Former president Dr Negasso Gidada has transformed himself overnight from the butt of jokes into the most popular politician in Ethiopia with a few simple acts of courage. Unfortunately, his popularity came as he is about to conclude his political career. He has recently announced that he will step down as chairman of the Union for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) next month.
Negasso’s emergent popularity
Compared to the scarifies that Andualem Aragie, Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu and other heroes are paying, what Dr Negasso did is too insignificant. All he did was put himself in front of the young UDJ activists and lead from the front in preparation for Sunday’s Millions of Voices for Freedom march. But by leading from the front, he exposed himself to the same dangers young activists are facing every day. By leading from the front, he also helped many people to overcome their fear and join the march. The success of Sunday’s protest march was due in large part to Negasso Gidada’s leadership.
On two occasions last week Dr Negasso was detained briefly by police. When he was detained the second time, it was because he went to the police station where several UDJ activists were detained and demanded their release. When the police refused, he asked them to arrest him instead and release the activists because he told them that he is the one who sent the kids out to distribute flyers. The police obliged and arrested him. The young activists were released. That little act of courage earned the former president tonnes of love and respect. On Sunday, when he came out of the UDJ office, he was received with a hero’s welcome by the thousands of people who were preparing for the march to Meskel Square.
Dr Negasso was one of the most despised personalities in Ethiopian politics when he was a figurehead president under the TPLF junta. Some of the good things he did, such as refusing to sign death warrants (official orders authorizing executions of prisoners), were overshadowed by all the evil acts that were being committed by the late dictator Meles Zenawi and his tribal junta on a daily basis. In one remarkable incident, after Dr Negasso refused to sign an execution order against Jemil Yassin, the alleged killer of Gen. Hayelom Araya, Meles Zenawi’s thugs simply dragged him out of his prison cell and showered him with bullets, in total disregard for the constitution. President Negasso did not speak out about this incident, as well as the countless other crimes that the TPLF thugs were committing while he was the president.
After being pushed out from the presidency by Meles Zenawi, Dr Negasso became a strong critic of the regime, later on joining the UDJ and becoming its chairman. But it was hard for many people to take him seriously — until now.
It is not too late for Dr Negasso to continue providing leadership — some thing that is terribly lacking in the Ethiopian society of today. One doesn’t necessarily have to become a chairman of some political party to lead. Hopefully, he will put his newly earned political capital to good use by continuing to speak out on behalf of voiceless Ethiopians.