A.k. knows more than most people about the appallingly miserable conditions of the EPRDF prison. He had suffered the macabre conditions of the Ziway concentration camp. His body swarmed by all kind of bedbugs, he endured one-bread a day meals with thousands of terrified and cadaverous inmates. A powerful image still haunts him. "Rats skittered throughout our cell with utmost freedom. It seemed that they knew we were too weak and emaciated to respond to them. It was so deflating and bitter that it left most of us breathless. I feel nervous when I see rats after that."
A.K. was 23 when he was rounded up on June 8, 2005 and incarcerated at Ziway for a month. There, he went through a rapid and remarkable period of maturing. "My life's watershed moment," he called it. Yet his agony at the concentration camp was accompanied by an enduring resentment to the EPRDF. "The resentment is liberating in a way. I couldn't have been tough if I hadn't passed through the horror and scare. A life away from the struggle is now no longer sustainable. I will be fighting to make sure that nothing that ghastly happens to other Ethiopians in the future. That purpose has entered my soul as a permanent resident"
On Sunday, A.K took part in the Great Run, his first in four years. He knew there were spontaneous protests against the government in both Great Runs last year. "There was a heightened, almost erotic, sense of anticipation of opposition among the athletes on Sunday. It was godsend for people like me who are muzzled from speaking out," he recounted. The government had predicted the protests equally. This year the media had kept the event as low profile as they could do. Most of the registration of athletes was made in work places. There were reports that it had planned to cancel the event. Only the popularity of the run among diplomats and expatriates saved it.
The protest started with the outburst of few people but rapidly grew to engulf thousands. Tension gave way to courage. Songs of opposition, some silly, some funny and some dreary, were sung; anti-Meles and anti-war chants made and the release of political leaders demanded. With the security forces, not reacting, the Great Run ended up being the first peaceful and spontaneous public protest since the election. For many it was a lesson to the government that people hadn't forgotten. A. K was philosophical about the protest. In a typical Ethiopian melodramatic flourish he declared: "If those who died in 1970s and 805 for the cause of freedom here rise up from their graveyard and see where Ethiopia is now, they will think their sacrifice wasn't worth it. The fallen heroes of this generation should not feel the same,"
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