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Birtukan awarded Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellowship

(Photo: File)

By Abebe Gellaw

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has awarded its most prestigious fellowship to Birtukan Mideksa in recognition of her commitment for the advancement of freedom and her potential to bring about democratic change in Ethiopia, Addis Voice has learnt.

The Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellowship program, named in honor of the two principal founders of NED, former US President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) and the late Congressman Dante Fascell (1917-1998), is awarded to accomplished democracy practitioners, journalists and scholars from around the world to enable them “to deepen their understanding of democracy and enhance their ability to promote democratic change.” The fellowship was established in 2001 with funding from the US Congress.
“I am very pleased to join some of the most influential people from around the world that are selected for their leadership and commitment to freedom and democracy,” Birtukan said. “This is an honor that I accept with utmost humility on behalf of the people of Ethiopia, particularly those unsung heroes and heroines that have made untold sacrifices in the struggle for freedom, justice and democracy in our country,” she added.

Girmaye Gizaw, who headed the Free Birtukan global campaign, told Addis Voice that the award is a unique opportunity for Birtukan and a step forward on the road to full recovery from the trauma and abuse she had suffered at the hands of those who made every effort to break her indomitable spirit and shatter the cause she has represented with extraordinary commitment and courage. “This is a golden opportunity for our leader who is destined for great things. Those of us who know her well are always certain that Birtukan will not be held back,” he said.

Birtukan, a 2011-12 Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow, will be in full-time residence at the Washington DC-based International Forum for Democratic Studies, NED’s research arm that is one of the leading centers in the world dedicated for analyzing and discussing the theory and practice of democratic change around the world. According to NED, the fellowship program is designed to offer a unique international environment for fellows to “reflect on their experiences, conduct research and writing, develop contacts, exchange ideas with counterparts in Washington DC, and build ties that contribute to the development of a global network of democracy advocates.”

Ethiopia’s first female leader of a major political party, she will start her fellowship in October. Birtukan will particularly focus on the failures of democratic change in Ethiopia and the way forward. She is also planning to write her autobiography, a unique account of her arduous journeys in the course of her struggle for freedom and dignity. “Given Ethiopia’s continued experience of political violence, I would also like to spend some time to try to understand how and why the United States has succeeded in building a truly democratic system that accommodates every kind of clashing and competing views, groups and parties without undermining the rule of law,” she noted.

After she emerged as an unwavering leader of the pro-democracy movement in the aftermath of the 2005 national elections, former federal judge Birtukan Mideksa was jailed twice and spent over 1200 days in harsh jails including over 6 months in solitary confinement. Birtukan was selected by the European Parliament as one of the three finalists for the 2010 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Cuban dissident and political activist Dr. Guillermo Fariñas, who conducted 23 hunger strikes to protest against repressions and censorship, was selected as winner of the grand prize.

Abebe Gellaw is editor of He can be reached at

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