By Fikru Helebo
The last time I attended a meeting at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Virginia was in January 1994. That was when delegates from the Council of Alternative Forces for Peace and Democracy in Ethiopia (CAFPDE), which was led by Beyene Petros, had a public meeting there. Yesterday, I attended another public meeting in the very same hall where CAFPDE had its meeting. This time around the meeting was called by the recently-released-from-prison leaders of the CUD (Kinijit). It seemed this meeting was attended by twice as many people as the meeting I attended in 1994.
In a previous post I had expressed my hope and wish that the released Kinijit leaders will "remain united and continue to lead by example" and so this meeting was my first opportunity to observe these leaders up close and find out if they have what it takes to "remain united and continue to lead by example." I am not sure if they will remain united (I have no better insight about the apparent rift within Kinijit), but I came out of the meeting yesterday reassured that Berhanu Nega and the other four colleagues of his who spoke at the meeting are well aware that they must lead by example if their hard work is to bear fruit. Don't take my words about them, just find out for yourselves by listening to their speeches here.
The majority of the audience at this meeting was probably composed of Kinijit members and supporters. But I am sure a sizable portion of the audience was also made up of interested folks who support other opposition groups and non-partisans such as my self. All the speeches were substantive, but the speech that electrified the audience was the keynote speech by Berhanu Nega. I believe every Ethiopian should get a chance to hear or read Berhanu's speech. Berhanu and the other speakers could have chosen to dwell on their prison ordeal or on many of the evils of the EPRDF regime. In stead, their speeches were filled with exhortations about the need to focus on the future and the importance of practicing what they preach.
I think I can confidently say that yesterday was the most optimistic I felt about the future of Ethiopia since the hijacked elections of 2005. A banner posted behind the podium at the meeting yesterday declared, in a Biblical tone, that "Kinijit is the way!". Well, I am not so sure that it is. But, of all the Ethiopian opposition groups out there, Kinijit seems to have the better chance to lead Ethiopians towards democratic pluralism and I sincerely wish these Kinijit leaders best of luck on the arduous immediate and long term tasks they face.