Jawar Mohammed never travels alone. When the American Ethiopian activist returned to his homeland on August 5, he was treated like a monarch. A group of sharp-edged young men always floated with him. Jeeps with guards patrolled his hotel in the center of Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. Supporters from the provinces flocked to show their respect. During a two-week visit he held about 25 to 30 meetings a day, according to an exhausted assistant.
After a meeting with the Guardian in his hotel suite he ran away to give a lecture at the main university of the capital, entourage in tow.
Nothing demonstrated the breathtaking transformation in Ethiopian politics of the last four months, as did the red carpet return of a figure once the most wanted man of the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
From a studio in Minneapolis, where he founded the controversial Oromia Media Network, Jawar overthrew the past decade with social media for political change in Ethiopia, which he left in 2003 as a scholarship student. This was his first time in Ethiopia since 2008.
He was so effective as an activist that anti-government protests across the country rippled towards the end of 2016 and forced the EPRDF to impose a state of emergency, the Oromia Media Network was banned and Mohammed declared a terrorist.
At the beginning of 2018 the revolutionary fervor had grown so fast that Hailemariam Desalegn was forced to resign as prime minister and pave the way for his hugely popular successor Abiy Ahmed, a young reformist from Oromia, the home of Jawar and the largest and most populous region of the country.
The Oromia Media Network, along with some smaller stores and activists, has used social media in recent years to have devastating consequences, coordinate boycotts and demonstrations, and bring Ethiopia's large and often brutal security device close together.
"We used social media and formal media so effectively that the state was completely overwhelmed," says Jawar. "The only option they had was to implement reforms or to accept a complete revolution." …
Few doubt the importance of Jawar in recent Ethiopian history. Perhaps more than any other individual, he took the once-marginal policy of Oromo nationalism and made it mainstream. Today, Oromos, the largest ethnic group in the country, dominates the highest state functions and Jawar enjoys considerable personal influence over the new leaders of the country, including Abiy himself.
In a recent interview with local media he claimed – to the dismay of many Ethiopians – that the country now effectively has two governments: one led by Abiy, the other by Qeerroo. This puts him in a position of extraordinary responsibility, since he is "one of the Qeerroo" and "a considerable part of the country listens to me", he admits.
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Activist Jawar Mohammad from the US returns to Ethiopia after 13 years in exile
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