Face to Face with a Man who said 'No!' to Tyranny
By Habtamu Alemayehu
December 29, 2017

Prof. Berhanu Nega (File Photo: Ethiomedia)

One afternoon a good friend of mine gave me a call and asked me if I could, the next day, come to Amsterdam for a meeting. He said that an Ethiopian professor was coming and that it would be an unmissable occasion to hear if we still have some hopes on our country’s political development. I immediately agreed but asked who the professor was. He replied that it was Dr Birhanu Nega. I was very happy at the prospect of not only listening at what this fearless man has to say especially at this critical point in time but also thrilled at the possibility of meeting him in person. I asked my friend for the exact address of the meeting. He promised to let me know the next day after Sunday church ceremony. As promised my friend did later try to guide me to the location.

But finding the exact venue of the meeting was not easy. After almost 30-40 minutes of roaming the streets of Amsterdam, in the neighbourhood of two Ethiopian restaurants, I decided to give up my search and go my way to one of the bars in the city. I was very angry both at my inability to find the way to the meeting but more at losing the good chance of meeting Dr. Birhanu. I was really annoyed.

Couple of hours later another friend of mine enters the bar I was in. Exchanged greetings. This man was quick enough to pick signs of disappointment from my eyes and asked “what happened?” I told him what happened. My 40 minutes of futile search to get to the venue of a meeting chaired by Dr. Birhanu. “Wanna go now?” he asked, handing me his mobile to have a look at the address. I said “yes! sure!” But before we depart I called my friend who, from the meeting hall, was guiding me to inform him that I was coming. He found it a good idea and said although they were almost closing the event there was still a chance to catch up with the round-ups to have an idea of what the day was like. In a minute we were on the road to ‘Eerste hemelersstraat 106’ in Amsterdam.

When we arrive I became even more upset and angry. I almost yelled to my friend, “I was here! I was heeerrreeee, man!” It was true. I was damn right there in front of the building where Dr. Birhanu was talking to his supporters. I parked my car exactly almost in front of the entrance to the building hall. But instead of turning back I headed right looking completely different direction and was lost. I did never turn back to look at the buildings behind me. It was a shame. It should not have happened in a city I have been familiar with for the last 16 years.

Immediately upon our arrival we hurriedly walked to the main get of the building. There were some guys in the doorway standing and chatting. Probably two meters from the entrance door sat an aging man on the couch talking to couple of enthusiast young supporters.

“Here he is!” I said to myself obviously excited. I could not miss him. Undoubtedly it was Dr. Birhanu Nega. He wore warm jacket that suits the weather of the day, put a cape on his bald head and sat there calmly talking to his admirers.

I approached him unhesitatingly and said “Doctor” stretching my hand for a shake. He happily shook my hand with genuine smile and warmness. I said something like ‘welcome’ but immediately apologized for missing the meeting. I stood there in front of him for a moment telling him of my difficulties to find the place very much as if we personally knew each other for so long or more precisely as if I was someone very important he immensely missed in the hall. He nodded as saying ‘it can happen’.  

For me and for millions of Ethiopians Birhanu Nega is, no doubt, a hero. He is a man who abandoned everything every single human being dreams of. Because of his tremendous love for his country and for his people Birhanu firmly stood against oppression, tyranny, illegal rule and all forms of degradation. He chose to fight for his freedom but more significantly for the freedom of us all. Meeting Birhanu was meeting freedom in person. Truly he is a personification of our dreams.

It was my second time to meet this great Ethiopian in person. When I was one of the youngest member of the fake Ethiopian Parliament in the years 1995-2000, I had the chance to talk to him in the British Embassy in Addis Ababa, at a birthday party of Queen Elizabeth. When I met him at this affluent royal exuberance he was a middle aged man and very athletic in his stature. After we shook hands I said “I think I know you” to which he replied “where?”. I said “doooo no probably at Addis Ababa University?” “what year?”. I thought for a while and then “Perhaps 1984” meaning 1991 European calendar. “No!! you are mistaken” he corrected me with a smile. After a brief silence he said “in 1991 I was not at Addis Ababa University my brother (Wondim)”. His answers were short and confirming. I thanked him and proceeded my way in the crowd.

 Meeting him 20 years later clearly greying but more confident and determined as always was not only delighting but also inspiring. Later in the evening, before his departure, I managed to convey to him my heartfelt appreciation at what he tries to achieve for our country. I said that despite my differences (mainly tactical) with his party, my regard for his conviction and determination to liberate Ethiopia from Woyane’s tyrannical grip has always been very high. I really meant it and it was from the bottom of my heart. Undoubtedly he is a real and courageous freedom fighter who dared to confront the consequences of a bitter struggle.

Our political options, as a nation, are very limited. We must choose between either democratization, rule of law, respect for human rights and continue as one nation or joint he list of failed states. I have, a number of times, listened to Dr. Birhanu’s speeches in which he clearly outlined his and his party’s mission and vision. He believes in real democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights and the will of the Ethiopian people be the ultimate source of authority. He has never wavered in his commitments even today when narrow and selfish ethnic nationalism threatens to conquer very many hearts and minds.

Dr. Birhanu’s wishes and dreams for Ethiopia are also my wishes and dreams today. In fact for millions of Ethiopians as well. His political views on how Ethiopia must proceed from its current turbulence are comprehensive, realistic and very much convincing to any reasonable person. In my opinion it is high time for all of us who love our country and who wish all the best for our people to come out and join this wise man.

There are no enough kind words to praise your honour, Birhanu. For now it would suffice to remark that because your name means light, you were probably born to give us light at times of darkness. We hope you will succeed in that.

Thank you, Birhanu! God bless you! God bless Ethiopia!!


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