Understanding Ethiopia’s Crisis through Rio Olympic [BefeQadu Z. Hailu]

BefeQadu Z. Hailu

 “Sport is a profession that needs discipline,” Haile Gebresilasie told to one FM radio sports show in Addis. Haile Gebresilasie is the most known and successful Ethiopian athlete who has broken more than three dozens of records from 1,500 meters to marathon races. He said “Athletic federation should not be ruled by people who are politically assigned; if we’re continuing in the same manner, the worst is yet to come.” He was talking about the fact that Ethiopia’s scores at the Rio Olympic have declined as compared to previous Olympic Games. The Ethiopian Olympic Committee had planned to bring at least 4 Gold, 4 Silver and 4 Bronze medals in Rio Olympic 2016 where it has returned with only eight medals: 1 Gold, 2 Silver and 5 Bronze medals standing far behind its usual competitor team Kenya.
‘Robel The Whale’ – the Symbol for Nepotism
Ethiopia had begun its participation in Rio Olympic in an ever embarrassing 100 meters free style swimming race. Robel Kiros is the son of the President for Ethiopian Swimming Sport Federation. Robel went to Rio with his father. According to Addis Admass, a weekly Amharic newspaper, there were claims that his coach was not allowed to go to Rio with Robel because the budget allocated for the Olympic is used by his father. Robel finished the race 59th out of 59 participants and he finished it 17 seconds later to the pacesetter. His body wasn’t athletic at all and Ethiopian social media sphere was hit by criticism over his defeat and in question how he could make it to there.
The annoying fact is that Robel’s father is from Tigray, a region with 6% of Ethiopian population, from where the ruling group has emerged out. People took this as an act of nepotism not just because Kiros Habte (Robel’s Father) is from Tigray but also because all nine Ethiopia’s sports federations presidents are Tigrians. In the federal government of Ethiopia, most powerful positions are taken by Tigrians who are TPLF members and it was easy for everyone to easily take Robel’s embarrassing defeat at the Rio and his unprecedented participation as symbol to the nepotism widespread in the country.
Feyisa Lilesa – the Heroic Symbol for Public Protests
Ethiopia’s last participation in Rio was in men’s marathon race on which Feyisa Lilesa gave the world another but different experience than ‘Robel the whale’ had given. A husband and father for two, Feyisa Lilesa, has become silver medalist in Rio Marathon Men Race. Feyisa, upon crossing the finishing line of the race (and later when he sat for press conference), has displayed a political protest by crossing his arms up in a symbolic way Ethiopian political protesters use to show that they are not free.
Feyisa, unlike Robel, is from Oromia, the biggest and most populous region in Ethiopia’s federation. Oromo people have been protesting for at least the past 10 months continuously over injustices and marginalisation while losing more than 600 lives during brutal attempts of police to crackdown the protests. Feyisa, like Robel, has become a hot agenda in Ethiopian social media community but, again unlike Robel, it was with joy and admiration that everybody was referring to him.
From Robel To Feyisa
Robel is a privileged loser where as Feyisa is the un-favored winner. Robel is coming back to his country however it is too risky for Feyisa to enter the country. Feyisa himself said to journalists at Rio, “if not kill me, they will send me to prisons”. Robel vowed that he will participate in a better condition in the next Olympic Games to be held in 2020 in Tokyo. This seems unlikely for Feyisa. By gesturing political protest, Feyisa put his career at risk. He might face sanctions from International Olympic Committee for showing prohibited political gesture during the game.
On the other hand, Robel remains a hated symbol of nepotism in Ethiopia whereas Feyisa is already portraid as the son of his people. Feyisa may become Stateless or end up refugee in another country; and/or he may be revoked from the medalists list where he finished second; but, he will always remain the symbol of defiance at the hearts of concerned Ethiopians.
Filed in: Current Affairs / News