It was while he was in prison that Ethiopian opposition politician Bekele Gerba first sensed change happening in the world outside. The television news from his native Oromia region had broken from the official line and was suddenly reporting on the unrest flaring around the country. Soon after, he was released along with more than 6,000 others, most of them imprisoned for political activity, in what the government said was an effort “to establish a national consensus and widen the political sphere.”
Within days of Gerba’s rapturous welcome home on Feb. 13, however, the prime minister resigned and a state of emergency was declared to restore “law and order.” Now Ethiopia appears to be on the brink of the biggest political crisis since the communist regime was overthrown in 1991.
“There is a huge change in this country, especially the region we live in, the Oromia state,” said Gerba, from his home city of Adama, where people kept stopping him to pose for selfies. “We feel that some kind of air of freedom is here, but this is regarded by the federal government as a threat.”
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