Even though Ethiopia has been undergoing rapid reform since Abiy Ahmed became the prime minister, for Eskinder Nega, the only acceptable outcome is a representative democracy respecting the rights of all people.

By Jason Rezaian (The Washington Post) |

Just a few months ago, Ethiopia — a vast country of 100 million people — was still mired in dictatorship and war. But dramatic shifts are taking hold and they appear to be moving the country in the right direction: toward freedom.

This week, Ethiopia’s democratically elected prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, signed a peace treaty with Eritrea, its long-standing enemy. The news was one more sign that the change promised by the new government is real.

Ethiopia still has a long way to go. But Eskinder Nega, a leading Ethiopian journalist and former political prisoner, recently told me that he sees democracy as the inevitable destiny of his homeland. Now, he said, it’s “Ethiopia’s turn.”

He doesn’t make such claims lightly. Eskinder has spent a total of nine years in prison, most recently serving a 6½-year stint on a terrorism conviction for supposedly inciting violence against the government and having ties with the West. In reality, of course, the government targeted him because he was a vocal advocate for democracy, demanding an end to years of one-party rule.

Amid growing protests, he and several other political prisoners were released in April in a bid to “foster national reconciliation,” authorities said at the time.

In the months since, Ethiopia has been undergoing rapid reform, with Abiy Ahmed promising greater freedoms. For Eskinder, though, the only acceptable outcome is a representative democracy respecting the rights of all people.

(The interview below has been edited and condensed.)

Jason Rezaian: Do you think reforms being implemented by Ethiopia’s current government will lead to real change?

Eskinder Nega: We don’t know whether the new leadership envisions the kind of change that [Mikhail] Gorbachev imagined [for the Soviet Union] or whether they want the kind of change [F.W.] de Klerk wanted [in South Africa under apartheid].

The kind of change that we want, as a people, is the de Klerk version. A multiparty democracy.

It’s encouraging that the new leadership acknowledges the need for change, and they should be supported at least in this regard. But, if they’re envisioning the type of change that Gorbachev intended, it’s not enough.

Continue reading this interview at The Washington Post
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