The Ethiopian government recently announced that Berhanu and other opposition leaders had been plotting a coup. Thirty-five opposition party members were arrested in Ethiopia, and a government official said if Berhanu ever returns, he will be jailed, too. It is not the first time Berhanu, a Bucknell economics professor, has been targeted by the government in his native country.
Berhanu was elected mayor of Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa, in 2005 but was arrested afterward along with more than 100 other opposition politicians and stood trial for treason. He and the others were freed in 2007 in a pardon deal. He left Ethiopia after the trial.
Berhanu’s crime? Leading protests in response to alleged election fraud. Demonstrations started peacefully, but led to turmoil that culminated in a slaughter by government soldiers that left 193 people dead and another 765 wounded. The Ethiopian government pinned the blame for the deaths on the opposition leaders, and 38 people, including Berhanu, were arrested and placed on trial, originally facing possible execution.
Berhanu offers heroic evidence that those who experience democracy in action will risk everything to spread freedom.Through its history, Ethiopia was mostly governed by monarchy or dictatorship. The African nation has been struggling to live up to its formal name of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
Berhanu’s efforts to encourage the growth of democracy in Africa deserve the full support of the American government. The United States just completed an historic election that led to a transformational shift in power. The triumph of American democracy provided that the results of the election were accepted without a hint of civil unrest. The United States provides the model for sustainable democracy. This country should also foster the growth of freedom around the globe, including in places such as Ethiopia.
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