Profile: Ethiopia’s Merera Gudina

Merera Gudina
Merera Gudina wants to 'transform' the country before getting married.

Profile: Ethiopia’s Merera Gudina, By Uduak Amimo, BBC News, Addis Ababa

Merera Gudina started opposing governments as a high school student in Ambo in the vast Oromiya region of Ethiopia.

He was part of the student movement who helped overthrow the imperial government of Emperor Haile Selassie.

As a student of political science at Addis Ababa University, he carried on agitating, this time against the communist government of Mengistu Haile Mariam.

His efforts landed him in prison for seven years with no charge.

Upon his release, he went to Egypt to continue his studies at the American University in Cairo.

In 1996, after the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had swept into power after overthrowing Mr Mengistu, Merera Gudina created the Oromo National Congress (ONC).

“ As a student of politics, I don’t believe that killing a policeman 200km away from Addis Ababa will bring us to power
Merera Gudina

Oromo rights

The party’s main aim is self-determination for the Oromo, Ethiopia’s most populous ethnic group.

It also wants the Oromifa language to become one of the country’s national languages, alongside Amharic.

The Oromiya region is in the south of Ethiopia.

And most Oromos resent hundreds of years of subjugation by the north, first under Amhara emperors and now, they say, from the minority Tigrays – the prime minister’s ethnic group.

Mr Merera’s party was renamed the Oromo People’s Congress (OPC) in 2007 after its previous name was awarded to another group.

He now juggles his day job as an associate professor of political science at the University of Addis Ababa with being the leader of Medrek – the eight-party opposition coalition that is fielding the second largest number of parliamentary candidates behind the EPRDF.

Mr Merera is standing for re-election in Ambo, his birthplace, and is widely expected to retain his parliamentary seat.

But when asked whether he believes the election will be free and fair, he quotes the Soviet leader, Josef Stalin: “People vote, we count.”

Legal problems?

Government Communications Minister Bereket Simon has accused Mr Merera of inciting the recent killing of a policeman in Oromiya.

Mr Merera has denied the charge.

“As a student of politics, I don’t believe that killing a policeman 200km away from Addis Ababa will bring us to power.”

But speaking to foreign journalists at a media briefing, Prime Minister Meles said that crimes committed during the campaign period may be prosecuted after the conclusion of the elections.

“If I’m detained, there are more than 30 million Oromos who can take up the struggle,” Mr Merera told the BBC.

At 55 years of age, he is still unmarried. Marriage and children, he laughs, will come after the 23 May parliamentary elections.

He says for now he is committed to transforming the country.