“Right now, we’re not thinking of democracy, a luxury,” Nega said. “Right now we’re dabbling,” with elections scheduled next year.
“Genocide is the paramount issue,” he asserted.
Nega was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2012 on charges of having violated the government’s Anti-Terrorism law, but, in 2018, with support from the National Press Club, he was released along with about 1,000 other prisoners under the reforms of the new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed. Nega said that only one journalist is still in prison. Coincidentally, Ahmed is in Oslo this week to receive the Nobel peace prize for his work in resolving the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The session included a sharp exchange between Nega and Engidu Woldie, identified by himself as a free-lance journalist and by one Ethiopian-American attendee as a supporter of the Ethiopian government.
During the question and answer period, Woldie asked a series of pointed questions: Why Nega approved showing graphic photos of children being tortured; Whether he was forming a political party; and Was he traveling widely to court the international community?
Nega replied the photos in question “show the problem … and some want to see them.” He said he was interested not only in politics “but in reversing 150 years of history.” The problem, he added, is “not politics, but survival.” He said he is traveling because “we need the international community to come help us.”
Ethiopia, reported to have at least 80 ethnic groups, has been torn by racial conflict for generations, Nega said, adding that a youth group, Qeerroo, “is interested in ethnic cleansing,” and in light of that threat, “elections seem too far and distant.”
“I’m doing the best I can to get the message across,” Nega said, adding “you need a depth of knowledge to fully understand the situation in Ethiopia.”
He feels that, despite recent reforms, the governmental structure continues to have “an obsession to stay in power.”
When asked if he was “the Nelson Mandela of Ethiopia,” a reference to the late leader for independence in South Africa, Nega brushed off the question with a head shake.
Nega’s appearance, a conversation with Rachel Oswald, vice chair of the Press Freedom Committee, was sponsored by the Club and its Journalism Institute.