For days, an Amharic Language song, Lanchi new Ethiopia (it is for you Ethiopia), dominated the streets of Addis Ababa. The song was particularly loud in vehicles flying the old Ethiopian green, yellow and red flag, which has no emblem with blue star in the middle.
The city was preparing to welcome its mayor-elect, Dr Berhanu Nega, who clinched the seat following the controversial 2005 elections. Unfortunately, things got ugly and bloody, before he took the office.
When Dr Berhanu and his colleagues arrived in Addis on September 9, the people lived up to their promise. The team led by the economist, based in the US before the election, was greeted by a crowd of thousands.
“I remember the shootings and funerals here and there following that election,” said Getahun Feyera, 38, who lives and works around Merkato, the biggest market in Addis Ababa.
“If you see each of them, they have more than enough knowledge and wealth to live their individual lives. But they choose to fight for us. After the election was stolen, they went to prison, and later into exile to pick up arms against those who have been dividing us and stifling our democratic rights,” he said, explaining why he was happy to welcome the Patriots G7 Front leaders back home.
“There are people in this country who do not like to identify themselves along ethnic lines,” said Mr Omer Redi, a journalist and a political analyst.
“I believe these people, who are very many, consider themselves Ethiopians first. With Ethiopia divided along ethnic lines and its politics dominated by ethnic nationalist elites, this significant constituency has been marginalised and unrepresented over the past 27 years. G7 Patriots Front is the representation of this constituency,” he said.
Their abandoning the armed struggle also gives hope to many Ethiopians about the possibility of a fair and competitive election as the country prepares for the May 2020 poll.
“It all depends on what they will bring to the table for the people during the campaign. If they manage to capitalise on their 2005 experiences and focus on what unites the people, I believe the team of Dr Berhanu is smart enough to win the next election,” said Mr Getahun.
All the cities
After losing the election in Addis Ababa, the ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which is dominated by the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), came up with a law that made the capital an administration part of the Oromia Regional State.
The decision was understood by many to be meant to dry up the revenue sources of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), which won the election, with a view to crippling all their activities.
The major opposition parties had, at the 11th hour of May 2005, joined hands and formed CUD. The coalition was packed with energy and intellect from across the ethnic divide.
Within just a few months, CUD had won the hearts and minds of most Ethiopians, and went on to win in almost all the cities. More telling was that it won 137 of the 138 seats of the Addis Ababa City Council.
The overall election result showed that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s ruling coalition, along with its allied parties, won the majority of the 547-seat parliament. The electoral board declared that CUD won 109 seats, while the other opposition, the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF), got 52.
Soon, however, the CUD leadership wrangled over whether or not to join Parliament by accepting the results and the restrictive laws the ruling party continued to pass.
The country eventually descended into chaos, occasioning hundreds of deaths, thousands of arrests and many others fleeing into exile.
After around 200 demonstrators were killed by the state snipers known as Agazi, the CUD leaders were sent to jail along with thousands of their supporters, demonstrators and the opposition regional candidates.
In addition, civil society leaders involved in awareness raising and monitoring the election were also locked up.
The cruelty of the Meles regime also forced some of their supporters and donors to turn against the government and join the exiled opposition groups.
One of the Patriots G7 Front leaders, Mr Andargachew Tsige, was hijacked from Yemen Airport in July 2014 and taken to a jail in Addis Ababa. Earlier, and right after the post-election crisis, his 80-year-old father was arrested for being in exile.
Mr Andargachew has since been pardoned and released by reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. When he was captured in Yemen, he was in transit to Eritrea from where he, Dr Berhanu and others, were organising the rebels fighting against the EPRDF regime.
After he was released from prison and went back to US in May 2008, Dr Berhanu, along with other former CUD members, established a political movement called Ginbot 7 (G7).
They named it after the seventh day of May (Ginbot) in the Ethiopian calendar, which is May 15 – the 2005 voting day.
Following the election debacle, the G7 leaders were convinced that EPRDF, which took power through an armed struggle, would only be forced out by similar means.
In April 2009, the government claimed that it had foiled a coup attempt led by the Ginbot 7 members and arrested 35 people they claimed were part of the plot. Those arrested included Gen Tefera Mamo, Dr Berhanu’s
cousin Getu Worku and Mr Andargachew’s father, Tsige Habte-Mariam.
Not long after, Parliament declared that Ginbot 7, the Oromo Liberation Front, the Ogaden National Liberation Front, the Eritrean Regime and the Al-Shabaab, were terrorist groups.
Except for the Al-Shabaab, all the others have now been removed from the terrorists list. The leaders of the organisations and members have all been pardoned, thanks to the law passed a few months ago after Mr Abiy took
However, EPRDF too had to endure the consequences of the failed electoral process. Ethiopia was criticised by many international groups for violating human rights and pursuing the Chinese model of development, highly dependent on external support, while compromising democracy and basic human rights.
The ruling party fell out with some of its major allies such as the European Union, and organisations such as the World Bank decided to stop direct budgetary support to the regime.
Indeed the 2005 election was considered the only fair and inclusive one the country had conducted since the fall of Mengistu Hailemariam’s Derg Regime in May 1991, even though it ended on a tragic note.
By ANDUALEM SISAY