Two weeks after Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn pledged to release jailed politicians, Ethiopia on Wednesday pardoned 115 federal inmates, including top opposition leader, Merera Gudina.
Merera’s release comes as a welcome relief for a country gripped by three years of escalating protests and growing ethnic discord. Merera, an outspoken government critic, is a former Member of Parliament and Addis Ababa University professor. He is also the chairman of Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), an opposition party that represents Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo.
His release is part of an effort by Ethiopia’s leaders to “create a national consensus and widen the political space”, according to prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
Merera has been a fixture in Ethiopia’s politics since the 1960s. The 61-year-old has spent his career building bridges and fighting for democracy in Ethiopia, and his politics transcends party and ethnic divides. In that sense, Merera’s release is a significant first step toward much-needed national healing.