the streets of Addis Ababa. This has been common especially on moving vehicles with the old Ethiopian flag, Green, Yellow and Red, without the blue star emblem in the center.
Today the capital is welcoming its heroes, whose organization (G7) was label as “terrorist” by the Ethiopian government.
In a colorful ceremony tens of thousands of people in Addis Ababa have welcomed their elect-mayor, Dr. Berhanu Nega, along his over 200 colleagues this morning at the Addis Ababa Stadium. In fact the state broadcaster, ETV, which used to be considered as, the propaganda machine of the government, was transmitting the event live.
Right after the controversial 2005 election of Ethiopia, Dr. Berhanu was appointed as the mayor of Addis Ababa. Unfortunately, things get ugly and bloody before he took the office.
In fact Dr. Berhanu, who was economics professor in the United States before the election, and his colleagues were included in the government’s terrorist list.
After losing the election in Addis Ababa, the ruling coalition, Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which is dominated by the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), came up with a law that makes Addis Ababa city administration part of the Oromia Regional State.
The decision was clearly understood by many people even the layman, that the motive of the regime was to dry the income sources of Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), who won the election and cripple all their activities.
It was at the eleventh hour of the May 2005 that the major opposition parties in the country joined hands and formed the CUD. The coalition was packed with energetic and intellectuals who multiplied the ethnic politics of the country by zero during the election campaign.
The CUD won the hearts and minds of most Ethiopians in a few months’ time. They won almost all the cities in the country including 137 of the 138 seats of the Addis Ababa City Council.
The overall election result shows that Meles Zeawi’s ruling coalition along with its allied parties won the majority of the 547 seat parliament. The electoral board declared that the CUD won 109 seats, while the other opposition United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) got 52 seats.
Meanwhile, the leadership of CUD began to split about joining the parliament by accepting the result and the restrictive laws the ruling party continue to pass following the election result.
Finally the issue has led the country to a chaos, split within the party, death of hundreds, arrest and exile of thousands of people.
Why colorful welcoming?
Getahun Feyera, 38, lives and works around the biggest market area in Addis Ababa known as, Merkato. “I remember the shootings and funerals here and there following that election,” he says.
“If you see each of them individually, they have more than enough knowledge and wealth to live their individual lives. But they choose to fight for us. After the election [the 2005] was cheated, they went to prison, and later exiled to pick arms against those who have been dividing us and depriving our democratic rights,” he said, explaining why he is welcoming the Patriots G7 Front for Unity and Democracy leaders on Sunday.
After around 200 demonstrators were killed by the snipers, the known as, Agazi, the leaders of CUD are sent to jail along with thousands of supporters, demonstrators and regional candidates of the opposition. In addition, civil society leaders involved in awareness raising and monitored the election were also locked in jails.
The cruelty of the regime has also forced some of their supporters and donors to turn against them and to join the exiled opposition groups.
Mr. Andargachew Tsige is one of the leaders of Patriots G7 Front for Unity and Democracy. He was hijacked from Yemen Airport in July 2014 and taken to a jail in Addis Ababa. Before that right after the post-election crisis, his 80 years old father was arrested because he was in exile.
Finally Andargachew was pardoned and released by the reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed administration a few months ago. When captured in Yemen he was in transit to Eritrea from where he and Dr. Berhanu along others were organizing the rebel fighting against the EPRDF regime.
After released from prison and went back to United States of America, May 2008 Dr. Berhanu Nega, along with other former members of the CUD, established a political movement called Ginbot 7 (G7).
They named it after the 7th day of the month of May (Ginbot) in Ethiopian calendar, which is May 15 – the voting day of the 2005 election.
Following the after voting days crisis, the leaders of G7 were convinced that the EPRDF, which took power through arms struggle, will only leave power with arm struggle, but not through election.
In April 2009 the government claimed that it had foiled a coup attempt led by members of Ginbot 7, arresting 35 people they claimed were part of the plot. Those arrested included General Tefera Mamo, Dr Berhanu’s cousin Getu Worku and Andargachew Tsige’s father, Tsige Habte-Mariam.
Not long after, the parliament has declared that Ginbot 7, Oromo Liberation Front, Ogaden National Liberation Front, Eritrean Regime and Al Shabaab are terrorist groups.
Except Al Sabaab, now all are canceled from the terrorist list. The leaders of the organizations and members are all pardoned by the new law the country passed a few months ago after Prime Minister Abiy took power.
“There are people in this country who do not want and like to identify themselves along ethnic lines,” says Omer Redi, Journalist and political commentator, commenting on why people are now excited to welcome the Patriots G7 Front for Unity and Democracy leaders.
“I believe these people, who are very many, consider themselves Ethiopians first. With Ethiopia divided along ethnic lines and its politics dominated by ethnic nationalist elites, this significant constituency has been marginalized and unrepresented over the past 27 years. Patriots G7 Front for Unity and Democracy is the representation of this constituency,” he says.
Since that controversial election Ethiopia has been criticized by many international rights groups for violations of human rights and perusing Chinese model of development external load-dependent economic growth, while compromising democracy and violating basic human rights.
In fact, the ruling party has suffered a lot after its big allies such as, the European Union cut aid, and organizations such as, the World Bank decided to stop direct budgetary support for the regime.
Indeed the 2005 Ethiopia’s election was considered as the only fair and inclusive election the country conducted after the fall of Mengitu Hailemariam’s Derg Regime in May 1991 even though ended by an ugly post-election crisis.
Speaking to his supporters at the Addis Ababa Stadium this morning, Dr. Berhanu indicated that his party will work closely and collaborate with different parties in the country.
This will reduce the over 90 political parties operating in the country of which most are ethnic-based to a few strong inclusive national political parties which will advance democracy in Ethiopia, according to Dr. Berhanu.
Now the people of Addis Ababa are celebrating the return of Dr. Berhanu and his colleagues, who remind Ethiopia that interesting election campaign and landslide victory of the opposition in major cities of Ethiopia.
Their return to the country by abandoning the arm struggle also gives hope for many Ethiopians about the possibility of yet another fair and competitive election as the country prepares for the May 2020.
Meanwhile many suggest the need to extend the election date to get time for preparation and independent institution building as well as grouping those close to hundred political parties together in into a few based on their ideology.
“It all depends on what they will bring on the table for the people during the campaign. If they managed to capitalize on their 2005 election campaign experiences and focus on what unites the people, I believe the team of Dr. Berhanu is smart enough to win the next election,” says Getahun, expressing his hope.