ESFNA and the art of lying

By Yilma Bekele

What is it about us Ethiopians that invite abuse? Is there a big fat lettering stuck on our forehead that proclaims ‘I am stupid?’ It is not some idle question but a subject that requires some soul searching and must be answered if we have to move forward and expect to bring positive change to ourselves, our surrounding and our poor country.

What brought this important question to the surface is the recent action by none other than the infamous ESFNA (Ethiopian sports federation in North America) and its Board of Director’s ongoing dysfunctional behavior. This is not the first time ESFENA have gone the extra mile to humiliate its constituents. What I have in mind is ESFNA’s acceptance of large amount of money from good old Sheikh Al Amudi back in 2008 and the condemnation it received from the North American public. They promised to be mindful of their responsibility to the public and claimed that they will work on the question of accountability. It was an empty gesture.

Here we are 2010 and we can see this wild animal is not tamed yet. They decided to insult and disrespect their cash cow once again. This time it is no other than the honorable Judge/Chairwoman Bertukan they decided to dis.

Very timely and educational articles were written to clarify the situation and encourage rational discussion on the subject. I am referring to the opinion pieces by Ato Ephrem Madebo and Ato Shakespear N. Feyissa on our independent Web sites.

The response to this invitation for reasonable and grown up discussion took a bizarre turn. The article by Ato Tesfaye Abebe, a member of one of the clubs is a little disingenuous to say the least. It is a well-written article as far as the grammar goes but the facts are revised to fit the writer’s bias. That is not an honest thing to do. I spoke to two individuals that were present in Atlanta to have a good understanding of what exactly happened in that meeting.

Is Ato Tesfaye not telling the truth or simply put is Ato Tesfaye lying in his article? He wrote:

‘ As those that nominated Birtukan spoke passionately to underline the importance of inviting her, those that did not believe she should be invited expressed theirs. Reasons for not inviting her, ranged from the inappropriateness of inviting her in the cultural category to her being a leader of a political organization whose invitation might compromise our non-profit and non-political status.
Upon the insistence of those members that nominated Birtukan, and following parliamentary procedure a vote was taken by the Board Members and Birtukan narrowly won.’

In my opinion what Ato Tesfaye is doing is what is called ‘lying by omission’. He is cleverly using ambiguity in order to deceive and mislead the reader. Weizero Bertukan was nominated; the issue discussed and voted upon, that much is true. But there is more to it than that. The issue on the so-called jeopardizing the ‘non profit’ status was mentioned in passing but was not brought as a major hurdle. The main argument by those opposed was the question of ‘timing’. They felt it was not a good idea ‘at this time’ since she was just released from jail and it would create a bad impression on the organization (I guess by the government of Ethiopia) After a lengthy argument the issue was voted upon. When he says ‘Bertukan narrowly won’ that is a bold lie. She won 14 to 4 and that is 77% majority. Some will call it a landslide.

If you noticed I characterized it as an ‘argument’ not a ‘discussion’. According to my sources it was a very shameful meeting fit for gangsters. The Chair was clueless and weak and members were on each other’s face taunting and insulting like kids in a playground. Some members were forced to leave the meeting out of shame and disgust. The real purpose by those who lost was to create chaos so those well meaning individuals will be discouraged and will give in to the demands of the bully’s. If you think about it there is no rational reason or parliamentary procedure that allows an issue that was settled by an overwhelming majority to be brought back for further discussion.

Please notice the fact that Ato Tesfaye qualifies both Ato Ephrem and Ato Shakespear with their political party’s affiliation. What brought that about? They wrote their opinions as concerned individuals not Party officials. We are familiar with that kind of argument, smear rather than answer the charges is the logic behind it.

I have noticed these two characteristics to be a must among TPLF school graduates. None other than junta leader Meles Zenawi practices the best example of ‘lying by omission’. During the question and answer at Columbia University when asked why he jams Ethiopian Satellite TV and our independent web sites he responded by saying ‘the US does not allow VOA to broadcast to the American people either. Yes it is true VOA does not broadcast inside the US but it is not due to jamming. It is because the US government does not think it is appropriate to use taxpayer’s money to distribute the news. There are zillions of news outlets operated privately. Ato Meles on the other hand does not want independent newscasters telling the truth and unravel his house built on sand. Technically he did not lie, but he just subverted the truth.

There was also a second article written by Ato Tibebe Ferenji titled ‘In defense of ESFNA’ I don’t think it is a wining strategy to baselessly attack those who you disagree with instead of presenting one’s opinion and letting the reader be the judge. There is no point in putting words in your opponent’s mouth when the reader can easily go to the source and verify. My copy did not include such allegations as Ato Ephrem claiming to be an attorney nor asking organizations to break their rules.

On the other hand Ato Tibebe gave us a section of IRS rule as if reading those five lines will entitle us to reach a reasonable conclusion. I truly believe my friend Ato Shakespeare’s approach is most appropriate here. Interpreting the law is his domain. That is why he invested time and money to qualify and hold a license to practice the law. This Ethiopian habit of being an expert after a cursory glance is not a good idea. I ask both Ato Tibebe and ESFNA to read Ato Shakespeare’s analysis and correct their mistake and wrong interpretation of IRS code.

What can we do to remedy this unfortunate situation is an important question. The organization is too important to be left to individuals that do not have the interest of the community at heart. It has been a playground of those whose sole aim is to enrich themselves at the expense of others and use the organization as a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder. In its over twenty-five years of existence it has nothing worthy to show that could be mentioned in public. Its own supporters have no example or instance to mention to convince the public of their good deeds. Ato Tibebe is forced to say ‘more over, ESFNA has been engaged in various charity activities including providing scholarship in Ethiopia.’ Looks like we are a little short on verifiable facts here because there is nothing to show.

The fact that during the Atlanta meeting the financial report showed that the 2009 festival in San Jose showed a profit of just $13.000.00 is cause for alarm. Either the Board is engaged in creative accounting or they are not fit for the position they hold. When you consider they were bilking our local business people $3,000.00 per tent and were charging us $20 for admission one wonders where the money went. As the name implies it is an Ethiopian sports organization. I agree with my friend Ato Ephrem. The use of ‘E’ in the name is not a simple matter. I do believe the use of ‘E’ is a privileges and an honor. Yes my dear Ato Tesfaye it can be taken away too! I don’t think you will put Abuna Petros and some Banda like Dejazmach Gugsa in the same league, would you? The ‘E’ in front of Abuna Petros brings warmth to our heart while the ‘E’ in front of Banda Gugsa looks out of place.

What we should strive for is ‘empower’ the clubs to exercise their right as owners and main actors of this outfit and run it like a business and make us proud. After all it is the clubs and the players that we all gather to see and there is no need for a Board of vultures to lord it over and abuse us all. The clubs can hire professional Ethiopians that are experienced in the hospitality and convention business and produce a better product that what we have now. Twenty-five years have shown that the current leaders are void of new and creative ideas and repeat the same old tired formulae until it is beaten to death. Frankly I don’t see any difference between them and their Woyane masters. It is up to us to work with the clubs and make them aware of their strength. It requires work, perseverance and unity of purpose. Like their Woyane cousins they are good at creating side issues, character assassination and a lot of smoke. On the other hand we have a good cause and the support of the majority of our people. We got work to do. Now quit talking and take the garbage out.