BY HADRA AHMED, 26 JULY 2013
Addis Ababa — Ethiopia’s track legend Haile Gebrselassie is mostly known for one thing – his world records. The two-time Olympic gold medallist, multiple world 10,000 m champion and holder of more than 27 world records in distances ranging from 1,500 m to the marathon, is now contemplating running a different race – for political office.
Haile has always said he would consider running for political office, but his decision could not have come at a more interesting time in Ethiopia’s politics. This year, for the first time since the violence that followed Ethiopia’s 2005 elections, the country has witnessed protests in three of its major cities. While Haile did not comment on these protests, he said that opposition parties should articulate clear policies and suggestions instead of just belittling challenges.
“The country is in a different situation in terms of economic and political status when compared to the years before. Politics is not about fame and popularity, but about aiming to work for the development of the country. The main problem with our politics is that there are only a few who work towards achieving that goal,” he told IPS in an exclusive interview in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
“All it takes to make a change is to be part of the (solution) and figure out a way because running away from it would only make it worse.” — Haile Gebrselassie
He initially declared that he wanted to run for the presidency, but changed his mind and decided to run, in his private capacity, in the upcoming 2015 national elections for parliament.
“I want to reach more people through politics,” said the man who is considered the greatest distance runner in history and regarded as a national icon by many in this Horn of Africa nation.
“The big mistake would be to stay out of politics and since I am Ethiopian, I will do everything I can to be part of its development.”
He did not specify what his platform would be, saying that he has two years until the election to think this through and prepare his campaign. But, creating more job opportunities, working on peace and stability, and creating a country free from poverty are some of his dreams.
Girma Seifu, an executive committee member of the opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) party, had some advice for Haile. Girma, the lone opposition party member in a parliament where the seats are dominated by the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front party, advised Haile to align himself with one of the country’s opposition parties.
He pointed out that based on his experience, Haile would not have much of an opportunity to be heard as an independent, given the current parliamentary structure.
“Being an MP as a single candidate weakens the power to be heard in the country’s politics and it will just be waste of his time,” Girma told IPS.
“He will be able to draft policies and make recommendations on the existing ones if he is part of a party or establishes his own,” he added.
Girma said the fact that Haile was a well-known public figure because of his athletic achievements, he would have a higher likelihood of being heard by Ethiopian society and all over the world. But Grima said Haile would still need to be part of the political sphere and would need political training.
Haile thinks that the reputation he built through his career as a runner could pave the way for him to make a difference here. “I have seen (development in) countries all over the world and I want to bring that to my country in any possible way I can,” Haile said.
A political expert from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS that Haile is a businessman and will have to balance his passion for politics with his private interests. “He should see things dispassionately and interpret according to the country’s status.”
Haile owns a cinema, a luxurious resort on the shores of Lake Hawassa and many other enterprises. He has also recently launched 1,500 hectare coffee plantation in Sheka Zone of the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Region.
There is no rule that says one has to give up their business to run for parliament. And in Ethiopia, as in several countries, politicians can conduct their businesses and participate in politics simultaneously.
But if one is running for public office, they are obligated, according to Disclosure and Registration of Assets Proclamation No.668 /2010, to disclose their capital and businesses, along with the income those businesses produce.
Haile said that his wife, Alem Getachew, thinks he is crazy for wanting to run for political office, and his friends think that it is not the right time to enter politics. But despite this he is currently preparing himself by studying and reading about politics, and discussing the idea with politicians.
Haile hopes to work collaboratively with the nation to bring about the positive changes, such as fostering education and fighting corruption in the country.
“Nelson Mandela is my role model. The fact that he fought and struggled for his country, for freedom, for change and even had the power to forgive the people who put him through all that misery makes me not give up on my country,” Haile said.
“All it takes to make a change is to be part of the (solution) and figure out a way because running away from it would only make it worse.”
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