Haile Gebressilasie has made several poorly informed comments about Ethiopian issues in the past but his latest one is hard to stomach for so many Ethiopians, even for his inner circle.
Just this week Haile Gebressilassie made another uninteresting interview with a local media. In the interview he talks about how his business or in general the economy in Ethiopia has been hurt by ongoing pro-democracy protests and the brutal crack down of the regime. There is nothing false in what he said. Its true the three years old unrest has caused too much damage on businesses. It has destroyed Ethiopia’s image before foreign investors. The richest black man on the planet, Ali dangote even threatened to leave the country because of what happened to his property. This is all true. I don’t have to tell it now or Haile at his latest media appearance. What is happening is crystal clear. So why did Haile Gebressilasie have to talk about him losing business due the unrest? This is really confusing. I have been trying hard to understand the logic behind this for the last few days. I did not get an answer.
I have really struggled with myself not to use any degrading words toward Haile when I was preparing this piece. He’s my hero. I love him. The only man I love to see running is Haile Gebressilassie. I wish the 90s returned and saw Haile run again. The love and respect I have is what millions of Ethiopians have for him. i accept and respect his personal choices but when he comes out and make these inflammatory and even dangerous comments, its really a problem. he’s just calling for a war on himself. I wish he had good people around him who advice him on what is good and what is bad.
I spoke to Haile in several occasions when I used to work for the sports media. he’s a nice man. Very calm and soft. He can answer his phone anytime he can. He never acted like a very big international celebrity. I knew him to be everybody’s man. He could have turned this nature of him for better but he failed so far.
It seems Haile has totally lost his mind. It might look like he’s trying to sympathize the regime or get their help. But I don’t think so. He is not a typical regime man. The ruling elite do not like him. Its not harsh to say they make fun out of him every time he shows up. His personality does not sympathize their existence. He did not get rich in political ties. He made his fortunes with hard work, dedication and endurance. The name is Haile Gebressialsie is big enough to stand on its own. It seems for me though, he’s fighting with his own name. he’s fighting himself and his big name. His own name has been a burden for him.
I guess Haile has enough IQ to understand what is going on in Ethiopia. The country is at war. This is not what I claim. The regime is fighting for its survival. It has declared a second state of emergency in just two years. Thousands have been killed and arrested. The prime minister has resigned. Only last week, Siraja fergesa, the defense secretary and spokesman of the command post ruling the country with martial law, said in a press conference that some forces are trying to snatch power. He used “color revolution’ to explain the situation. The economy is crumbling. Haile himself in his own words has felt the heat of the war. And in a war, there are waring sides. If you’re brave enough, you take sides. or if you don’t like both, you stay quite with the silent majority. Haile could simply have shut up. But instead he chose his own foolish tears. Thats very very pathetic.
Haile Gebressilaise was once a true representative of typical Ethiopian identity. He dominated long distance running for two decades. He won consecutive Olympic and word titles. he’s arguably the greatest long distance runner the planet has ever seen. He carried the name Ethiopia on his own throughout the 90s and the early 2000s. he’s a true man of hard work and endurance. His life is true model for an ordinary Ethiopian. We all remember how he won the 10,000m race in Sydney 2000. but the consecutive comments he makes regarding sensitive issues in Ethiopia are really destroying who he represents.
A few years ago, I remember the excitement of some BBC and CNN sports reporters asking me about Haile’s announcement to run for president. Ethiopia is not a presidential country. There are no presidential elections. It felt like he was unintentionally copy-catting other international celebrities who talk about their home nation’s politics. For so many Ethiopians, that comment was just a national joke. The comments he makes for attention were really coming back at him.
As a man with that big name, Haile could denounce the brutal crack down going on in the country. He could have called for unity. Okay, he did not do that for his own personal safety and business interests for that could have caused a retaliation from the regime. Ethiopia’s ages old brutal history of power makes politics a very scary activity for big names. It is rumored that the great Abebe Bikila was assassinated by the imperial regime. Another great man from the sixties, Mamo Wolde has languished in jail before his death under the current regime. The Moscow legend Miruts Yifter was imprisoned by the Mengitu Hailemariam regime. Everyone has paid prices for some political activity or comment. The silence of Kenenisa Beqele is understandable. The great Derartu Tulu is believed to be a member of the ruling party. Genzebe Dibaba was under severe backlash from activists for throwing away an Ethiopian flag with no star. It is a personal choice and right. Its still understandable.
And even worse, In Ethiopia, “Heroes” are traditionally respected from fear. today’s “hero” is the incumbent in one way or another way, they’ve been ruling with iron fist for 27 years now. But when the “hero” is struggling to stay on, you either try to prop it up or stay quite and see what will happen if you’re not brave enough or uninterested in the situation. Haile made the worst of all. His comments does not please the regime or add anything to its actions. As I said above, he’s not their man, may even be a victim himself. His comments rather anger the other side and make them hostile to him. He just diminished himself to a helpless man crying desperately for no gain. It was never wise. Haile is better than that.
The good culture of respecting individuals heroes with their own stupidity is still there. I hope the Ethiopian youth dying in Ambo or Gondar in this critical time of history would forgive him once again. But Haile must forgive himself and reconcile with his name, The name kids in Ethiopia use to say “ I wanna be like him when I grow up”.
Betemariam Hailu is an Ethiopian journalist and media personality. he’s worked for several local and international media including BBC sports, Goal.com and insidefutbol.
Follow him @betehailu