January 18, 2006

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Berhanu Nega

LEWISBURG, Pa. - Former Bucknell faculty member, noted economist, and mayor of Addis Ababa Berhanu Nega has been jailed in his native Ethiopia since November and the Bucknell community has rallied support for the imprisoned intellectual.

Nega and other pro-democracy leaders protesting the May 2005 Ethiopian elections were charged with treason, inciting violence, and planning to commit genocide.

Jean Shackelford, Bucknell professor of economics, said, "I'm not an expert in Ethiopian politics, but I am an expert in knowing Berhanu. He can't have done the things the charges say he's done. He's a kind, intelligent, and gentle man. He came to the U.S. as a political refugee and returned when he thought he could make a difference. He believes in the economic success of Ethiopia, that his people can thrive."

Shackelford and others, like John Rickard, professor of English, Janet Knoedler, associate professor of economics, and John Peeler, professor of political science, have rallied support for Nega.

They started a letter-writing campaign and have been in communication with the U.S. State Department and the office of Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

In December, the Bucknell faculty passed an official referendum expressing concern about the treatment of Nega, who taught economics at Bucknell from 1990-94. Bucknell President Brian C. Mitchell also has written letters in support of Nega, encouraging several legislators and ambassadors to preserve Nega's intellectual and personal freedom.

"Berhanu could have had a comfortable life in the U.S.," said Rickard, "but he chose to return to Ethiopia when Meles Zenawi came into power. He felt he had a responsibility to help. His goal was to start food-processing plants for poor people. He's a brilliant economist, but started getting into trouble when he produced annual economic reports that didn't agree with what the Zenawi government was telling people."

"Berhanu is brave and idealistic," said Shackelford. "He believes that he is working for long-term goal of his country so that his boys can grow up in a free Ethiopia."

Nega, a leading member of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party (CUD), has been on a hunger strike since December.

"You're never sure what you're doing is helping, but doing nothing is frightening," said Rickard. "You need to make sure that the government knows other people are watching."

For more information, visit www.savenega.org.

Story posted Jan. 18, 2006


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