None but one phrase best describes the commotion around the gates of Kilinto prison and in the vicinities of Merera Gudina’s (PhD) home to congratulate the famous opposition leader for his release from prison after a year and a month – a hero’s welcome.
Thousands of young and old supporters and relatives of Merera swarmed the streets after news of his release was heard. Although his release is an expected one, the feeling on the streets was like something that came as a surprise.
Merera was one of the lucky few that saw their charges dropped and released from prison in the wake of the government’s decision to release “politicians in detention and other individuals aiming to widen the political space in the country.”
After a lengthy 17-day extensive meeting of its executive committee, member party chairpersons of the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) announced that, in order to bring the situation the country is in to rest and in order to widen the political space, some politicians in detention will be released. The decision received much acclaim from organizations like the AU and Western countries. Eventually, a taskforce was setup to identify people that are eligible for release.
Just a fortnight after the announcement by the ruling EPRDF regarding the release of detainees, the Attorney General, Getachew Ambaye, told a press conference that 528 charges will be dropped with 115 being from Addis Ababa. The remainder in the calculation is from the Southern Regional State whose cases are under the Federals jurisdiction.
But, no one attracted the public’s attention like Merera did. Youngsters and the elderly celebrated his return home and the compound of his residence was filled by cheerful people to the brim. Young supporters uniformed in a t-shirt on which Merera’s picture was printed were chanting songs of welcome spreading flags all over his compound.
Overwhelmed by the reception that awaited him, Merera told The Reporter that he has “never expected such reception; I was waiting for one car to take me home but there were thousands of people on the streets that even blocked traffic for hours.”
Merera said that thrilled visitors including groups of school children are still flocking to his home to congratulate him.
“I have never dreamed of such a reception,” he exclaimed.
Although Merera appreciates the measure the government took with the aim of widening the political space, he said that there are remaining measures that need to be taken that are decisive to bring the intended change in the country’s politics.
“Crucial measures like releasing other prisoners as it started to do, creating better political space and bringing about national consensus among the people of the nation remain to be an assignment for the government,” Merera stressed.
Fresh out of the penitentiary, Merera called up on both the government and opposition political parties to come to a common ground to save the country and its people and create a democratic Ethiopia that can accommodate everyone equally.
“The government has to make genuine negotiations with political parties that have public support. A mere political parties’ negotiation is just a waste of time,” Merera told The Reporter.
Merera said that there were three chances in the past that the country should have taken advantage of but failed to do so; these were the usurp of power by the Derg from Emperor Haile Selassie I, the overthrow of the military junta by the incumbent EPRDF, and the post-2005 elections.
“This is our fourth chance to bring real change to the country; the country is looking for a favor from the EPRDF to give more priority to the nation than personal power,” he said.
An active politician and a former professor of Political Science at Addis Ababa University, Merera promised that he will contribute his part in the country’s politics.
“I got a message from the reception I received; which is the public does not want me to retire from my political role,” he asserted.