One Athlete + One Terrorist + One Narcissist + One Foolish European = Hypocrisy

by the Strathink Editorial Team

Feyisa Lilesa, Berhanu Nega, Merera Gudina, and Ana Gomes are a mixed bag of political and ethical hypocrisy. Each occupies a uniquely singular place in contemporary Ethiopian politics. Separately they are short bursts of noise on the internet. Together they are a headline that outlives its usefulness in a few weeks–replaced by yet another inconsequential stab at political relevance.

Feyisa Lelisa, a silver medalist at the Rio Olympics, crossed his arms at the finish line in solidarity with his fellow Oromos. While the Olympics are supposed to be non-political, there is a long history of using the global sports platform to promote a certain ideology or political perspective. From the overarching theme of Aryan superiority under Germany’s Adolph Hitler—laid bare by the stunning wins of American athlete Jesse Owens—to African American athletes raising their fists in the 1968 Mexico Olympics, politics have intersected sports in the grand gestures of athletes.

Ethiopia has produced some of the world’s finest athletes. Beginning with Abebe Bikila, Ethiopian runners have crossed Olympic finish lines and ran the victory lap draped in the Ethiopian flag. For Ethiopians everywhere, it is a moment in time where Ethiopia is viewed as a champion by the world—not a place of famine, poverty or conflict.

In crossing his arms at the finish line, Feyisa Lilesa made a choice. He chose to use his victory as a political platform to make a statement about the Oromo protests in Ethiopia. He chose his moment in time to amplify Ethiopia’s problems on the world stage. That was his choice. He trained. He ran. He won. It was his moment.

However, in the view of Strathink’s editorial team, Feyisa Lilesa crossed a line—not a finish line—when he asserted to the world that if he went home, he would be killed. Hyperbole. Exaggeration. Embellishment. Lie. Did the Ethiopian government like his political gesture? No. Would the Ethiopian government welcome him home a hero? Yes.

We don’t know if Mr. Lilesa made the political gesture out of genuine commitment to his fellow Oromos or he succumbed to the promises of a frustrated and grasping diaspora. We hope it was out of his commitment to the Oromo people in particular and to the Ethiopian people in general. What we do want from Mr. Leyisa is for him to tell the truth and use his newly acquired fame to bring positive change to his country.

Strathink has written about Berhanu Nega on a number of occasions. We find him politically irrelevant as long as he advocates violence as a means of change. What is his vision for Ethiopia? We are not clear. He talks about democracy yet his organization and army is supported by a ruthless autocrat who governs a country widely known as “the North Korea of Africa. No democracy. He talks about inclusiveness yet uses incendiary language about the Tigrayans that unapologetically promotes ethnic hatred. No inclusiveness.

Berhanu Nega calls terrorism “contrary to the basic norms of civilized behavior and devoid of rudimentary moral principles…never…an acceptable instrument to achieve any objective, no matter how noble the cause.” Yet, his predecessor in Eritrea, Andargechew Tsige, discussed in detail Ginbot 7’s efforts to train and equip Ethiopians to detonate bombs in public spaces such as churches, mosques and shopping malls.

In his latest speech to the European Parliament, Ginbot 7 leader Berhanu Nega offers no meaningful, substantive discussion of the country’s problems. He uses hyperbole and illogic when he states, “the EPRDF/TPLF is working very hard to engulf the country into an endless civil war.” How would an “endless civil war” serve the interests of the Ethiopian government? Rather than systematically discuss the country’s problems—corruption, land, ethnic tensions—he reduces his arguments to useless polemics that are just noise.

Berhanu Nega promotes organizing a transitional government yet says not one word about the logistics of choosing a transitional government—is that democratic?—or what that government represents in terms of actual policies that define a government. He wrote the same kind of dribble when he was a student yet a person of 20 can be forgiven for naiveté—a person of 60 who says the same thing is just a fool. He calls for new elections yet, when his party won an unprecedented number of seats in the Ethiopian parliament, they chose not to serve their constituency. For CUD, it was either all or nothing. They chose nothing and set back democracy in Ethiopia 25 years.

The same can be said for Merera Gudina, another relic from the student movement of the 1970s. His rhetoric is tinged with the bitterness of choosing the wrong side in every political struggle for the last 40 years. He offers no substance, no ideas—only the arithmetic calculus of an ethnic plurality. Land policy? Banking policy? Credit policy? Educational policy? Health policy? He has nothing to say.

And last, what about Ana Gomes? Why is she playing such an oversized role in Ethiopian politics? She sullied the role of international election observers with her inappropriate and unethical behavior in Ethiopia during the 2005 election. Her relationship with Berhanu Nega should not automatically make her a spokesperson for change in Ethiopia. She blatantly misuses her seat in the European parliament to promote Berhanu Nega to become Ethiopia’s next Prime Minister in yet another call for a “transitional government.”

Look, everyone. Ethiopia is a real country with real problems. An athlete can’t solve the problems by crossing his arms at the finish line. An economist leading a 200 man army from Asmara can’s effect any real change for the people of Ethiopia. A political opportunist on a fund-raising mission with the Ethiopian diaspora can raise all the money he wants but will not resolve one issue for Ethiopians at home. A European woman, even if she is a parliamentarian, cannot solve Ethiopia’s problems by providing a platform to a terrorist and his cohorts.

The only way to solve Ethiopia’s current problems is through the day-to-day work of the government with the people. It is the Ethiopian government and the Ethiopian people who must resolve the current crisis of governance through transparent and accountable mechanisms—dialogue, media, party meetings, any kind of engagement. Change doesn’t happen over night. It will take a committed and sustained effort to bridge the current divide between the people and their government.

The hypocrisy of an athlete, a terrorist, a narcissist and a foolish European is a short-lived headline that grows old after a week. The real work begins in Ethiopia and ends in Ethiopia.


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