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Born in 1961 in West Wollega region of western Ethiopia, Bekele Gerba went to elementary school in Boji Dirmaji and completed his high school in Gimbi senior secondary school. Bekele was graduated with BA degree in foreign language and literature from the Addis Abeba University (AAU) and taught in Dembi Dolo and Nejo high schools in western Ethiopia, among others. He finished his post graduate studies in 2001 in teaching English as a foreign language at the AAU and went to Adama Teachers’ College, 98kms south of Addis Abeba, where he taught English and Afaan Oromo. Suspected of allegedly supporting students’ riot that took place a year before, Bekele was dismissed in 2005 by the college. He then came to Addis Abeba where he taught in two private universities for two years until he was employed in 2007 as a full time lecturer by the AUU where he continued teaching English. Bekele’s political career began in 2009 when he joined the opposition party, Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM), as a member of the executive committee and head of the public relations department. Bekele participated and lost in the 2010 parliamentary elections in which the ruling EPRDF claimed more than 99% of the seats in parliament. A father of four, Bekele was arrested in 2011 and sentenced to eight years in prison suspected of allegedly belonging to the banned Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Upon appeal to the Supreme Court, his sentencing was reduced to three years and seven months with a right to parole. After the merger in 2012 of OFDM and Oromo Peoples’ Congress (OPC) that became known as the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) Bekele was appointed as First Deputy Chairman while he was still serving his sentence. Although he was paroled and was eligible to be free in 2014 Bekele was released in the first week of April 2015 only after he finished his sentencing. A few days after his release Bekele agreed to sit down for his first extensive interview with our Editor-in-Chief Tsedale Lemma. Excerpts:  

Ed’s Note: In the first part of this series of reflections on elections in Ethiopia, Tsegaye R. Ararsa of the University of Melbourne Law School described the current politico-legal context in which Ethiopia’s election 2015 takes place. The goal was to explore the ‘mood’ so that we can say there is a generally ‘democratic ambience’ within the context of which we expect a free and fair election. In this second part, Tsegaye describes the historical context in order for us to get the feel and flavor of the general sense of disenchantment with the state form and its constitutional incapability to turn up a democratic electoral process.


Problematic state form: A body politic with inaugural violence, held together by violence


*Tsegaye R Ararssa


If the immediate civic-political space is dwindling because of the saturation of this space by the obtrusive legal structure that (re)occupied it, the bigger ‘stage’ in which all this happens – the Ethiopian state system – is nowhere close to engendering a ‘political ecology’ that can deliver a festive electoral moment, a constitutional moment for the transformation and redemption of the state by overcoming the deficits thereof.

Tsegaye R Ararssa*


Part I
1 . Introduction
Election fever is gaining momentum in Ethiopia. It is ‘Election 2015’, the 5th general election since Ethiopia’s formal adoption of the more (or less) liberal constitution of 1995 that ended the hesitant ‘transition’ from the Derg’s military rule to a western-style representative democracy[1]. The projected aim of the transition was to liberalize and pluralize the politics, to reform and resuscitate the economy, to restructure the state (through democratization and decentralization), and to transform the hitherto tenuous state-society relations. Through the constitution, the regime provided itself the legal edifice on which to ensure that transitional project is attained and a liberal democracy (expressed through representative and participatory institutions) is formally instituted. In a gesture of transforming the state, the constitution recognized national diversity, legalized collective rights such as the right to self-determination[2], and institutionalized federal non-centralization. Having ostensibly demilitarized politics [3], electoral contestation became the formal mode of contending for political power. The election fever that is steadily gripping the nation now is the symptom of that contention.