Faculty Profile: Berhanu Nega
"What I got most interested in was the idea of being able to look at what people are doing not only as individuals, but as individuals acting in a pattern or network of pre-existing relationships."
Assistant professor of economics
Just over a year ago, Berhanu Nega was locked in an Ethiopian jail. Now he is returning to Bucknell to re-join the economics department.
Nega was an economics professor at Bucknell from 1990 until 1994, when he returned to his native Ethiopia to join the Department of Economics at Addis Ababa University. He established and directed the Ethiopian Economic Policy Research Organization, the first such independent research institute in Ethiopia.
He eventually became a leader in the democratic opposition in Ethiopia, serving as deputy chairman for the Coalition for Unity and Democracy. In 2005, he became the first elected mayor in Ethiopia’s history after winning more than 75 percent of the vote for mayor of Addis Ababa.
The ruling party, however, declared victory in races throughout the country and arrested Nega and other opposition leaders on charges of treason.
"Thus ended the Ethiopian democratic experiment that had started with such high hopes, leaving the country in the darkness of totalitarian rule," Nega said, in a talk on campus in February.
Among Nega's supporters during his imprisonment were several Bucknell faculty members and President Brian C. Mitchell, who wrote letters calling for his release.
After 20 months in jail, Nega was released in July 2007. He returned to Bucknell as a visiting international scholar in economics in Spring 2008.
Since his release, Nega has urged the United States and other Western nations to back democratic movements in Ethiopia and other African countries by withdrawing support given to dictators in the name of stability.
"The principle of freedom and liberty that you believe in are the natural rights of every human being, wherever they are," Nega said. "This is the principle that the average American shares with the forces in Ethiopia who have struggled with their sweat and blood to establish political order in their country."