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Aug-15-2012 21:06printcomments

Disappointed by my own Country; Pleasantly Surprised by my Host Country

Athletes continued to record astonishing feats in international events including Olympics.

Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda
Stephen Kiprotich flies the flag for Uganda as he wins the Olympic marathon ... Photo courtesy:

(UGANDA) - As I write this, three days have already gone by since the Olympic torch was extinguished in London until it would light up again in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Because of my distance from sports as manifested by a budding beer gut, I had no intention of pontificating on Olympics. Yet, some events in the games provoked and inspired me to share certain sentiments.

In view of this, therefore, I would start with the history of my own country’s participation in the Olympics game and how she fared in the London Olympics.

Abebe Bikila

Mamo Wolde

Considering Ethiopia’s pioneering in long distance that brought gold for Sub-Saharan Africa via the unparalleled championship of Abebe Bikila who competed barefoot in marathon at the Rome Olympics in 1960; considering Bikila’s astounding repetition of victory four years later in Tokyo in which he set a new world record despite undergoing surgery 40 days earlier due to acute appendicitis; and considering that Ethiopia was able to maintain her reputation in long distance for the third time consecutively at the 1968 Mexico Olympics with another great athlete named Mamo Wolde, it’s no wonder if Ethiopians tend to behave like Brazilians who traditionally regard victory in football matches as their prerogatives.

Haile Gebreselassie

What boosted Ethiopians confidence to assume athletics as distinctly Ethiopian was Wolde’s double victory in Mexico. Wolde won a silver medal in 10,000 meters prior to crowning Ethiopian achievement with marathon, the very game that spurred the history of Olympics itself. In 1972 at the Munich Olympics, Wolde, at the age of 40, won bronze in marathon concluding his career one year later in a glittering fashion at the All-African games whereby he won another gold in marathon.

Before the advent of another legendary figure named Haile Gebreselassie in our contemporary history, Ethiopia continued to prove that athletics is traditionally hers. Unfortunately, due to some stupid politics internally and externally, except the cause for which the majority of African nations boycotted the Montreal Olympics in 1976, Ethiopia’s hope to dominate the long distance in international events through her able athletes were dashed.

Mengistu Hailemariam

In what appears to be retaliation for the boycotting of the 1980 Moscow Olympics by Western nations and their appendages, the then Soviet Union also boycotted along with its satellites the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Ethiopia being under the heel of the Soviets at the behest of the military dictator, Mengistu Hailemariam, was one of the countries that failed to participate in the LA Olympics.

Worse, Mengistu’s regime dragged Ethiopia into another totally uncalled for boycott and failed to send athletes in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. In so doing, athletes like Belayneh Densamo, Abebe Mekonnen etc, who proved their prowess in marathon by consecutively championing in international events were denied the chance twice to crown their success with Olympics victory.

Belayneh Densamo

Abebe Mekonnen

Particularly regrettable was the squandering of the tremendous potential of Densamo who set a new world record in marathon in 1988 in Rotterdam and whose record was only broken 10 years later. I even distinctly remember an in-flight magazine of Ethiopian Airlines called Selamta hinting the airlines intention of naming one of the Boeing 767s it purchased in 1984 after Abebe Bikila.

Like many Ethiopians, there was no doubt in the minds of the airlines executive that Ethiopia’s dominance in marathon will be repeated by Densamo et al. Densamo... who was still strong and high spirited when the military regime was overthrown by the new rulers from the bush was once again unable to participate in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

The new regime led by Meles Zenawi (RIP) was—and still is—busy witch hunting all Ethiopians who refused to kow tow to its parochial ethnocentric agenda including Belayneh Densamo and his coach, Negussie Roba (RIP) renowned for producing great athletes like him.

Derartu Tulu

Except the relatively new kid in the block, Derartu Tulu who brought gold in the women’s 10,000 meters, the other athletes whose prime time was squandered by the previous regime was unable to maintain Ethiopia’s tradition in long distance. It had also been difficult to produce new athletes in the intervening turbulent years.

Against this backdrop, however, our athletes continued to record astonishing feats in international events including Olympics.

Fatuma Roba

Consequently, Fatuma Roba won the women's marathon in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics while Haile scooped up gold in the 10,000. The greatest achievement which came as a miracle, however, was the one scored by Ethiopian men and women athletes in different competitions. It culminated in marathon with Gezahegn Abera bringing gold while Tesfaye Tola clinched bronze.

Unlike the good old days where there wasn’t much money after a glittering performance like this, today's athletes risk facing a double edged problem from the huge sums of money they receive by way of prize.

Although, no evidence was adduced to indicate that the athletes got spoiled to the point of distraction from their athletic lifestyle, it’s been public knowledge that the money they receive in the control freak system brought them insecurity by way of extortion from top officials and their family members.

Though, Haile antagonized later what the New York Times published on November 15, 2010 quoting his agent Jos Hermens about the pressure brought upon Haile, the public has always known that this and other environmental degradation, both natural and political, will affect the performance of our existing and new comer athletes.

Tirunesh Dibaba, Tiki Gellan and Meseret Defar

That’s one of the many explanation as to why our men athletes failed to score in what has been the traditional sports of Ethiopia. As for the women’s success, Tirunesh Dibaba, Tiki Gellan and Meseret Defar who were never immune to extortionists under the control freak system, I would marshal the scientific thesis I read years ago on Readers Digest titled “Woman the stronger sex” to protect my syllogism on the probable causes of the men athletes dismal performance.

All in all, despite the foregoing disappointments as an Ethiopian, I was pleasantly surprised and saved from total disappointment by a hitherto unknown athlete named Stephen Kiprotich. He is a citizen of my host country, Uganda. Ironically, it was us Ethiopians who got more emotional than the Ugandans at the venue I watched Kiprotich’s stunning performance.

As Ugandans never entertained any hope from their Olympic team, the significance of Kiprotich’s feat did not register quickly. No honking of klaxon erupted as they usually do whenever Crane, the national football team of Uganda won a major event.

Stephen Kiprotich

The following day, when I scanned the daily papers for what they had to say about Kiprotich’s victory, what Daily Monitor quoted from a fellow athlete who brought gold for Uganda forty years ago in Munich reminded me of our own legend Abebe Bikila on whom no one had pinned any hope, not even his own country.

Bikila was sent to Rome 52 years ago at the last minute to fill the place of Wami Birratu who was unable to participate due to an injury. This is what the veteran athlete, John Akii-Bua who was a gold medalist in the Munich Olympics, said; “Look out for the one athlete who everyone believes has nothing to prove.”

Indeed, Kiprotich is Ugandan Bikila. Only difference is he didn’t run barefoot but otherwise he is a pleasant, sweet surprise. And I am lucky to witness his bursting in the Olympic scene amidst Ugandans seating in the pearl of Africa.

An Ethiopian social and political commentator exiled in Uganda

Kiflu Hussain is an attorney based in Uganda. He says his passion for writing came from reading, and that it’s inevitable that the more one reads, the more one develops the urge to write. Kiflu has published articles in Ethiopia on the English Reporter, then a weekly newspaper along with a few Amharic articles on the defunct Addis Zena. It was after he and his family found refuge in Uganda, that he began contributing writings to the local papers and various websites such as Daily Monitor, Uganda Record, The New Vision, Ethioquestnews, Garowe Online, WardheerNews etc.

The reason for this is clear. Ethiopia, despite being a seat of the African Union had never produced a regime that allows even the minimum space for dialogue that other people in Africa enjoy so naturally. So Kiflu's ending up as a refugee in Uganda is a blessing in disguise for it accorded him with the opportunity to write. He says at the same time he learned, unfortunately, that his refugee status would be what showed how deep the hypocrisy of the “international community” goes. We at are honored to carry this gentleman's work and we hope that in the process, western people may come to appreciate the struggle of refugees throughout the world.

You can write to Kiflu at this address: E-mail;

Comments Leave a comment on this story.

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Reader August 16, 2012 3:53 pm (Pacific time)

I did not get a negative message from this article.

Agron Belica August 16, 2012 2:42 pm (Pacific time)

good article...thanks for sharing

Adbecho! August 16, 2012 7:05 am (Pacific time)

I am trilled about Ugandan Gold in Mahraton. It is so wonderful for Uganda and Africa as a whole. However, the writer hypocracy is sickening about the Ethiopian team. This same degenerated attitude and venom is on the way to distroy Ethiopia. His disappointment with the regime is understandable. However, his belittling of Ethiopian team is sickining. He can write about Stephan (because he is an African hero), but his hot air about the Ethiopian team is out of place. When do Ethiopian exilie grow up and stand tall above politics and stop from slash and burn every thing Ethiopian. That is also that we need to learn from Uganda.

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