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Ethiopia - Who is Dr. Berhanu Nega?
Dr. Berhanu Nega is born in Debre Zeyit, Ethiopia in 1958, he attended Addis Ababa University where he participated in the student movement against the ruling Derg government in his freshman year. When the government acted against political dissidents in 1977, Berhanu with other radical student activists fled to Mount Asimba in northern Ethiopia. After a division within the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party (EPRP), he was detained for openly criticizing killings within the EPRP. After a few months, he was released by his captors and crossed into the Sudan where he lived for two years until he was granted political asylum in the United States.
He did his undergraduate degree in economics at the State University of New York and got his PhD in economics from the New School for Social Research, in New York City. During that time, he became one of the organizers of an annual conference on the "Horn of Africa" that debated and analyzed the political, social and economic conditions in the sub-region. For over five years, it served as a forum for intellectual dialogue among political leaders, policy analysts and researchers interested in developments in that part of Africa.
Having completed his PhD studies, he joined the faculty of economics at Bucknell University, where he became a lecturer in economics for three years. Later he founded Imbilta, a bi-monthly magazine focusing on economic, political, social and current affairs in Ethiopia and he was the founding chairman of Ethiopian Economic Association. In 1989, Berhanu married Dr. Nardos Minasse.
Return to Ethiopia
Intending to contribute to the betterment of their homeland, Dr Berhanu, with his wife and his two children, returned to Ethiopia in 1994. Berhanu became an entrepreneur and founded the Ethiopian Agro-Maize, a fertilizer producing company, and Addis Village Family Home Builders. Berhanu has also served as a lecturer at the Addis Ababa University, Department of Economics. From 1996 to 2000, he served as the president of the Ethiopian Economic Association. He has also served as the head of the Ethiopian Economic Policy Research Institute, a non-profit organization that he helped to establish. He also did consulting work for the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
In response to a student petition, on 8 April 2001 Dr. Berhanu and Professor Mesfin Woldemariam held a day-long panel discussion at the hall of the National Lottery on academic freedom. They were arrested on the allegations that this panel incited a student protest at Addis Ababa University the next day, but released on bail 5 June and neither were ever tried.
The 2005 general election
During the 2005 elections, Dr Berhanu contributed to the opposition movement against Meles Zenawi with remarkable performances at the pre-election debates with the ruling party.
Despite the post-election political impasse, CUD met on 20 August and elected Dr Berhanu mayor of Addis Ababa. Dr. Admasu Gebeyehu and Assefa Habtewold were elected Deputy Mayor and Speaker of the city assembly respectively at the same meeting. Had the CUD taken over the task of running the city, Dr. Berhanu would have been the first elected mayor in Ethiopia.
However, the October riots led to the imprisonment of Dr Berhanu, along with CUD chairman Hailu Shawul, Professor Mesfin Woldemariam, and Former Senior UN Prosecutor Dr. Yacob Haile-Mariam and other leaders of the CUD, as well as a number of civil rights activists and independent journalists. They were charged with genocide and treason. Amnesty International and the European Union recognized the prisoners as political prisoners and requested immediate and unconditional release. The Ethiopian Supreme Court, however, sentenced all of this group to life sentence. After the intervention of the international community and Ethiopian elderly, majority of the leaders were pardoned after 21 months of prison on July 20 2007.
While in Kaliti prison, Dr. Berhanu wrote and published a book Yenetsanet Goh Siked ("The Dawn of Freedom"), which was published in Kampala, Uganda by MM Publishers May 2006. The book, over 600 pages long, included an account of his time with the EPRP The first publication of about 10,000 books were sold in Ethiopia in secret some fetching hundreds of Ethiopian birr and was sold out the weekend it went to market. The book is considered a must read for Ethiopians
After his release from prison, Dr. Berhanu found himself in a rivalry with Chairman Hailu Shawel when the CUD party split into two. He is currently a resident scholar in the US.
On May 14, 2008 Dr. Berhanu Nega, along with other former members of the CUD, founded a political movement called Ginbot 7, dedicated to Justice, Freedom and Democracy in Ethiopia, and to oppose Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
On September 11 2008 Dr. Berhanu Nega delivered a speech on the opening of the Ginbot7 Radio station and the celebration of the first Ethiopian New Year after the Ethiopian Millennium. In this speech, Dr. Berhanu recalled the events of the 2005 Ethiopian election, and promised to continue with his struggle. His speech is believed by some Ethiopians to be the most successful speech he ever made, a call to all Ethiopians to a common goal and addressing the questions that had been raised about him.
On December 10 2008 Dr. Berhanu stated on Ginbot 7 radio that Ginbot 7 is ready to tackle TPLF by any means possible since the current regime had no legitimacy and usurped power after losing the 2005 election.
The Ethiopian National Intelligence, Security Service and Federal Police Joint Anti-Terrorist Taskforce announced 24 April 2009 that it had foiled a coup attempt led by members of Ginbot 7 to overthrow the government, arresting 35 people they claimed were part of the plot. Those arrested included General Tefera Mamo, Dr Berhanu's cousin Getu Worku, and Tsige Habte-Mariam, the 80-year-old father of another well-known opposition figure at the time in exile, Andargachew Tsige.
Late in 2009, the Ethiopian government revoked the pardon for Berhanu Nega, and on December 22, 2009, an Ethiopian court sentenced him to death, in absentia, along with four others (three of whom were also sentenced in absentia), while 33 were sentenced to life in prison.
Berhanu Nega is currently an assistant professor at Bucknell University.
On December 22, 2009, the dictatorial regime in Ethiopia sentenced Dr. Berhanu Nega to death.
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