In December, an Ethiopian court sentenced Professor of Economics Berhanu Nega to death in absentia for terrorism.
Q: Your colleagues and friends understand that this charge is bogus, but do you hear from others who don’t?
A: I haven’t heard from any one who takes this as a serious judicial decision. Only the Ethiopian government and its blind supporters take this decision seriously. Even the government knows that the decision of the court is nothing but a reflection of the regime’s desires rather than based on any reasonable evidence. It sends a message to the public — there is no court to save you, you live by our rules, if you question our rules, we will do what we want, and no one will stop us.
Q: The death sentence is real, and you were jailed under the Zenawi government. Are you afraid?
A. One of the reasons that you struggle for freedom and liberty is because you feel that life isn’t meaningful without liberty. I don’t want to think about this in a way that would affect my day-to-day existence. I am not worried not because the government would not try to harm me, but I now live in a society of laws that will protect me. You can’t live in fear. If you allow this kind of fear to determine your actions, dictatorships will exist forever.
Q: What sustained you when you were imprisoned?
A: First, the Ethiopian people and their yearning for freedom. While I was incredibly disappointed by U.S. and European policy makers and diplomats at the time, while I was in prison, I also was hearing about Bucknell, my colleagues, students and people at other universities supporting freedom. People who love liberty and stand by your side — that’s the more endearing attachment. This connection at the human level, that people love and support freedom everywhere, recognizing that freedom is a human condition, is the hope for humanity that keeps you going. It was a source of hope for me when I was in prison, and I suspect for all people fighting for liberty around the world.
Q: What is your hope for Ethiopia?
A. Unless the international community takes the position of outrage as it did in Guinea, the government will not change. The brutality of this regime is mind boggling. This is a government that is known for committing genocide against its people. This is a most hated government because it is not only undemocratic, it is ethnocentric. Its basic strategy is to stay in power by terrorizing people and by dividing them on primordial grounds. There are several groups fighting against the government. Unless there is a serious intervention, the whole region will blow up. I encourage Western policymakers to recognize what is happening and adjust their policy before it is too late to make a difference. The only credible and durable solution for the region, in my view, is the democratization of Ethiopia.