DLA Piper and ESFNA

By Yilma Bekele

Some days more than others it is becoming hard to wake up being an Ethiopian. It seems like there isn’t anything good about it. Today was one of those days. First to hit me was a report from Brussels. My fellow brother, Dr. Berhanu, was making a presentation regarding the current situation in our country. I do not have a problem with that. It takes an Ethiopian to speak about Ethiopia. My problem is with the people who were sitting across the table from him. As diverse as we are there is no way you would mistake them for an Ethiopian.

In front of him were two complete strangers, a man and a woman defending the acts and atrocities of the Woyane government. Lo and behold, I could feel my jaw dropping. These two hired guns from DLA Piper, a lobbyist firm from Washington D.C., were appearing in front of a European Union Parliamentary hearing and they were speaking for and about us. When did we sink so low? Doesn’t the minority regime have anyone they can count on to speak for them? Do they have to pay complete strangers to articulate their haphazard policy and ill-advised blunders? I know they hide from the Ethiopian people, I did not know they hide from fernjis too.

The whole world is worried about the 12 million starving Ethiopians. UNICEF is begging for help and to be allowed to help. Save the Children Fund is working hard to collect money. All aid agencies are focused to try to do their best. Our government is busy denying the existence of a famine. Our government is under reporting the number of people who are dying. They are playing the number game. They are shouting, “It is not 4 million but just 75 thousand children who are dying” and do not call it famine when it should be referred to as ‘lack of adequate nutrition’. They must have a special department devoted to the art of ‘misspeak and word parsing’. Symbolism is what matters to the dictator and his gang. It is all in the appearance.

Thus, hiring a high priced lobbying firm from the U.S. and sending them to a hearing in Brussels is of no concern to Woyane leaders. They are not ashamed to pay millions to have someone without any clue regarding our country to speak for us. The Europeans were as surprised as the rest of us. They were compelled to ask, who are you? It was left to Dr. Berhanu and to our friend the Honorable Ana Gomez to tell the true story about the dire situation in our homeland. The DLA Piper, after the teach-in session, was compelled to ask for forgiveness for their ignorance and they had to go back humiliated. They were trying to defend the indefensible. They were charging thousands of US dollars a day plus expenses while their clients’ subjects were starving and lacking a simple loaf of bread. Mercenaries have no heart.

The next item on my breakfast of misery plate was regarding the generosity of Dr. Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Alamudi to the so-called Ethiopian Soccer Federation in North America (ESFNA). The good Sheikh who has already bought our country is diversifying outwards. Apparently there isn’t anything left to buy in Ethiopia, and he stumbled across this Organization that has been using the name Ethiopia for the last twenty-five years, according their claim to fame.

Let us all calm down and look at this situation in a rational way. ESFNA is a US registered non-profit organization operating with a tax number and a license from the IRS. Its well organized web site (http://esfna.net/esfna/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=12&Itemid=68) states its mission as follows: ‘The Ethiopian Sports Federation in North America (ESFNA) is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization founded in 1984 to promote amateur soccer and cultural events within the Ethiopian community in the North America. Its goals include providing positive role models for the youth, promoting goodwill between the Ethiopian communities in North America and creating a bridge where people from Ethiopia and North America can interact in a mutually beneficial manner. In addition to the sports event, the Federation also promotes cultural activities to provide opportunities for Americans to learn more about Ethiopia’s culture and history.’

By its own admission it attracts thousands of Ethiopians to its yearly tournament held during the July 4th weekend. It charges for admissions, it collects money from vendors selling every imaginable Ethiopian related goods and services, and it holds a must attend concert before the final match. You can say that one is lucky to leave with your cloth on your back when you are done with this week of fun and orgy in July. ESFNA makes a lot of money. A lot of organizational work goes to arranging this once a year happening.

There is also the other side of ESFNA shrouded in secrecy and behind the scene manipulations. It generates lots of speculation due to lack of information. It encourages for a few to make decisions that affect the many without open discussion.

ESFNA must operate under the same rules and guidelines say as the ‘American Red Cross’ or your local ‘Save the Children Fund’. Our expectations are very high for a twenty-five years old organization. Transparency and accountability are a must for the organization to prosper and carry out its mission. As an organization rooted in a democratic system ESFNA should show the rest of us the superior model of open and transparent organization. That is if it really wants our respect, admiration and love.

I can google ‘financial report red cross’ and look at their IRS return. I can also read a detailed financial statement and their future plans. ESFNA should do the same. It should show the percentage that goes towards operating cost including salary, donations to teams, donations to our country, and others. Since our collective name is in the name, since we are taxpayers, we are entitled to such information.

This press release from ESFNA regarding the good Sheik’s donation is a little troubling. How and why did ESFNA deserve such generosity? Did ESFNA ask itself if it needs the money? Did ESFNA think about the impression it creates? Did ESFNA think about the bigger picture? One thing we know for sure in this life is ‘nothing is free’. In that case what is the catch? Accepting money from an individual closely allied with the illegal and criminally liable government is a little too much for me. This organization that is serving the cultural needs of the Diaspora community should be careful not to offend the sensibilities of its benefactors for a few pieces of silver.

This self-delusion of being above politics while engaging in political activity is not convincing. Claiming to stand neutral while one’s country and one’s people are subjected to famine and hunger, loss of basic human rights and arbitrary detention and punishment is an act history will judge harshly. I believe the Sheiks donation is an attempt to steer the organization in its current policy of turning a blind eye towards abuse of power. It will give it the muscle to withstand any attempts to reform it and steer it towards the road of open and accountable organization that reflects the wishes of its constituents. It looks like instead of choosing self-reliance as a principle ESFNA is willing to be bought. Instead of hard work and smart planning to flourish it is opting for welfare and loss of independence. Short cut has its pitfalls.

On the other hand ESFNA is free to declare itself as a business and do what the owners wish with their income. There is nothing like a clear and level playing field. But to register as a non-profit outfit and abuse the rights and privileges entailed to such organization is a disservice to the community.

As they say it is up to the consumer to be aware. That is what is beautiful about democracy. We are free to make a choice. To attend or not, that is the question. What to attend and what to boycott is making a loud statement. Knowing where ones dollar goes is being a smart consumer. Who succeeds and who fails is a decision made by the consumer. It is up to each of us to say no to abuse and disrespect. It is not okay to let wrong slide by and hope others will do the right thing. It is not cool to be silent in the face of injustice. Right is earned not offered as a gift.

DLA Piper and the Dr. Sheik were too much to take for one day. I feel like crawling back under the blanket. But not today. There are battles to be fought and won.