"If you can't get your politics right, you can't get your economy right. A country may obtain short-term goals but without an inclusive, broad-based political structure, growth isn't sustainable."
Berhanu Nega views his research through an incredibly personal filter. "Economic development is not just a political exercise for me; I've lived in turbulence and seen how economic progress or its lack interacts with the process of democratization," he says.
Born in Ethiopia, Nega taught at Bucknell for three years after completing his doctorate before returning to Addis Ababa in 1994, where he became deeply involved in the political process. In 2005, he was elected mayor of the city -- but never assumed his role. Instead, he was arrested after the government responded violently to peaceful protests of the rigging of the election, and he spent 21 months in jail.
Released in July of 2007, Nega returned to Bucknell in the Spring 2008 semester determined to promote the principles of freedom and democratization necessary for a healthy and thriving societal structure.
Nega says that even when he was very young, he was interested in the economic outcomes that emerge between institutions and political activity. Since his release from prison, his research has borne a particular focus on democratization and development. He says his research has shown him that, quite simply, "If you can't get your politics right, you can't get your economy right. A country may obtain short-term goals but without an inclusive, broad-based political structure, growth isn't sustainable. You can't have long-term progress when only a small portion of society benefits."
There is a series of questions that naturally follow, such as the influence of internal vs. external factors, or what constitutes a democracy or not, once you open the door and ask how society benefits, says Nega, and he encourages his students to explore those questions.
"It is difficult to be an effective teacher without following what the current literature and debate is, and by its nature research keeps you abreast of contemporary discussion," he says. "I try as much as possible to give my students not only the literature in the debates but also real-world examples of how these issues impact people on the ground. They can start to see that these aren't abstract, ivory tower discussions. These questions impact millions of real people in the real world. I want to link real world experiences to classroom discussions."
Posted August 2012
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