In Ethiopia and throughout the Ethiopian diaspora, he’s recognized by his trademark long-brimmed cap. But Eskinder Nega is best known for his struggle on behalf of democracy and press freedoms.
A journalist who has been pushing for an independent press in Ethiopia since his 20s, Nega for years irritated the Ethiopian government with his articles and blogs. Since 1993, he has been jailed nine times and most recently served seven years of an 18-year sentence.
Now 50 years old, Nega is free but hardly subdued. He will discuss the state of press freedom in his country and around the world at 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 9, at the National Press Club.
“What I have found out during the course of my journalistic career is that unless there is democracy, it’s just impossible to be a journalist,” Nega said in an interview last year with the Committee to Protect Journalists. “So, I have to struggle for democracy to be a journalist.”
Last year, the political environment in Ethiopia seemed to brighten. Abiy Ahmed became prime minister in April and promised reforms. The government released thousands of political prisoners – Nega among them – and vowed a new respect for human rights.
However, change has not come easily or quickly.
Writing in Time magazine in August 2018, Nega credited the public, not the government, for his freedom. “It was the people that mobilized on behalf of democracy,” he wrote.
And in June of this year, police in Addis Ababa blocked Nega from announcing plans for a new television station, drawing complaints from Amnesty International.
Human Rights Watch, in its 2019 world report, described a government still struggling to live up to its promise. Ethiopia’s security forces have acted with impunity against protestors, and ethnic violence and displacement are ongoing, the report found.
Nega, meanwhile, refuses to be silenced. A graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., he calls himself “a child of America’s First Amendment.”
“I am glad I inspired people to write. I am proud of that,” he wrote in Time. “Nothing beats the written word.”
The Club has repeatedly championed Nega and the cause of press freedom in Ethiopia. Nega also has received awards from PEN America, the International Press Institute and other organizations.
Tickets for Nega’s discussion on Monday are free. The program is sponsored by the National Press Club and the National Press Club Journalism Institute, its nonprofit affiliate. The Club is located at 529 14th St. NW on the 13th floor. For information, please contact Press Freedom Fellow Jim Kuhnhenn.