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Like an athlete that won a championship trophy Andargachew Tsige received a hero’s welcome and was surrounded by admiring fans when he just arrived at his father’s house around the place commonly known as Olympia. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed also met with him to talk about how the opposition and the government can work together peacefully.
Andargachew is married to British citizen Yemiserach Hailemariam (Yemi). They have three children together. He studied philosophy at the University of Greenwich in the early 1980s. He served as the secretary-general of Ginbot 7, a political party which has been labeled as a terrorist group by the Ethiopian government.
When the Derg was overthrown in 1991, Andargachew came back to Ethiopia to help the newly formed Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), government led by his former university friend Meles Zenawi. Within two years, he left EPRDF and left the government. He moved back to London and started writing articles that were critical of the regime.
In May 2008, he founded the Ginbot 7 Movement for Justice, Freedom and Democracy with Berhanu Nega (PhD).  He was elected Secretary General of Ginbot 7.
On 22 December 2009 Andargachew was sentenced to death in absentia.
On 23 June 2014, he was once again imprisoned. He was arrested by Yemeni security forces, in collaboration with Ethiopian intelligence service members, at Yemen’s Sana’a International Airport while in transit from the United Arab Emirates to Eritrea. Last Tuesday he was freed from prison.
Capitals’ Tesfaye Getnet talked with Andargachew to learn more about his prison life and future plans before he travelled to London to reunite with his family. Excerpts:

 

Capital: We saw that you received a warm welcome when you got out of prison. How did you feel when you saw this?

Andargachew Tsige: I was overwhelmed because it is not something that I expected so I was very surprised. The emotion and the number of people around shocked me. The reception was very warm and well organized. I greatly appreciate everything they have done.

Capital: You were detained in June 2014 and transferred to Addis and to unknown location, where was that?

Andargachew: After catching me in Yemen  and returning me to Addis Ababa, I was in custody under intelligence services in a villa house in a location I did not know but I think that the place was somewhere around Genet Hotel, however I am not 100 percent sure about that.

Capital: Did you expect that the government security agents could catch you in Yemen’s capital Sana’a while you headed to Eritrea?

Andargachew: Yes, a little bit. I was afraid because there was a little bit of amateurism on my part. It would have been better if I had spent an extra USD 400 for the first class ticket rather than taking a risk by using a cheaper airline which allow easier access for the government security forces. I travelled with Yemen Airways because it was cheaper but I had USD 4,000 in my pocket but I did not want to spend another USD 400 to take a safer airline but in hindsight that is what I should have done.

Capital: Last Wednesday you had a meeting with Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, what were the major issues you discussed?

Andargachew: I am not going into the detail but I can assure you that I was very pleased for the opportunity to talk with him and our discussion was positive.

Capital: When you were in prison there was unrest across the country did you know about that?

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Andargachew: I was denied any form of communication and did not have much information at the time but now and then very close to where I was I could hear a large women’s cell and they had a television set so when they increased the volume I could hear some of the news but I did not understand the context of the news because the prison was full of other background noises. I did know there were some problems occurring in the country.

Capital: After the appointment of the new PM, the charges filed against many politicians have been dropped and they have been released from prison, what do you think about this?

Andargachew: It is a good beginning and it has made a lot of people in and outside the country hopeful. I hope this continues. However, these are the early days and there are a number of issues that need to be tackled. For example there are still many political prisoners in jail. The government should release them. To say that Ethiopia doesn’t  have political prisoners  is a joke because there are many people who are in prison because of their political views and it doesn’t matter what sort of political activities they were conducting and if you need to create a conducive  political atmosphere you should talk with everyone despite their views. You must release them and broaden the political space. There are also other issues which require the government to institutionalize certain things. I know it is not easy to reform the judiciary, the army, the security forces and even the media in a single night but the symbolic steps that the PM is doing now will encourage other positive things.

Capital: Some say the ethnic mindset is stronger than nationalism in the country, what is the reason behind this?

Andargachew: That is the political ideology the current ruling party, EPRDF, pursued from the very beginning. I objected to this as far back as 1991. I’ve written arguments to oppose ethnic based governance. In my view respecting the rights of nations and nationalities to use their languages, to administer themselves are the right things to do. But creating a political system based on identity and ethnicity creates problems. I have always argued such kind of governing style would cause a serious problem in the country. I have explained it many times. Political parties should rename themselves.  Instead of becoming the Amhara People’s Organization they should just call it the Amahra Region. This way the people who live in the region will feel part of that area regardless of their ethnicity. When you specify one ethnicity it atomically excludes other people in that area. And the organization like Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO), Amhara National Democratic Movement, the Southern Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Front and the Tigrayan Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF) should change their name by using regional based names. Using geographical area names will not violate basic constitutional rights. There is precedence for this in the UK and other countries.
Capital: When we look at Ethiopian political parties, some use armed struggle and some use the same ideology but works separately, in your view why are opposition parties not working together?

Andargachew: It is a difficult question to answer. We have to do something about it because it is a very serious shortcoming. It is not only the lack of political space and development in the country, it is the weakness of the opposition parties like the inherent weakness of the ruling party, EPRDF. We have a serious problem in organizing political groups and we should work to overcome this challenge.

Capital: You are now a free man, what will you do now?

Andargachew: We have started something, it is not finished yet. We will continue our  struggle. How we continue is another issue which we need to consider.

Capital: The Attorney General has also dropped the charges against your colleague, Birhanu Nega. What is your comment about this?

Andargachew: It is good, all these steps are very good actions; appropriate and encouraging ones. As long as they are appropriate measures, we will support them with a kind heart. I have said it many times we don’t have a permanent opposition thinking, we oppose only concrete problems which need to be solved. Only a mad or sick person would oppose positive things.

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Capital: How can the Diaspora actively participate in their country’s social, cultural, economic and political development?

Andargachew: That is another issue, I will travel today {Thursday} and we will discuss it with the diaspora. We have to understand that there is huge potential within the diaspora. The diaspora has never been against their people .They have advanced ideas and see that how people are living in better human, political and economic situations and they want to see this in their own country. Due to the poor ear that we give to the diaspora we are not getting enough support for their intellectual or financial assistance. We should tackle these challenges. I understand that the new PM is very enthusiastic about working with the Diaspora.

Capital: What is your message to your people?

Andargachew: There are a lot of issues that needs to be sort out in this country in a very calm and composed way. We need to solve our problems. We need to be organized to meet our goals. An unorganized struggle has no meaning, and we should advocate for our cause not just fight one or another group.