Defected army general, Derg officials return home
Number of prominent political figures returning home on the rise
With a belief that there are intensive political reforms being carried out in the country by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD), the prominent army official, Kemal Gelchu (Brig. Gen.), who defected the Ethiopian National Defense Force in 2006 to join the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), returned to Ethiopia on Thursday July 5, 2018. His return coincided with the House of People’s Representatives resolution to remove OLF from terrorists list which was labeled seven years ago as a terrorist group.
Kemal, who arrived home on Thursday, joined the growing number of politicians and leaders engaged in armed struggle with the regime who have so far returned to the country following the government’s invitation for peaceful struggle.
Prime Minister Abiy recently declared amnesty and called up on exiled Ethiopian politicians, journalists and human right activists to return home and contribute their part in the country’s politics.
The latest returnee, Kemal fled to Eritrea along with some 150 troops and then joined OLF which is based in Asmara. After joining the rebel group, be become one of the top military officials in the group until he was expelled from OLF in 2014 due to an internal rift that hit the Front’s leadership.
When he landed at the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Kemal was welcomed by government officials while he was also cheered by several supporters mostly from Oromia who were chanting songs and waving the green, yellow and red OLF flag.
His return adds to the growing number of prominent figures who abandoned their armed struggle heeding to the Prime Minister’s call.
Besides Kemal, earlier this month, a delegation of the United Oromo Liberation Front (UOLF) led by Hailu Gonfa (Brig. General) and Aba Nega Jara arrived in Addis Ababa “to engage in a peaceful struggle”.
After the internal rift that broke the OLF’s leadership, the organization’s general assembly had elected Hailu to replace Kemal Gelchu.
Still another strange scene that the past week witnessed is the surprising return of Kassa Kebede, who was the foreign policy chief of former ruling party during Derg regime.
Kassa, one of the top leaders of the Ethiopian Workers' Party (EWP) that ruled the nation for 17 years, has been in exile for about 27 years since the current ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), came into power.
Kassa and other senior leaders of EWP, including former president Mengistu Hailemariam (Col.), left the country following the overthrow of the Derg regime, and the majority of the officials were sentenced to long-term imprisonment in absentia.
Kassa, said his return to Ethiopia was due to the ongoing reform and Abiy's amnesty call.
In a similar move, journalist Mohamed Ademo who was one of the well-known activists among the diaspora community for his critics and advocacy while in the exile, has become one of the latest returnees.
Based in the US, Mohamed was the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Opride, an online media outlet, while he was also a regular contributor to the Qatari media giant Aljazeera as a political analyst for Ethiopia and the Horn Africa.
It is to be recalled that the veteran prominent Oromo politicians and founder of OLF, Lencho Leta, now chair of the Oromo Democratic Front (ODF) returned to the country. Lencho left his brain-child political organization OLF in 2013 and immediately formed his current organization, the ODF based in Oslo, Norway. In late April this year, he come back to Ethiopia along with his deputy Dima Nagawo (PhD) and Lencho Bati marking the first political leaders who returned home shortly after Abiy Ahmed assumed the premiership.
In a recent move to further encourage foreign based politicians, including those engaged in an active armed struggle, the House of Peoples’ Representatives has approved a resolution to scrap OLF, ONLF and Patriots Ginbot 7 from terrorist labels.