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Yilma Bekele “ESFNA – the face of ugly Ethiopia”

November 16, 2010

By Yilma Bekele

It is true lots of illigal things were done, that is why I apologised ahead. I want to admit that the executive commitee did not carry its duties in a proper manner. The issue should not have been brought for voting at all on the otherhand it is the board’s pergoative to bring the issue back for further discussion there is no such thing (in the bi laws) as revisitng the issue at a later date using petition. It was emotional meeting as I have indicated, harsh words were exchanged on the other hand no one was armed with guns, it is not such type of meeting. I want all to understand and you (VOA) to be aware that those who voted for the motion withdrew their support without coercion and it was their decision.”

The above is part of the interview granted by Ato Fasil Abebe the public relations head of ESFNA to Ato Adisu Abebe and Ato Alula Kebede of Voice of America. The VOA reporters were very patient with Ato Fasil. They asked him probing question laced with facts from the organization’s past. I am afraid Ato Facil was not able to answer their questions to the listeners satisfactuion. It was a lesson in good journalism when they allowed their guest to escape bloodied but not down so he can contemplate the gravity of the situation. I presume Ato Addisu and Ato Alula felt further probe will not serve the communities interest.

I found Ato Fasils answerer to be a reflection of our attitude towards the law, rules and regulations and general civility in our community. At the bat he admited rules were broken, chaoes reigned, and the meeting was reduced to a shouting and insulting match but at the same time he is willing to argue and defend decisions taken under these curcumstances as valid and binding. This situation is very familiar to us Ethiopians. Might makes right. Rules are inconvinces that can be ignored or redefined after the event to justify what was done.

I am sure ESFNA folks have figured out ‘these Abeshas will complain, really get exited and move on to the next drama and life will go on as usual.’ I am afraid they might be right. If I have to bet I will go with them. Although our country is known for its marathon runners we in the Diaspora are sprinters. We accelerate and tire easy. We overheat quickly and cool down fast. It is obvious we have created ESFNA in our own image. It is easy to ignore individual madness but when an an organization goes rogue it sort of exhibits our collective fault for the world to see. We witness this shameful act of betrayal of trust and general huliganism and we feign surprise. We know it is wrong but somehow we step back and refuse to correct and remedy the situation.

Why? When did we develop this habit of not standing for what is right? Why do we let the criminal elements amongst us to run amok and make our exile existance miserable? How come we always start with good intentions, lofty principles but end up holding a broken organization with members at each others throat? Of all immigrants we are the ones always congregating together, forming little enclaves, running small businesses, worshiping together and generally hanging out like a family. Why are we unable to build on this tremondous reserve of love for country and culture into a formidable organization that reflects the new us? The ‘us’ that left our home land due to civil war, strife, lack of opportunity and dictatorship and settled in a new land and thrive like no one. We work hard, we are an asset to the organizations we work for the community we live in but are totally useless when it comes to associating on a new and higher level as Ethiopians.

ESFNA is our challange. This should be where we draw the line. It is not about what happened yesterday. It is all about what we can build for tomorrow. This is the best opportunity to create an organization built on solid foundation of transaprency, accountability and a promise of serving the community and our country. All the parts are there, it is just a matter of having the will and the stamina to put it together for future generations to enjoy and grow.

We are thankful to those that started the organization. We pay our respects to those that kept it going. Today we are focused on improving on it and making it the power house of good will that it should be. We want it to be an organization that will usher a new model of work based on respect for each other, love for each other and hope for all that look up to us. Obviously we can not do that in Ethiopia. We can start the process here. ESFENA should be our proto type of a superior style of organization building.

The current leadership of the organization should admit that the existing format is not sustainable. It was fine when the outfit was operating in the dark. Well the bright light of public awareness and scrutiny is shining on ESFNA. There are two avenues open to the current leadership. Accept the fact that change is coming and help implement the reforms necessary or continue on the path of denyal and see the organization implode from inside. That does not serve anybody’s interest. That only confirms the suspecion some have regarding the lawlessness and bad intentions of the leadership. I don’t want to believe that. I am sure there are plenty that mean well but go along with the culture of tuggery that has been practised for so long. Let us encourage those that want real change and build on that.

The current crisis is not just about wheather Chairwoman Bertukan should be invited or not. That just happened to magnify the ‘bad style’ of work that used to be acceptable. It magnified the festering problem inside the organization. I am sure there are plenty of association that would love to see the Chairman. No the issue is how the organization dealt with the question. First of all this argument of ‘non-profit’ and ‘politics’ has been debunked. Our esteemed lawyers have answered that question. There are no attorneys in the executive body nor have they brought a written opinion from a law firm to support their mistaken take on the issue. Let us put that view to rest.

Second, ESFNA was unable to show what parliamentary procedure it used to overturn the binding vote taken regarding the invitation. Thus the orginal decision still stands. As far as we are concerned the invitation is still on the table and it is up to the Chairwoman to accept or differ for later time. Our concern is how to reform this organization to serve the interest of the community instead of a few individuals that are focused on running it line up their pockets and protect outside forces that do not reflect the hopes and aspirations of our people and country.

I believe we should concentrate on two fronts. Number one is the issue of ‘empowering’ the clubs to assume responsibility of representing their supporters in a meaningful manner. The ‘clubs’ are the owners of the organization. The executive body is there to implement the decision made by the clubs. As it stands now, the roles have been reversed. The executive committee is a runaway train with the public and the clubs reduced to shoveling more fuel. This train should be derailed in a controled fashion. We ask the clubs to take over their rightful place and demand accountability.

The second front is to demand release of all finacial statement for the last seven years. Our public accountants should be allowed to comb thru the income tax returns and draw up a yearly budget based on past records. This is not a witch hunt to blame or hold liable but a sincere attempt to build a sucessful and proud organization. We hope the current executive body will read the writing on the wall and cooperate in a meaningful manner. The aim should be to build not destroy, to teach not punish and forgive but not forget. It is upto the executive body to choose. It is up to the ‘sane and reasonable’ among them to curb the misguided enthusiasm and anger of their comrades.

ESFNA is considered and holds the license to operate as a not-for profit outfit. That designation entitles it to lots of tax benefits so it will fulfill the vision it enumerated in its application. The license demands of it to operate in an open and transparent manner. Holding the not-profit license is a privilege not a right.

Atlanta is going to happen. We should make it clear that we are not going anywhere. Atlanta is where we make our stand. We do not boycot our own wedding. We do not split and form another organization. ‘Teletafi’ is not our cup of tea. We should just insisit that democratic, transparent and accountable style of work is the only thing acceptable to the majority. Each and everyone of us should work with the clubs to help them achieve the fruits of their labor. Their sucess is our success. As you know the vast majority of those that attend the yearly festival are the young ones. We should find a way to involve them in this building process so they will experience the value of a democratic style of association and work habit. It is not going to happen in one session. It is not take roots in one season. Growing a strong organization is hard work. We can vow to start it today

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