After years in exile, an Ethiopian politician returns home with hope and fear

A man holds a banner picturing Berhanu Nega, the leader of the former armed movement Patriotic Ginbot 7, as he celebrates, with other Ethiopians, in the streets of Addis Ababa, the return of the politician who was exiled for 11 years, on September 9, 2018. – The popular leader of a formerly outlawed opposition group returned with scores of other senior members of the group after reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed removed the group from a list of ‘terrorist’ organisations in July. Ginbot 7 means ’15 May’, the date of the Ethiopian general election in 2005, which was marred by protests over alleged fraud that led to the deaths of about 200 people. (Photo by YONAS TADESSE / AFP) (Photo credit should read YONAS TADESSE/AFP/Getty Images)

ECADF | ADDIS ABABA, Nov 7 (Reuters) – A year ago, rebel leader Berhanu Nega was coordinating attacks against Ethiopian soldiers from his base across the border in Eritrea and faced a death penalty at home.

In September, he returned to Ethiopia to address tens of thousands of cheering supporters in a stadium in the capital, Addis Ababa.

The journey of the mild-mannered former economics professor from exile to rock-star welcome says a lot about how much Ethiopia has changed in recent months. He is the most high profile of dozens of political dissidents, former rebels, and secessionist leaders who have come home since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in April. Their return has Ethiopians hopeful that the country of 105 million – Africa’s second most populous – can finally embrace democracy.