Ethiopia’s Regime Prioritizes Power Over Reform as Ethnic Protests Continue

September 1st, 2016

Ethiopia’s Regime Prioritizes Power Over Reform as Ethnic Protests Continue

By William Davison

—In Ethiopia’s two most populous ethnic regions, anti-government rallies turned into a bloodbath in early August as security forces again used live ammunition against protesters. In the western part of Oromia, the largest of Ethiopia’s nine ethnically based states, the town of Nekempte looked like a “war zone,” according to a protester. An opposition party said almost 100 people were killed and thousands arrested after demonstrations across the sprawling Oromia region, which encircles the capital, Addis Ababa, and borders Kenya in the south and South Sudan in the west. A day later in Bahir Dar, the capital of Amhara state, Amnesty International said police killed as many as 30 people. The government said a protest descended into a riot. Historic Gondar city to the north also saw more demonstrations, vandalism and repression.

The sustained discontent in Oromia, which began after unrest erupted last November, presents a major challenge to the country’s government, which came to power in 1991 when an insurgency led by the minority Tigrayan ethnic group overthrew a military regime. Having been granted autonomy in a federal system, the Oromo, who number around 35 million as Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, are asserting their rights.

The Oromo’s demands have included the scrapping of a greater Addis Ababa strategic plan that threatened Oromo farmers; the introduction of Afaan Oromo as a federal government language; the release of political prisoners; an end to police brutality; and complaints about subservience to Tigrayans in the ruling coalition. Despite the January cancellation of the master plan, the protests continued. And now they have been compounded by vociferous opposition from the Amhara, the country’s second-largest ethnic group, who wielded significant power as rulers, administrators and landlords during Ethiopia’s imperial past.

The Amhara claim parts of their territory were unfairly incorporated into Tigray state during the post-1991 transition. That reflects opposition to a system of ethnically defined federalism, which is portrayed as divisive and facilitating rule by Tigrayans, who make up 6 percent of a population of around 100 million. During recent demonstrations, protesters praised past Amhara emperors and replaced the current federal flag with emblems representing previous unitary constitutions as they also chanted pro-democracy slogans. Protests in various towns have been ongoing this week in the region.

The four-party Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, or EPRDF, has controlled politics since capturing state power in 1991. Its parties represent Ethiopia’s main ethnic groups: the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO), the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM) and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). With allied parties, the coalition controls all federal parliament and regional council seats, as well as managing rural areas through farmers’ cells. The resilience and tactics of protesters will be key to the demonstrations’ success, but most critical to how the situation unfolds will be the EPRDF’s cohesion. Even sympathetic observers worry about the bloc’s ability to respond adequately to popular demands.
The current situation increases strains within the ruling coalition, given the legitimacy crisis of its Oromo wing, whose corruption partly led to rising tensions over highly sought-after land on the fringes of booming Addis Ababa. There is also apparent disloyalty within the ranks of the Amhara party, the ANDM, with elements being accused of stoking protests and anti-Tigrayan violence in the city of Gondar. The situation has led to a growing siege mentality within the Tigrayan bloc, the TPLF, which is frequently cast as controlling an authoritarian government.

After last year’s elections, when the only opposition federal lawmaker lost his seat, Daniel Berhane, the founder of the Horn Affairs website, which covers politics in the Horn of Africa, predicted unrest in Ethiopia, as the space for legitimate opposition was all but extinguished. He believes the problems in Gondar and elsewhere in Amhara partly also reflect the contemporary weaknesses of both the ANDM and the ruling EPRDF.

Though the Amhara party is a staunch supporter of federalism, it struggled to sell its philosophy to the region’s old elite, Berhane says. As with other EPRDF parties, its leadership seems to lack the popular legitimacy and ideological unity to sway protesters. Amid this discontent, some ambitious politicians are sensing a chance to assert the ANDM’s influence within the ruling front at the expense of the TPLF.

Such internal discord may partly be a result of the EPRDF increasing its membership eight-fold to around six million people in the past decade. That means there are many members who have not been inculcated into its Marxist-Leninist-influenced doctrines on how collective action and the power of the state will transform Ethiopia into a prosperous, modern nation. Purges are necessary, but Berhane doubts that they will achieve much more than officials rooting out rivals.

An ANDM insider thinks such divisions are overplayed, and that protests stem from outsiders in the Ethiopian diaspora hijacking local discontent. “The area is still underdeveloped in infrastructure, and there is a huge good governance problem,” he says, referring to the Gondar area, where the opposition has been most serious. The region is prone to what he calls “anti-peace forces, both internally and externally.”

Daniel and others think the unrest in Oromia is easier to respond to, as the grievances are articulated within the country’s constitutional framework. But that is countered by the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization’s own internal problems and weakness; the party has changed chairperson three times in six years. Contempt for the party was made clear by Abay Tsehaye, a senior TPLF veteran and now policy adviser to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, when he blamed the OPDO’s turmoil and poor administration for the crisis.

The government could respond to protesters’ demands and perhaps end the crisis by deepening federalism, allowing more pluralism within government and space for critical voices from the opposition, media and civil society as part of a democratization process. But that’s unlikely. The EPRDF has spent over two decades trying to become a hegemonic force capable of implementing the state-led development model of its chief ideologue, Meles Zenawi. While the absence of the late prime minister from the TPLF is keenly felt in terms of strategic and charismatic leadership, his ideas are still prominent.

In late August, party leaders from the EPRDF gathered to discuss the crisis, but there was no new thinking on display. Instead, the politburo promised to combat political extremism and enact reforms to root out corruption. “The party that has from the very outset decided to build a democratic and developmental government knows the existence of incessant temptation among some people in a transition economy to abuse of power for personal gains,” it said in a statement.

Nahusenay Belay, who is pursuing a doctorate in democratization in Ethiopia at Addis Ababa University’s Institute of Federal Studies, welcomes the Oromo demands, but is critical of what he calls the “chauvinist, expansionist” Amhara agenda. He thinks the government needs to suppress violent protests that he says threaten anarchy—and then embark on an unprecedented program of dialogue, public consultation and reform, including releasing political prisoners.

Yet with the opposition exiled, imprisoned or otherwise neutered, there is a lack of potential partners. “They have to empower the local opposition or anyone willing to participate in the democratic process peacefully,” Belay says of the government. Despite his appreciation of the EPRDF’s federalism and economic achievements, Nahusenay doubts there is enough support within the front for much liberalization, which would jeopardize its political monopoly. But like many, he sees the dangers of the status quo: “If you close all the ventilation mechanisms, at a certain point it will explode.”

Ethiopia: When Cheetahs Cry, They Growl!

August 29th, 2016

Ethiopia: When Cheetahs Cry, They Growl!
Ethiopia: When Cheetahs Cry, They Growl!

By Al Mariam

Americans have no monopoly on heroes. Olympic heroes, that is.

On August 21, 2016, Feyisa Lelisa, the 26-year-old Ethiopian long distance runner at the Rio Olympics repeated an act that was once described as the “the most overtly political statement in the history of the modern Olympic Games.”

On October 16, 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos won gold and silver in the 200-meter dash at the Mexico City Olympics. What they did on the medal platform is now the stuff of legend. They raised their fists in a defiant Black Power salute.

As Feyisa approached the finishing line, he raised both arms over his head and held them crosswise, in the signature gesture of Ethiopia’s defiant Youth Power Movement.

It was a gesture seen by 3.5. billion people worldwide.

In that fleeting moment, Feyisa met his moment of truth. He had the choice of clinching his silver medal and strolling into fame, fortune and glory.

He also had the choice of remaining in the ordinary world of mediocrity like the rest of us and let the moment define him.

But Feyisa chose to seize the moment and define it his way.

In defining the moment, Feyisa became the live hero giving life to the mythical hero with a thousand faces Joseph Campbell wrote about in his books.

Feyisa became the face of the Ethiopian hero.

By crossing his hands as he crossed the finishing line, Feyisa crossed into the hero’s world.

What made Feyisa to take such heroic action and transform himself from an extraordinary marathon runner to a heroic human being?

Simple! He changed his mind.

George Bernard Shaw said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

Feyisa understood radical changes are urgently needed in his country. In a fleeting moment, he changed his mind and declared that one moment of freedom is much more valuable to him than a lifetime of privilege and wealth as a second-class citizen licking the boots of his oppressors.

When Feyisa crossed the finishing line in Rio, he did not cross into athletic victory. Not at all!

He crossed the threshold into a life of courage, sacrifice, determination, steadfastness and purpose leaving behind a life of fear, despair, sorrow, wretchedness, misery and doubt.

In the last seconds of his run, Feyisa heard the clarion call.

Like Joseph Campbell’s mythical hero with a thousand faces, Feyisa was called to adventure from the ordinary world by a greater cause.

Feyisa agonized over the call. He said he had thought about doing what he did for a long time. Like Campbell hero, when his moment arrived, Feyisa did not waffle or hesitate. He literally and resolutely crossed the threshold from the ordinary world of self-centeredness, self-aggrandizement, and self-love to the world of real live heroes who would brave any danger and sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the community.

Like Campbell’s mythical hero who risked everything, Feysa in real life risked his life for his people, his country, his young children, his wife and his extended family.

But for what!?

In 1968, two college Students from San Jose State University in Northern California also crossed the threshold into “hero-dom” by raising their fists in the air defiantly.

Carlos, age 23 and Smith, age 24, risked all the trappings of success – fame, fortune and glory. They were booed, condemned, vilified, threatened, damned and ridiculed in public. They were even forced to return their medals to the International Olympic Committee.

Why did they make such a sacrifice!?

Carlos’ and Smith’s photo with their Black Power salute is forever etched in my mind.

As a high school student in the heart of the Horn of Africa, I identified personally with the civil rights and youth protest movements in America, particularly with the young rebels in the “People’s Republic” of Berkeley and Oakland, California.


Shakespeare wrote in the Twelfth Night, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

I wonder if Shakespeare considered whether some people are also born doomed to always defend the underdogs, condemned to bark and yap truth to the Uber-dogs.

I wonder.

I have seen the video of Smith and Carlos sprinting like cheetahs on the hunt to win gold and silver and their subsequent interviews more than a few times, as I have Feyisa dash to the finish line.

The Olympic duo held up their glove-fisted hands in the air with their heads bowed as the “The Star-Spangled Banner” played out.

But why did they raise their hands in the controversial Black Power salute?

Why did Feyisa raise his hands crosswise over his head as he crossed the finish line?

Carlos and Smith were using the world stage to protest the racism, poverty and second-class citizenship inflicted on African Americans on the world stage.

But their defiant actions were not limited to the raised fists. They also stood shoeless on the medal platform to symbolize the crushing poverty in the daily lives of the vast majority of African Americans. Carlos even wore a necklace of black beads which he said symbolized his identification with “those individuals that were lynched or killed that no one said a prayer for, that were hung tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage.”

Feyisa raised his hands crosswise to protest oppression and second-class citizenship under the rule of a criminal gang of thugs called the “Tigrean People’s Liberation Front”, or more accurately, the Thugtatorship of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (T-TPLF).

When asked why he took such dramatic action on the global stage, Feyisa said:

The Ethiopian government are killing the Oromo people and taking their land and resources so the Oromo people are protesting and I support the protest as I am Oromo. The Ethiopian government is killing my people so I stand with all protests anywhere as Oromo is my tribe. My relatives are in prison and if they talk about democratic rights they are killed. I raised my hands to support with the Oromo protest.

What Feyisa said was not that much different in substance from what Smith and Carlos said in 1968.

Interviewer: Do you think the Olympic games is the right place to do this kind of thing, that you ought to use this as a world stage?

Smith: We are athletes. I am a teacher but I am not a politician. We used this so the whole world could see poverty of the black man in America.

Interviewer: You got publicity, fame, medals, martyrdom?

Carlos: I can’t eat that. And the kids around my block who grew up with me can’t eat it. And the kids that are going to grow up after them, they can’t eat that. They can’t eat gold medals. All we ask for is an equal chance to be a human being. And as far as I see now, we’re 5 steps below the ladder. And every time we try to touch the ladder, they put their foot on our hands and they don’t want us to climb up.

Of course, Carlos and Smith were not alone when they stood on the medal platform and raised their hands defiantly protesting racism and second-class citizenship for African Americans. Millions of America’s youth and people throughout the world were with them.

Feyisa was not alone as he crossed the finishing line with his hands held help up crosswise over his head. He had the spiritual support, love and admiration of 100 million of his fellow Ethiopians.

The picture of Carlos and Smith with their glove-fisted hands in the air may have been worth a thousand words, but to me, their historic act represented only one word: DEFIANCE!

Their defiance represented determined peaceful resistance to an oppressive and racist system.

Their defiance represented their heartfelt identification with the Civil Rights Movement and the mass struggle for identity and full citizenship rights in America.

Smith did not overlook the paradox in his situation. “If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.”

The eternal Shakespearean irony of being black in America: To be or not to be…

Or is it to be… while black?

Carlos and Smith in that gesture proclaimed to the world, “We will stand our ground. We won’t be pushed around.”

It was their way of singing silently the African American spiritual, “I shall not be moved.” as the “The Star-Spangled Banner” played on.

I have no doubts whatsoever Feyisa Lelisa was inspired by Carlos and Smith.

Like Carlos and Smith, Feyisa let his courage to speak for his people. He let the T-TPLF know that he is not afraid of their jails and torture chambers. He knows the T-TPLF will make the lives of his family a living hell. Of course, nothing less can be expected from the Masters of Hell.

But in that single defiant gesture, Feyisa showed his absolute solidarity with his young brothers and sisters in Ethiopia dying at the hands of the T-TPLF; getting arrested, jailed and tortured by the T-TPLF.

As Feyisa approached the finish line, it was clear to all who witnessed that he was not seeking Olympic glory and the fame and fortune that comes with it.

Feyisa was running the marathon race of his life for the life and dignity of his people.

He was running to save his people, not to win a medal.

He had trained for years and ran over the hills and vales for this one timeless moment.

He could not speak for his mouth had been sealed by the T-TPLF.

But he could speak with his feet. How feet can speak louder than words!

Carlos and Smith were also running not for themselves but the human race.

In 2011, at the San Jose State University Sculpture Unveiling Ceremony for Smith and Carlos commemorating their historic stand in 1968, Dr. Carlos said:

Whatever we did in Mexico City, we did something that would be prestigious, respectable, pungent, shocking and revealing. We didn’t give the finger. We didn’t give the butt. We didn’t wrap the flag around our head or tie it up like a diaper. We didn’t stand there with disrespect. We stood there to say “Hey, man. I am American. I am your son. I am wounded. I am not wounded for me because I am one of your heroes. I am in the Olympics. I am wounded for the race. I am not talking about the 200 meters. I am talking about the human race. That’s why we went to Mexico city.

By raising his arms, Feyisa brought to the conscience of the world the pain, suffering, trials and tribulations Ethiopians are facing under the T-TPLF, a criminal racketeering organization masquerading as a government in Ethiopia. (See my recent commentary “Beyond the Politics of Hate”.)

Like Smith and Carlos, Feyisa was saying that his people, his children, his family and his neighbors cannot eat a silver medal. The silver medal does not buy them dignity, freedom and human rights.

Like Smith and Carlos, Feyisa just wanted his people to be treated like human beings with equal opportunity. Not as second class citizens. Not as criminals and terrorists. Just human beings created in the image of God with God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Feyisa wants his people to be able to climb up the ladder, and not just hold the ladder so that the T-TPLF, its members and cronies can sit at the top of the ladder kicking everybody in the face trying to climb up.

On August 21, 2016 in Rio, Feyisa Lelisa showed the world what it means to be an Ethiopian Cheetah and made all Ethiopians proud as a peacock; or is it proud as a pride of lions?

But Feyisa’s message to his fellow citizens was clear: “I just told 3.5 billion people about your suffering and trials and tribulation under the TPLF thugs.”

He even called the T-TPLF, “the Ethiopian government”.

Feyisa must be a man of great charity to call that gang of bloodthirsty thugs, “government”.

Calling the T-TPLF “government” is like calling a cackle of hyenas a pride of lions.

One has to call a spade a spade. Or a hyena, a hyena.

The TPLF is a government of thugs, for thugs, by thugs. (See my May 2011commentary, “Thugtatorship: The Highest Stage of African Dictatorship”.)

Thugs will always be thugs, even in designer suits. Hyenas will always be hyenas even when they are laughing.

Lions will always be lions and hyenas know the roar of lions and the growl of cheetahs.

But Feyisa is a lion and cheetah rolled into one.

On the same day Feyisa won his silver medal, the T-TPLF had unleashed swarms of its security, police and military goons to prevent peaceful protests in the capital Addis Ababa.

How ironic! By forcing millions of protesters to stay home, the T-TPLF made it possible for them to watch their job being done beautifully by one of their own before 3.5 billion people.

As I saw the video of Feyisa approaching the finishing line, he reminded me of the Chinese “tank man” who in June 1989 stood in front of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square and refused to move in a gesture of “I shall not be moved.”

One little guy refusing to stand down before the mighty Chinese Army and security forces that had massacred hundreds of peaceful protesters.

That anonymous little guy was not afraid of what the Chinese war machine could do to him.

Is Feyisa afraid of what the T-TPLF could do to him?

Feyisa told it straight.

The T-TPLF will kill him if he returned. “If not kill me, they will put me in prison. I have not decided yet, but maybe I will move to another country.”

Feyisa’s mother was unafraid when she said, “Do you believe what the government says? He should stay there. I want him to stay there. I wish him well.”

Feyisa’s wife knew how strong her husband is: “I was scared at the time but I wasn’t surprised because I know him. He was burning inside when he saw on social media all of the dead bodies, people being arrested, people being beaten. So I was not surprised because I know he had a lot of anger inside.”

Feyisa was not going to stand down in the face of what the TPLF thugs will do to him. For him, it is, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”

In his simple gesture, Feyisa showed the T-TPLF to be the proverbial Emperor with no clothes. Or did he show real live thugs in designer suits?

Is Feyisa concerned about losing his silver medal and punishment by the International Olympic Committee?

He could not care less about the little round piece of metal or the fame and fortune it brings. He was infinitely more concerned about the welfare of his people. He said, “I cannot do anything about that [what the IOC may do]. This was my feeling. I have a big problem in my country. It is very dangerous to make protest in my country.”

That sounded to me like, “The IOC can take their two-bit clump of metal and shove it up their… My dignity and the dignity of my people is not for sale at the Olympics market or anywhere else..”

May God bless Feyisa and his family!

Ethiopia’s youth united can never be defeated

In May 2011, I wrote a commentary entitled “Africa’s Youths United Can Never be Defeated”.

It was a commentary about the collapse of the Mubarak regime and how dictators use violence to impose their will. I explained that violence is the weapon of the weak. To shoot and kill and maim unarmed protesters in the streets is not a sign of strength, it is a sign of fear, weakness and cowardice.

In June 2010, I wrote a commentary entitled, “Speaking Truth on Behalf of Ethiopia’s Youth”. I presented evidence showing the wretched conditions of Ethiopia’s youth to argue they are a ticking demographic time bomb.

I argued that the evidence of Ethiopian youth frustration, discontent, disillusionment and discouragement by the protracted economic crisis, lack of economic opportunities and political repression is manifest, overwhelming and irrefutable. The yearning of youth for freedom and change is self-evident. The only question is whether the country’s youth will seek change through increased militancy or by other peaceful means.

In January 2013, I wrote a message to Ethiopia’s youth in a commentary entitled “Ethiopia 2013: Year of the Cheetah Generation”.

In my message, I called upon Ethiopia’s Cheetahs to begin an informal dialogue among themselves and to define their own terms of national reconciliation. I urged them to empower themselves and create their own political space and to talk one-on-one across ethnic, religious, linguistic, gender, regional and class lines. I urged Ethiopia’s Cheetahs to use their diversity as strength and must never allow their diversity to be used to divide and conquer them.

I underscored the importance of closing the gender gap and maximizing the participation of young women in their peaceful resistance efforts.

In my January 2014 commentary, “2014: Year of the Ethiopian Chee-Hippo Generation”, I wrote about the challenges faced by young people in Ethiopia. I declared, “Ethiopian Cheetahs at grave risk.”

I argued that the problem of 21st Century Ethiopia is quintessentially the problem of Ethiopian youth. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in less than 34 years, Ethiopia’s population will more than triple to 278 million, placing that country in the top 10 most populous countries in the world. Today, an estimated 70 percent of Ethiopia’s one hundred million plus population is under 35 years old (66 million).

Nelson Mandela observed, “Our children are our greatest treasure. They are our future. Those who abuse them tear at the fabric of our society and weaken our nation.”

If Ethiopia’s youth are its greatest treasure, they are indeed at extreme risk today; and so is the future of that country. Ethiopia’s greatest treasures are neglected, abused, squandered and wasted. “Ethiopia is one of the countries with the lowest primary school enrollment rates in the world… [L]ow quality of school and a high dropout rate, as well as gender and rural-urban disparities remain the major challenges of the country” according to a report of the African Population and Health Research Center. Those who manage to finish high school have vastly diminished opportunities for higher education or gainful employment.

According to a 2012 USAID study, “Ethiopia has one of the highest urban youth unemployment rates at 50 percent and there is a high rate of youth under­employment in rural areas, where nearly 85 percent of the population resides.” Another 2012 study of youth unemployment by the International Growth Center reported that the “current 5 year [Ethiopian] development plan 2010/11-2014/5, the [ruling regime’s] Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP), does not directly address the issue of youth unemployment…” That study found “in 2011, 38 percent of youth were employed in the informal sector” which “often provides low quality, low paying jobs.”

There is a substantial segment of the youth population that is not only unemployed but also unemployable because they lack basic skills. Youth access to public sector jobs requiring training and skills depends not so much on merit or competition but political and social connections and party membership. Every young person in Ethiopia knows that a card verifying membership in the ruling party is more important than an honestly earned university diploma. Moreover, rural youth landlessness has contributed significantly to the chaotic and ever increasing pattern of youth urban migration, joblessness and hopelessness.

The risks faced by Ethiopia’s youth cover the gamut of social maladies.

According to a 2010 T-TPLF report, there are 150,000 children living on the streets, some 60,000 of them in the capital. The average age at which children first find themselves homeless is between the age of 10 and 11 years. Health risks for youth from HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are on the increase. Large numbers of young people who lack opportunities are involved in drug and alcohol abuse, prostitution and other criminal activities. Without job or educational opportunities in the urban areas, large numbers of youth are rendered jobless, homeless, helpless and hopeless.

In 2004, the T-TPLF issued its “National Youth Policy” and in its assessment reported that “44% of the population is below the absolute poverty line. Under this situation of poverty, the youth is the hardest hit segment of society… The fact that the majority of the unemployed youth constitute females indicates the magnitude to which young women are the main victims of the problem.” The policy directs that the “Government shall have the responsibility to direct, coordinate, integrate and build the capacity for the implementation of this policy.”

Yet, as a 2012 International Growth Center study showed, the “current 5 year [Ethiopian] development plan 2010/11-2014/5, the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP), does not directly address the issue of youth unemployment.” Taken as a whole, the so-called National Youth Policy was nothing more than a blueprint for T-TPLF youth recruitment.

A 2014 report documents how rural Ethiopian youth are using internal migration to escape rural poverty.

For years, I have been telling the world that Ethiopia’s Cheetahs would rise one day soon and save the day. Save Ethiopia from the T-TPLF hyenas.

I am proud to say I have been right all along!

In February 2016, in my commentary, “A Special “Message in a Bottle” to Ethiopian Cheetahs: Born Free, Live Free!”, I forewarned what is to come:

I believe Ethiopia’s Cheetahs have fully awakened. Some Cheetahs are purring in anger and standing up to the T-TPLF defiantly as we continue to witness today. Others are hissing and growling. Ethiopian Cheetahs are not happy. That’s why they are prowling all over the country confronting hyenas.

In January 2016, The Economist magazine asked a question that has been on my mind for years. The question hit me like a thunderbolt: “What if Ethiopians were really set free?”

The Economist answered its own question: “If the government let [the Ethiopian] people breathe, they might fly.”

I took a flight of imagination in my commentary, “Fly, Ethiopia, fly…”

If Ethiopians could fly, I said, they would not have to take to the sea to die. Ethiopian women wouldn’t have to fly to the Middle East to become virtual slaves. They would not have to cross the desert and become victims of bloodthirsty terrorists. They would not have to go into exile. If they could fly, they would soar like the African fish eagles, like African seagulls. They would lift their wings high, high into the sky and fly. They would flutter like humming birds.

I want Ethiopia’s youth to fly.

I want them to take flight in their imagination.

I want to challenge them to imagine a new Ethiopia that is their own creation free of ethnic politics, sectarianism and hate.

I want them to imagine an Ethiopia at peace with itself and its neighbors; an Ethiopia free of oppression and thugtatorship.

I want to challenge every Ethiopian Cheetah to become an architect, a designer, an inventor, a surveyor, a builder and entrepreneur of a free Ethiopian society whose citizens are more concerned about each other’s humanity than their own ethnicity; an Ethiopia of equal opportunity; an Ethiopia free of corruption, oppression and thugtatorship.

I want them to imagineer an Ethutopia.

Winning hearts and minds, not medals

I have always been in the corner of Ethiopian Cheetahs, come hell or high water. (See my January 2013commentary “Rise of the Chee-Hippo Generation”.)

In that commentary, I explained to Ethiopia’s Cheetahs that at the core their struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights in Ethiopia is an unending battle for the hearts and minds of the people. In the battlefield of hearts and minds, guns, tanks and warplanes are useless. History bears witness. The US lost the war in Vietnam not because it lacked firepower, airpower, nuclear power, financial power, scientific or technical power. The U.S. lost the war because it lacked the power to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese and American peoples.

Life is not about winning medals

It is about wining hearts and minds.

The IOC took its tinsel medals from Smith and Carlos. Buy the dynamic duo proved to be indefatigable human rights advocates for over four decades.

It is not clear whether the IOC will take Feyisa’s medal.

Like Smith and Carlos, Feyisa also won the biggest medal of the 2016 Olympic – the hearts and minds of not only his people but also billions of other freedom-loving people throughout the world.

In time, Feyisa will also be appreciated as a global champion of human rights just like Smith and Carlos.

I believe what Smith, Carlos and Feyisa did was a truly patriotic act in the spirit and words of the founding American patriots.

Young Alexander Hamilton wrote, “There is a certain enthusiasm in liberty that makes human nature rise above itself, in acts of bravery and heroism.” Hamilton believed Britain’s having a professional army could be overcome by the rebel army’s sheer bravery and enthusiasm. Carlos and Smith believed a grassroots army of civil righters could overcome racism and poverty in America. Feyisa translated his enthusiasm for liberty into a simple act of bravery and heroism seen by billions worldwide.

Young James Madison, (the “father” of the American Constitution) gloried in a revolutionary spirit of national unity and purpose: “A spirit of liberty and patriotism animates all degrees and denominations of men.” A spirit of liberty and patriotism animated Feyisa in 2016 as it did Carlos and Smith in 1968.

The agitator Samuel Adams warned, “For true patriots to be silent, is dangerous.”

The true American patriots Smith and Carlos and the Ethiopian patriot Feyisa Lelisa were “silent” on the Olympic platform but their gestures of raised fists and crossed hands spoke volumes about racism, ethnic hatred, injustice and discrimination.

Ethiopian Cheetahs growl on the prowl

George Ayittey, the Ghanaian economist who authored the “Cheetah-Hippo” metaphor to explain the crises of leadership in Africa observed that Africa’s Cheetahs “are dynamic, intellectually agile, and pragmatic. They may be the ‘restless generation’ but they are Africa’s new hope. They brook no nonsense about corruption, inefficiency, ineptitude, incompetence, or buffoonery.”

Behold Feyisa Lelisa!

Behold Ethiopia’s Cheetahs, the hopes of Ethiopia.

I have always said that if Ethiopians have a chance of survival as a nation and as a people, that survival will depend on the creativity, stamina, determination, goodwill, commitment and sacrifices of its youth. That places an extreme burden on the youth. They must do the lion’s share (not the Cheetahs’) of the heavy lifting, the hard work and the sacrifices.

Similarly, if Ethiopia’s youth are to survive and have a chance, their survival will depend on the active and sustained support of the older generation to the upcoming generation.

Ethiopia’s Hippo (older) generation must do all it can to make sure our Cheetahs will not falter and fail. If they do, we must help them get up, dust off and do it again and again. We Hippos must stand by our Cheetahs all the way, no matter how long it takes, come hell or high water. We must dialogue with them and assure them we will support them and love them; we must gladly serve as water carriers so long as they remain on the construction site of the “New Ethiopia”.

Most of us Hippos never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity to do great things. (Ouch! How the truth hurts!)

That is not to do great things for ourselves. For others. For the powerless, the defenseless, the hopeless, the homeless, the countryless, and comfortless.

Let us not miss this sacred opportunity to stand by and support our Cheetahs.

The hero’s journey

Joseph Campbell’s hero with a thousand faces faces all types trials and tribulation in his world of hero-dom on his way to ultimate victory. He faces harrowing ordeals, anguish, agony and tribulation. He even faces death in the face. But the hero prevails against all odds.

Feyisa too in his new world of hero-dom will face the greatest challenges and opportunities of his life.

No doubt, he will undergo feelings of self-doubt, self-pity, self-reproach, grief, guilt, regret, fear, remorse, sorrow and anger.

No doubt, he will miss his children and wife beyond words can express. But these are all too human qualities for real human beings, not demons in the flesh.

Such are the unbearable burdens of the long distance runner.

But Feyisa will also revel in the knowledge that he sacrificed everything so that his children, his wife, his parents and his people can live in dignity and freedom like any other human being.

I have no doubt Feyisa and all of us who stand with him and run with him in the marathon for democracy freedom and human rights in Ethiopia will win gold in the end. A marathon is not a sprint, so we must keep on running but pick up the pace.

The hero’s journey is never easy. That is why we have so few real heroes in the world who would accept such burdens willingly.

Most of us fear change and we fear changing our minds the most; so we live a life of quiet desperation under a blanket of fear.

Feyisa’s role as a hero with an Ethiopian face is defined by the fact that he has become the sentinel, the guardian, the watchman of freedom, democracy and human rights for all Ethiopians.

Feyisa shall soon return to his homeland, like Campbell’s mythical hero, with the “elixir”, the treasure, in hand for which he gave up EVERYTHING.

Perhaps we should not even applaud Feyisa for his bravery and heroism.

He only did with his feet and hands what his forefathers did with their blood, sweat and tears to keep Ethiopia free from foreign subjugation, colonialism and imperialism for millennia.

The only difference is that Feyisa is sacrificing everything to rid his country of a gang of criminal thugs.

Feyisa’s rebirth as a true patriotic Ethiopian hero will be complete when he reunites with his family in a land freed from the scourge of thugs, gangsters and criminals.

I do not doubt that millions will come out to line the streets to greet Feyisa when he comes marching home…

Oh, when the saints come marching home… the devils march straight to hell.

Re-sending my 2011 message to Ethiopia’s youth in 2016

In May 2011, I sent my “humble message” to Ethiopia’s youth:

I have no magic formula for any of the problems faced by Ethiopia’s youth. My humble message to all young Ethiopians is simple. Never give up. Never! Emancipate your minds from mental slavery. Develop your creative powers. Learn and teach each other. Unite as the children of Mother Ethiopia, and reject any ideology or effort that seeks to divide you on the basis of ethnicity, language, region or class. Study and acquire knowledge not only about the arts and sciences but also your legal, constitutional and human rights.

In 2016, I send the message again with urgency:

Know in every fiber of your body that Ethiopia’s youth force is unstoppable. There is no force on earth and no dictatorship strong enough to defeat Ethiopia’s growling Cheetahs.

Never give up. Never! Never!!

Unite as the children of Mother Ethiopia.

Reject any ideology or effort that seeks to divide you on the basis of ethnicity, language, religion, region or class.

Raise your arms crosswise in the direction of the heavens and march on. In peace.

Believe that when the saints come marching in, the devils are put to flight.

Remember, your struggle is not against an ordinary earthly force.

Your struggle is against a Satanic force from the netherworld.

Your struggle is against the surviving army of the Prince of Darkness.

But I assure you that you shall be victorious because God is on your side.


It was written long ago that false princes shall fall and become dust, and “Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.”

Stretch out your hands in peace to your fellow Ethiopians!

Hold your hands in the aid and cross them, for the Devils can never cross the cross.

“Crying may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

It is morning time now!

Onward, Ethiopia’s youth! March on!

Keep on growling, Ethiopian Cheetahs!

Victory is at hand! Victory is at hand!


Ethiopia’s youth united can never be defeated!!!

Power to Ethiopia’s Young People!

Ethiopia: Robel The Whale and The Good Doctor Adhanom

August 24th, 2016

Ethiopia: Robel The Whale and The Good Doctor Adhanom

Ethiopia: Robel The Whale and The Good Doctor Adhanom

By The Mitmita Girls

The tweets were cruel no doubt. Body shaming is an Olympic sport of its own caliber. When Robel Kiros Habte took his place among the other Olympians at the edge of the pool, the image of a less than sculpted body complete with a large belly shocked the world. The ridicule began before he finished his heat—dead last.

The Mitmita Girls did giggle as well. But for a different reason. We knew Robeliye wasn't the best Ethiopia could offer! Why at least two of the Mitmita Girls were expert swimmers in our hay day! The butterfly was our stroke and given Robeliye's performance, we are lamenting the fact that we didn't ask our daddies to head up the swimming committee so that we too can coast to the Olympics with nary a kickboard nor a swim meet in sight!

Our expectation of an Olympian is that of an athlete whose body and abilities exhibit thousands of hours of sacrifice and training. More accurately our expectations are that those attending the Olympics have done the work, put in the time, competed against the best in their country, excelled and have risen to the top to make it to the games. As cynical as we are, sometimes it's wonderful to be confronted with our naïveté: Robel is an Olympian because his father was president of the Ethiopian Swimming Federation.

This is par for the course in Ethiopia. That's how the whole thing works. It's favors, bribery, and corruption. And it's business as usual. Headed by a mercenary junta which these past two weeks has shut down Internet access, telephone calls including viber and other communications as the government severely cracked down on protestors calling for political reform. At least 100 people have been killed by Ethiopian government forces.

But who cares! Robel represented us at the Olympics! And he was so happy to be there!

Robel and the ruling class’ children are without a doubt some of the biggest threats to Ethiopia. They are apathetic—privileged with access to the best schools, ill begotten funds and no real concern for the direction of the country and the plight of poor. To say they have no social consciousness is to be utterly too kind. Between their concern with importing Italian marble for the veranda, gold from Dubai and many European excursions, they are loathe to consider the basic necessities that are unavailable to 90 million denizens. It’s not that they are clueless to their suffering, it’s that they couldn’t be bothered. Robel’s nonchalance to the outage and ridicule of the world evidences this state of mind. The Ethiopian one percent and their throwaway lines that God will provide—Egziaber Estachew—smacks of self-importance and the worst of kind avarice.

They view their assent to the upper echelons of Ethiopia’s society as their birth right. In a country run like a badly managed family company, favors are handed out to relatives and relative incompetents with abandon.

Which brings us to the curious case of Dr. Tedros Adhanom—the Ethiopian candidate who is in the running to become the next Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). Avid Mitmita readers may remember the good doctor from when we wrote about the little cholera oooops we mean Acute Water Diarrhea (AWD) incident which occurred in Ethiopia in 2009. If you recall the Ethiopian government outrageously protested what to call the water borne disease instead of actually handling the health crisis. The regime is obsessed with managing its image to the world. Cholera is known and feared but AWD is unknown and therefore doesn’t sound as deadly!

So let’s go with that!

At any rate, the person who was in charge of the Minister of Health during that debacle was none other than Dr. Adhanom! It's like your favorite villain from a novel! You keep counting him out but it's too early in the story! He is having a second act as the Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs since 2012 and now he wants a third one as the Director-General of the WHO because who is more capable of handling a global health crisis than someone who could not even handle a cholera outbreak in Ethiopia! Yes!

This is the confidence of corruption! The confidence of mediocrity!

Dr. Adhanom is squarely from our dearly departed Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s school of governance. You must look the part, you must speak the part and you must act the part. He dresses impeccably; he, like Meles, blithely pontificates that you can separate economic progress from human rights and he even evidently tweets—quite voraciously! (how adoooorable and au courant!)

Like Meles his role model, the good doctor knows how to seduce the West. He is a natural. He is also just not cut out to head up the World Health Organization. As titillating as it would be for “Africa to have a go at it” with a top health post, wouldn’t it make more sense for such an African to have had a rate of success in helping his country overcome their persistent food insecurity problem? How can a person who couldn’t resolve health crises impacting 90 million handle problems facing billions of people? If you have to resort to switching the name of the disease from Cholera to the obscure and benign sounding AWD instead of focusing on ridding Ethiopia of Cholera, you should be in public relations or Hollywood and not heading up the Ministry of Health—much less the WHO!

And then of course there is also the small issue of misappropriation of funds. As it turns out, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS Tuberculosis and Malaria granted monies (some $1,306,035,989) to Dr. Adhanom’s Ministry of Health to be used, we think, ostensibly to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria as the name of the fund would suggest. Well an audit conducted by the Office of the Inspector General (report was filed in April 2012) found that there were misappropriation of funds, that the health facilities constructed without authorization were of substandard quality and that some of the funds were used for “ineligible expenditures.”

As you know the Mitmita Girls like to go to the source for delicious details so let us dig up this audit (look for a report on Ethiopia from April 2012). We want you to get yourself a nice delicious bottle of tej and get ready for some thrilling reading into Adventures in Misappropriation of Funds with the Good Doctor Adhanom!
From the damning pages of the audit we get these interesting tidbits: instead of using monies allocated for the spraying of Malaria, Dr. Adhanom’s Federal Ministry of Health instead diverted “USD 6.97 million … from indoor residual spraying to [Health Center] construction without the necessary formal approvals being obtained.”

Now you might say, well you know, it looks like they built health centers so what’s the harm in that, you silly Mitmita Girls? To begin with, the audit goes on to report how the health centers were of substandard quality. You would think if they “reprogrammed 6.97 million dollars” they would at least build something worthy of that money. But alas!
Again it is amateur hour in Ethiopia.

No doubt you think us harbingers of doom and gloom and you are still thinking we are sounding a false alarm about the building of health centers and thinking well at least they built some center and really how bad could they be? As it turns out, the centers were quite bad! The audit tells us what happened when 77 of these constructed health centers were inspected—“71% of the sites visited did not have access to water; 32% did not have functioning toilet facilities; 53% had major cracks in the floors; and 19% had leaking roofs.”

Hmmm. Sounds just like the kind of places we would all like to go to get treatment!

Second, the issue with building these substandard centers is that the money is diverted from its intended purpose which is battling malaria—meaning impacting the lives of Ethiopians—to constructing substandard buildings for which they did not have prior approvals. The audit went on to report that“[t]here was no formal approval from the Global Fund to expand grant activities for the construction of new [health centers]. Further, the TRP did not review and approve this material change to the scope and scale of the proposal originally approved, and the performance frameworks were not revised to reflect this significant reallocation of funds.”

In an almost exasperated tone, the report concludes that “from the audit findings, the OIG could not provide assurance that oversight arrangements ensured that grant funds are used for the purpose intended.” In other words, there is no real way of discerning exactly what is happening to grant monies.
So the Office of the Inspector General recommended that those “reprogramming”, thievin’, misappropriatin’ Minister of Health officials should refund some $7,026,929 to the Global Fund. Tsk tsk, sounds like the good doctor was into some fancy cyphering. For the rest of us lay folk, misappropriation is just another way of saying taking money that doesn’t belong to you. So where exactly was the money spent? What are these ineligible expenditures?

When money is being taken in our name for the sake of fighting diseases impacting our citizens but instead it is diverted to build substandard centers, we have the right to ask what happened. Instead of answers and accountability, we get the person who headed the agency accused of misappropriation asking to head up an even bigger organization! Such is the lunacy that is governance in Ethiopia! No accountability for corruption; rather, the person is rewarded by higher positions of authority within the country and then is paraded out like a prize to the world.

Robel and Dr. Adhanom exemplify what the Ethiopian junta is presenting to the world: a counterfeit Ethiopia—one in which the Addis skylines are lined with hundreds of skyscrapers and scaffolding but on the ground there is still no access to clean water, there are frequent electricity outages and the ever present food shortage. And oh, of course, there is still the regime’s penchant for shooting citizens in broad day light for something as benign as a peaceful protest.

The Ethiopian government and its apparatchiks are offering the world a glittering empty promise which will end in disaster. Just like the good doctor’s candidacy for the Director-General of the World Health Organization.

The Mitmita Girls have one more thing to add to those considering the candidacy of Dr. Adhanom: Caveat emptor, WHO! Buyer beware!

Ethiopia: An Ethiopian hero

August 24th, 2016

Ethiopia: An Ethiopian hero

An Ethiopian hero.

By Yilma Bekele

Despite all that has happened to our country and people we have always managed to produce heroes that have kept hope alive when most things all around us seem to fall apart. It is not an accident. It is not by chance. In my humble opinion it is the result of our proud culture and ancient history that compels us to keep our head high when faced with adversity. For fortyfive years we have been tested mightily.

The last few days that aspect of our blessing has been in full bloom. Ethiopia’s children have been enjoying the latest crop of morale builders and national cheerleaders. Let me start with Almaz Ayana. She is like our country, deceitful at first glance. Almaz looks so small and fragile but don’t let that fool you. She conquered the 10K Olympic track record in Rio and signed her name in bold and it says ‘catch me if you can’. That is a personal achievement. It is also a national glory.

I have no words to describe the pride I felt when I saw Feyisa Lilesa raise his hands in Rio to reflect the pain in his heart. Our young hero in a moment of such personal glory decided to shine a bright light at the slaughter of his people by Woyane gangsters that are currently masquerading as a lawful regime. I was both in awe of his courage and proud of his achievement. How could one be so young and so unselfish to think of others less fortunate when the whole world was admiring his athletic ability? He turned things right side up. He said there are more important things we have to reflect upon together like the ‘lack of Freedom’ in Ethiopia.

That is what makes our people and country special. We produce selfless people and true leaders despite the beastly nature of the tyrants that have basically made us strangers in our own home. It is true we never give up. There has not been a single day Woyane has not been challenged in the country called Ethiopia. Woyane has spilled the blood of Ethiopians no matter what kilil one comes from.

Our young friend Feyisa is joining a noble company of warriors, freedom fighters and all around Ethiopians that have come before him. He is following their good steps. He is a disciple of Berhanu Nega, Birtukan Mideksa Reyot Alemu and others that have paid a heavy price for refusing to heel. Today Eskinder Nega, Wubshet Taye, Andualem Arage, Andargachew Tsige, Bekele Gerba, Abubeker Ahmed, Habtamu Ayalew, Temesgen Desalegn and many more are in Woyane dungen, not Ethiopian jail. The guards are Woyane, the language is Tigrean and life is harsh. The only crime they all committed is saying No to tyranny.

This unique Ethiopians have absorbed more of the ingredients that have produced such luminaries as Emperor Tewodros, Ras Alula, Itege Taitu, Dejazmach Balcha, Ras Desta, Ras Abebe, Mengistu and Germame, Tilahun Gizaw and many more beautiful Ethiopians. They all have one thing in common-unselfish behaviour in the service of people and country. Today Dr. Berhanu can sit back and enjoy the fruits of his hard work as a professor and watch his children grow, Judge Birtukan could have submitted to Meles and be left alone, Reyot has a chance to be an ordinary teacher and close her eyes to injustice, Eskinder could have kept quiet, Bekele Gerba was not tempted to lead the easy life outside nor did anyone push Temesgen to defy Woyane. Our young hero Feyisa could have gone home receive the accolades and may be open a Hotel and lead the life of leisure. What is real is sSome people add value to our life.

They all have the fire of freedom burning inside of them that wouldn't allow them to take the easy way out. That is not the stuff heroes are made from. Our heros show us by example what it means to sacrifice for a cause and face even torture and death. They are showing us the way forward is to stand up straight.

It is heartwarming to see the result of Feyisa’s ‘teachable’ moment that garnered solidarity with the people of Ethiopia thus exposing the true nature of the fascist regime. The donations to help him settle in a new land are pouring in from all over the world. He has made our cause front page news, we owe a debt to the young Ethiopian from Oromia. Your family loves you.

It is no use talking, admiring, taking credit for the selfless act of our heroes. They sacrificed a lot, stuck their neck out on our behalf. The way we pay them back and stand beside them is by emulating their selfless act. Those at home are doing all they could to confront an armed opponent that is being cornered on all sides due to its criminal acts. I am sure they will feel empowered by Feyisa and double their efforts to win their Freedom. That is how they show their admiration.

The people of Bahr Dar have continued on the footsteps of Gondar. Three days Bahr Dar was a closed town. The people of Bahr Dar like the citizens of Gondar expressed their discontent with Woyane rule in the strongest way possible. They shunned the ethnic based rule with its local puppets by turning their face around not to look at such shameful opponent.

We on the outside should do the same. We should boycott all aspects, forms and manners of Woyane. Plenty of non Ethiopians contributed money, moral support and identified with the cause and are helping Feyisa settle and bring his family to join him. We Ethiopians have a greater responsibility and a debt to pay.

As Almaz was breaking records, as Feyisa was making history Woyane was blanketing Addis Ababa with troops to stop a vigil at Meskel Square. They closed every street and alley and arrested all those they think would lead the protest. They mobilized the Army, alerted the Air Force and packed their bags for easy exit. They worked out a real sweat because they thought the people of Addis are going to pour out of their houses corner them in a dead end street and hang them just like what happened to Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania. Not a good vision but when it is adorned with a tiny tint of realism what can one do except nod in agreement.

Ethiopian Runner Won’t Return Home, but Doesn’t Know Where to Go

August 24th, 2016

Ethiopian Runner Won’t Return Home, but Doesn’t Know Where to Go
Ethiopian Runner Won’t Return Home, but Doesn’t Know Where to Go


NY Times

NAIROBI, Kenya — The Ethiopian marathoner who flashed an antigovernment gesture as he crossed the finish line in second place at the Rio Olympics will not go home.

The runner, Feyisa Lilesa, will not fly back to Ethiopia on Tuesday with the rest of his team, his agent said, choosing instead to remain in Brazil with his immigration status unclear.

“He didn’t plan at all for this,” said Mr. Lilesa’s agent, Federico Rosa, speaking by telephone from Brescia, Italy. "He doesn’t want to go to Ethiopia, he wants to go to another country. The U.S. would be very good but right now we just don’t know where he’s going to go. He was very happy after winning but also a bit confused.”

By raising his arms and crossing them in an X in front of his face as he crossed the finish line Sunday, Mr. Lilesa, 26, has crossed the Ethiopian government, one of the most repressive in Africa.

His gesture, which he repeated during an award ceremony on Sunday after the race, was the most visible in a growing wave of protests in recent months against Ethiopia’s government. This unusual burst of protests has erupted across Ethiopia, especially in Oromia, the region from which Mr. Lilesa hails, and where the gesture of raised arms crossed in front of one’s face has become a sign of defiance.

Tens of thousands of protesters have been jailed and hundreds have been killed, according to Human Rights Watch. Mr. Lilesa said in interviews after his race that he believed that if he were to return home, he, too, would be punished. The Ethiopian government has said he has nothing to worry about and that he would be treated like a hero upon his return.

Mr. Rosa said that Mr. Lilesa was a serious young man who “doesn’t like to play games.”

Some sports analysts have speculated that Mr. Lilesa, who finished the Olympic marathon in 2:09:54, and has one of the 50 fastest times in history, might chose to run for another country, such as Bahrain or Qatar. The Gulf states have wooed many other African-born athletes with promises of large pay days if they win international competitions.

Mr. Rosa said that Mr. Lilesa, who won the Tokyo marathon this year and has a contract with Nike, did not make his protest in an effort to cash in.

“He didn’t plan at all to go to another country,” Mr. Rosa said. “I don’t know even when he decided to do this. He didn’t say anything to me about it. I was surprised. And you don’t do something like this for money. He did this to defend his country.”

In an interview with journalists Sunday in Rio after his race, Mr. Lilesa said he did not discuss his protest beforehand with his agent, coaches, teammates or his family. His wife and two children remain in Ethiopia.

If Mr. Lilesa wants to apply for asylum in the United States, it would be difficult to do that while in Brazil. He might first have to get asylum in Brazil and then apply to the American authorities for so-called humanitarian parole. Under that program, which is used sparingly, often for people in danger, Mr. Lilesa would be allowed to travel to the United States and stay temporarily. Once on American soil, he could apply for political asylum.

Mr. Lilesa has became a sensation on social media. As of Tuesday night, nearly $100,000 had been raised for him via a crowdsourcing website. “We assure you all the money collected will go to support this Oromo/Ethiopian hero,” the site said.
Correction: August 23, 2016

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated when Feyisa Lilesa made his second protest gesture. It was at a separate awards ceremony after the men’s marathon, not the medals ceremony.