Berhanu Nega (born 1958) was elected as mayor of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in the Ethiopian general elections, 2005. He is a founding chairman of the Rainbow Ethiopia: Movement for Democracy and Social Justice and a Deputy Chairman of Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), for whom he served as chief election campaign strategist. He is also the co-founder of Ginbot 7, an opposition party.
Born in Debre Zeyit, Berhanu 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
Berhanu, with his wife and his two children, Noah and Iyassu, 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 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, Berhanu debated Meles Zenawi. Despite the post-election political impasse, CUD met on 20 August and elected 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, Berhanu would have been the first elected mayor in Ethiopia.
However, the October riots led to Berhanu's imprisonment, 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 sentences. After the intervention of the international community and Ethiopian elderly, majority of the leaders were pardoned after 21 months of prison on 20 July 2007.
While in Kaliti prison, Berhanu wrote and published a book Yenetsanet Goh Siked ("The Dawn of Freedom"), which was published in Kampala, Uganda by MM Publishers in May 2006. The book, over 600 pages long, included an account of his time with the EPRP.
Berhanu, who was elected to Addis Ababa City Council and was destined to become a mayor of Addis Ababa in 2005 before his imprisonment, has called for armed struggle to oust Zenawi. He left Ethiopia after his release from prison in 2007 to teach at Bucknell. He announced the founding of a new political group, Ginbot 7, which has formed an underground network inside Ethiopia with the goal of overthrowing Zenawi’s Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front. The underground network include top army members. After his release from prison, Berhanu found himself in a rivalry with Chairman Hailu Shawel when the CUD split into two.
On 14 May 2008 Berhanu, 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 the administration of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
The ruling government 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, 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.
In late 2009 the Ethiopian government revoked the pardon for Berhanu Nega, and on 22 December 2009, an Ethiopian court sentenced him to death, in absentia, along with four others (who were also sentenced in absentia), while 33 were sentenced to life in prison.
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