Sunday, June 07, 2009

Dreams of Haile Gebrselassie

By Fikru Helebo

I dreamed of Haile GS in my sleep last night. Since I had not thought about running for a while, let alone run, and since I had not read anything related to athletics in the days or weeks prior, I thought it was peculiar that I would dream about the legendary athlete at this particular time. In my dream I saw Haile, one of the greatest long distance runners in history, if not the greatest, expressing utter frustration at the worsening human rights and economic conditions in Ethiopia.

Haile did this by calling a press conference in Addis Ababa and demanding that the incumbent Woyane regime take immediate steps towards releasing all political prisoners and removing all obstacles for the free participation of all Ethiopian political groups in the planned 2010 elections. To underscore his point, Haile put a huge banner on top of a high rise building that he owns that read "Ethiopia shall be free!"

When I woke up in the morning, I told my wife and my mom, who is visiting from Ethiopia, about my dream. My wife was dismissive of it and said that I should not try to be a prophet (she has a point!). But my mom wanted to know where, in my dream, Haile conducted his press conference. When I told my mom that he did it right under Woyane's nose in Addis, she wondered why Haile would take such a big risk. I replied, Haile may have reached a breaking point regarding the direction Ethiopia has been taking under the Woyane and felt that the time has finally come for him to use his enormous name recognition and prestige to bring attention to the myriads of problems that Ethiopia faces.

My mom's concern about Haile's safety is well taken and I would have raised the same concern if someone else told me the same story. But Ethiopia's predicament is getting more precarious by the day and I can understand why Haile GS, or another personality like him, would take the kind of risk that Haile took in my dream and express his/her concerns in such a public way.

Speaking of my dream, for the record, I am not the first one to dream about Haile GS in a similar way. My good friend Roocha at was the first to publicly share his dreams about Haile. Well, okay, he did not dream, not that I can tell anyway, but he wrote a very thoughtful article three years ago about why Haile GS should seriously consider running for the highest office in Ethiopia in his article titled: Running for Office.

Here is what Roocha said then:

I want to go on the record, with all seriousness, as the first person calling on Haile to take up the cause of Ethiopia by seeking high political office when the 2010 elections come around ... Haile has always been one to achieve the impossible and, in the end, this chapter of his life will be no different. Let’s all encourage him to seek office in 2010, let’s chant to him “YICHALAL!”

I think Roocha makes a persuasive argument as to why Haile GS should seek the highest political office in Ethiopia and I highly recommend that you read his article in its entirety.

Right after reading Roocha's article, I wrote him an email and offered him my unsolicited opinion about the subject matter of his article and expressed my misgivings about it in this way:

Yet another superb article! I think it is a good thing that Haile has shown interest in running for a political office in the future. I am sure he can contribute to the betterment of the country. But it would be a mistake to push him in that direction prematurely. He is still a young fellow -- younger than us, at least! You need to wait until Haile decides to publicly engage the Ethiopian public on the important issues of the day before you throw your unqualified support behind him. I, for one, do not know anything about Haile's views on the most important issues of the day to endorse him for the highest office in Ethiopia. The skill sets that make a person a good politician (effective at bringing people together to accomplish something good) are also not necessarily the same as those that make one a superstar athlete!

I still do not know what Haile GS's political views are on the important issues that Ethiopia faces and I am not certain whether or not Haile GS has the skill sets necessary to be a good (effective) politician. But that was then and this is now. I have now come to the conclusion that the current set of Ethiopian political classes, including those in the opposition (with all due respect to their honest efforts), do not have the character and trustworthiness that is necessary to gain the respect of the broadest section of the Ethiopian people to offer a leadership that is capable of changing the trajectory of the country in a positive direction. To be sure, all political groups have their roles to play in bringing about positives changes to Ethiopia, but I do not believe none that are currently active are capable of providing the decisive leadership that would be necessary.

The challenges that Ethiopia faces are daunting to say the least and the times require thinking outside the box and searching for a leader in an unconventional places. Perhaps now is the time to look at Haile GS, a person with a clear track record of success and someone who has demonstrated a knack for common sense thinking and hard work ethics, to lead a nation of 80 million that is desperate for a new beginning.