The election last week of distance running legend Haile Gebreselassie, president of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation (EAF), was met with enthusiastic public approval all over Ethiopia. In an impressive career spanning 29 years he ran in Haile was victorious in 80 percent of the over 400 local and international races, winning two Olympic gold medals and eight world championship titles and setting 27 world and 61 Ethiopian records. Though he retired from competitive running in 2015, he continued to have an active interest in the sport eventually assuming the presidency of the Federation. He is the founder of Great Ethiopian Run, the largest annual 10-kilometer road running event in Africa which has produced a crop of young athletes that successfully represented their country on the global stage. As running, in Haile’s own word, is his life he has put a great deal of effort in garnering the public acceptance and votes that propelled him to the helm of Ethiopian athletics. Such a pioneering election needs to become a norm in the country.
The global coverage given to Haile’s election as president is testimony to the high regard with which he is held not only at home but also on the international stage. This remarkable turn of events has profound implications for any citizen who puts it above one’s self-interest. It may well elicit a positive response to such questions as: can citizens who believe that they possess merit succeed if they set their mind on something? Can aspirations for a higher calling really be realized, not remain just pipedreams? Is Ethiopia a nation which is viewed in a good light for being a land of opportunities? Will talented citizens desirous to serve their country in various fields be encouraged from now on?Can a country whose image and reputation has been dented owing to a series of missteps turn over a new leaf? It inspires Ethiopians from all walks of life both at home and overseas to do their part in the political, economic and social spheres for the betterment of their beloved country.
The example set by the EAF must be emulated by other sports federations. It is imperative to meet halfway citizens endowed with the necessary skill and experience in the fields of, inter alia, education, health, transport, commerce, foreign affairs, public administration, municipal services, consultancy and training on leadership, policies and strategic issues. In particular it is of vital importance to exert the utmost effort in areas which require a full-time leadership and have not been ably handled to date. For the good of Ethiopia compatriots who are self-assured and capable of providing effective and inspiring leadership, who truly love their country, who have earned public acceptance, who put the nation and its people before themselves, who demonstrate the commitment to fighting injustice, mismanagement, corruption and other forms of bad governance in athletics and other arenas need to be given the chance to contribute their due share.
Nowadays nepotism and corruption are alarmingly pervading sports and other sectors. Institutions were taken over by characters bent on advancing their selfish needs with the sidelining of individuals whoare regarded as possessing knowledge, experience, work ethics and public trust. Consequently, the standard response to legitimate demands wasto engage in intimidation or diversion coupled with denigrating and turfing out honest citizens’ accusations. While the criteria by which public officials and servants were evaluated should have been carrying out one’s duty effectively, the fact that those who failed in their obligations in sports and other arenas were routinely tapped for even greater responsibility proved to be dispiriting. The glimmer of hope that was seen as a result of the determined effort of Haile and fellow athletes though is a sign of better things to come. Furthermore, it is wonderful to see a person renowned for his accomplishments and wealth assume a leadership position.He deserves to get all the help he can. The all too familiar infighting and intrigue crippling institutions must be condemned and put a stop to once and for all.
Underscoring that the belief that sports administration is a part-time job has dragged backwards Ethiopian athletics, Haile has pledged to give up his managerial duties in the companies he runs and serve his county full time. He also vowed to identify the problems besetting the country’s athleticsand bring about a profound change. Nevertheless, he acknowledged that he will face stiff challenges during his presidency. If he is to achieve the lofty goals he has set himself he particularly needs the whole-hearted support of the executive committee members who were elected alongside him. Transparency and accountabilityare essential to realizing the desperately needed change. Otherwise, the deep-rooted problems that necessitate the change will be entrenched. That is why the government and the public must stand behind the new president.
In general the basic demands of the people of Ethiopia should be met in order for them to enjoy the fruits of peace, prosperity and democracy. The public wants nothing more than good governance, the safeguarding of its security and welfare, the prevalence of the rule of law, respect for fundamental freedoms. This calls for the operations of the government and civil society organizations to be transparent as well as for the creation of an environment which enables citizens committed to serving their country and people selflessly to discharge the responsibilities entrusted to them with a sense of freedom and accountability. Therefore, elements which are motivated by nothing other than the protection of their narrow interests and that of their cohorts need to be brought to heel. The historic leadership election of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation that saw Haile Gebreselassie elected president must be replicated across all sectors!