Ethiopian Politician’s History of Discord Unravels Pan African Parliament

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Hon. Ashebir Woldegiorgis Gayo, 2nd Vice President of the Pan-African Parliament

The Pan African Parliament (PAP) is currently grappling with a leadership crisis caused by an Ethiopian politician Ashebir Woldegiorgis Gayo’s controversial actions. However, Gayo’s involvement in contentious leadership is not a novel occurrence. The Ethiopian public, particularly on social media, express widespread disapproval of Ashebir’s leadership. Many Ethiopians believe that if given the opportunity to elect their leaders, Ashebir would not receive a single vote. The situation is said to be so dire that jokes circulate online, with one popular saying, “If there’s any vacancy for president, no matter which type, Ashebir is there seeking power.”

Ashebir Woldegiorgis in 2018. Image from SokkaaRSS

From Scandal-Plagued Basketball Leadership to Controversial Football Presidential Bid

Ashebir Woldegiorgis Gayo’s questionable journey from the helm of the Ethiopia Basketball Federation to his audacious bid for the presidency of the Ethiopian Football Federation raised serious ethical concerns. Despite overseeing a basketball federation marred by a string of corruption scandals, including the sentencing of one official to a three-year jail term, Ashebir managed to evade legal consequences. His attempt to maintain dual leadership roles in both sports federations, in direct violation of Ministry of Sports and Youth regulations, highlighted his brazen disregard for established rules. His actions left the football community in Ethiopia in chaos, as Ashebir seeked to transition from one scandal-ridden position to another, potentially impacting the future of Ethiopian football.

Threatening the Integrity of Ethiopian Football’s Electoral Process

The EFF was scheduled to hold crucial elections by June 3, 2018, as mandated by FIFA. However, it is reported that this process was marred by persistent delays and wrangling over the electoral code, the election of a new electoral commission, and a new appeals committee. While there were high hopes for Ethiopian football to regain its luster, these aspirations are threatened by the specter of corruption. The repeated postponement of the elections were attributed to Ashebir’s relentless pursuit of power at all costs. It is alleged that he manipulated electoral committee members through bribery, further undermining the integrity of the electoral process.

The incumbent Juneidi Basha and Ashebir Woldegiorgis among the nominees in the race to Ethiopian Football Federation presidency in December, 2017. Image from Eshèté Bekele
Controversial Reign at the Ethiopian Football Federation

Gayo’s opposed bid for EFF presidency was not without cause. During his first stint as the head of Ethiopian football from 2005 to 2009, Ashebir Woldegiorgis Gayo’s leadership was described by local media as nothing short of a failure. Right from the start, he faced allegations of financial mismanagement that led sponsors to distance themselves from both him and the federation. Rather than making efforts to rehabilitate his tarnished image, Ashebir exacerbated the situation by systematically removing EFF members who dared to challenge his authority. However, the lowest point of his presidency was marked by the misappropriation of FIFA-donated funds intended for flood-affected regions in Diredawa and South Omo. These funds, earmarked for disaster relief, inexplicably vanished, leaving an indelible stain on Ashebir’s leadership and credibility.

A Troubled Legacy at the EOC

Gayo’s tumultuous tenure as the head of the Ethiopian Olympic Committee (EOC) from 2017 to 2021 was marked by allegations of corruption and internal strife, casting a long shadow over Ethiopian athletes and their representation at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Internal conflicts significantly impacted Ethiopian athletes’ prospects on the international stage allegedly due to mismanagement and discord.

Gayo addressing the media. Image by Fisseha Tegegn
Tokyo Olympics

The first visible sign of discord between the EOC and EAF during the Tokyo Olympics was the Ethiopian team’s participation in the opening ceremony. Only one Ethiopian athlete marched in the parade of nations, sparking outrage and confusion among athletes and fans alike. This issue not only cast a shadow over Ethiopia’s Olympic representation but also laid bare the contentious relationship between the EOC and the EAF, as the EOC was accused of handpicking athletes regardless of their qualifying performance.

One of Ethiopia’s iconic athletes, Derartu Tulu, expressed her dismay during an interview in Tokyo, revealing that she and other EAF team officials were denied entry to the stadium. Tulu, is the first Black African woman to win an Olympic gold medal, and in 2020 she was officially nominated as the Permanent President of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation (EAF). Allegedly, the denial to entry was due to interference from the EOC President. Tulu’s emotional plea for governmental intervention highlighted the severity of the situation and the urgent need for resolution.

Derartu Tulu nominated to be permanent President of Ethiopian Athletics Federation. Image from EAAR

In response to the growing crisis, the Ethiopian Athletics Federation held a press conference in Amharic to address the interference it claimed to have faced from the EOC. During the press conference, the EAF accused the EOC of meddling in athlete, coach, and support staff selection, further deepening the conflict between the two organizations.

One of the most prominent cases involved Hailemariam Amare, the third-place finisher in the 3000m steeplechase at the Ethiopian trials. Amare was reportedly turned away at the airport when attempting to board a flight to Tokyo, being told that his name was not on the approved list. In his place, Lamecha Girma was sent to Tokyo by the EOC to represent Ethiopia in the event. Amare’s devastation was palpable, adding to the growing discontent within the Ethiopian sports community.

Moreover, the EOC made controversial decisions, such as elevating Muktar Edris to the 5000m event, despite finishing fifth at the trials. Hagos Gebrehiwot was also added to the 5000m, even though he did not compete in the event at the trials. This reshuffling of athletes raised questions about transparency and fair competition within the Ethiopian Olympic team selection process. Notably, Nibret Melak and Milkesa Mengesha lost their spots, which they had rightfully earned during the trials.

The controversies extended beyond athlete selection, with reports of coaches and support staff being denied travel to Tokyo. Critics pointed out that the Tokyo delegation included individuals with no legitimate reason for being there, further exposing mismanagement within the EOC.

The Bureau of the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) and African Ambassadors accredited to the Republic of South Africa in a pre-Ordinary Session engagement at the Parliament Headquarters in Midrand. Image from PAP Media

Ashebir Woldegiorgis Gayo’s contentious journey through various leadership roles in Ethiopian sports has generated a host of ethical concerns, financial mismanagement, allegations of corruption, and nepotism. Starting from his tumultuous tenure at the Ethiopia Basketball Federation to his tumultuous reign at the Ethiopian Football Federation and the Ethiopian Olympic Committee, Ashebir’s actions have not only jeopardized the integrity of these organizations but also impeded the progress and success of Ethiopian athletes on the international stage. The Pan African Parliament faces a critical challenge in addressing a renewed leadership crisis. Achieving the Bureau’s commitment to “revive, renew, reposition, and reinvigorate,” remains an elusive dream as Gayo’s divisive and controversial legacy continues to cast a shadow over the institution.

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