ESFNA AND BIRTUKAN: A MEMBER”S PERSPECTIVE – By Tesfaye Abebe
“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts”.
In this article I, as a member of ESFNA affiliated club, would like to address the ‘Birtukan and Guest of Honor’ issue that has come to be a discussion topic among some Ethiopians in North America from the point of view of a person on the inside.
How it started:
On October 18, 2010 the Ethiopian Review (ER) website posted a story that announced ESFNA’s invitation of Birtukan Mideksa as its guest of honor. On October 19, 2010 this same website posted a story claiming that ESFNA’s Executive Committee rescinded its invitation against the wishes of the majority, creating the impression as if these were incidents that happened on two different occasions. One day she was invited the next day that invitation is rescinded. This is not what or how it happened. Oh! How I wish ER’s editor had checked the whole story with those that were present at the meeting before it decided to print a misleading and a provocative article.
Following the confusion created by this, on October 20, 2010 the Executive Committee of ESFNA put out a press release to clear any misunderstanding that could have been created by the postings made by ER and picked up by other sites that based their stories on the initial reporting.
Most people who have read the news as posted were perplexed by it. One may say, rightly so. Respected personalities like Efrem Madebo (of Ginbot 7 writing a personal opinion), Shakespear Feyissa (a UDJ activist in Seattle writing in his capacity as a lawyer) and Abiy Teklemariam (Addis Neger Online Administrator) have also came out and expressed their views regarding this affair. And, this issue has also been one of the topics of Ethiopian radio programs and PalTalk rooms in North America.
Before I comment on the merits or demerits of the opinions expressed as regards this issue, I would like to present the actual facts that transpired regarding Birtukan’s invitation, so that conversations could be productive, and indeed be a teachable moment if you would.
Since its inception, ESFNA has developed a tradition of inviting personalities who have made significant contributions to Ethiopian sports, principally soccer – as its guests of honor to its annual soccer tournament.
In the past few years ESFNA created a second category dubbed Culture/Arts, in which it had invited cultural icons who have made immense contributions in the cultural front in Ethiopia. Past honorees in this category included the late Laureate Tsegaye GebreMedhin, Maitre de Artist Laureate Afework Tekle, Professor Richard Pankhrust and artist Tilahun Gessese (posthumously), among others.
Recently ESFNA has also started a third category called Special Guests category, whereby deserving national athletes who reside in North America are invited.
• In the annual Board of Directors meeting that was held in Atlanta from October 16-17, last year’s runner-up for Guest of Honor in the sports category, Ato Wondimu .the pioneer Ethiopian National soccer team and Mechal player and longtime coach of EELPA fame was selected by a majority vote to be ESFNA’s Guest of Honor in the Sports category.
• In the Special Guest category Ato Shewangizaw Agonafir the legendary soccer player formerly of St. George, Ethiopian National Team and All-American at UCLA was selected.
• In the cultural category Ato Mahmood Ahmed was nominated and later, so was Wzt. Birtukan Mideklsa.
What and how it happened:
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.
After that vote was taken, long standing members of the Board pleaded with the Board members to reconsider the decision, and after an emotional and one might say gut wrenching discussion, the Board members who initially put forward Birtukan’s nomination and those that voted for her withdrew their nomination and the guest of honor in the cultural category was decided to be Ato Mahmood Ahmed.
These then are the facts as they transpired in the October 17 meeting of ESFNA’s Board.
To begin with, I personally find the implication of Ato Efrem in the title for his piece does the ’E’ in ESFNA stand for Ethiopia, offensive. Though Ato Efrem says he wrote this piece as an individual, the fact that he is one of the leaders of a political movement that claims to fight for the liberation of the Ethiopian people from tyranny, gives an added weight to his commentary. As a leader of a political organization Ao Efrem should know better than anybody, that no one has a right to give or take away anybody’s ‘E” ie. Ethiopianess.
Having said that, I must admit that I have had the pleasure of reading some of the articles that Ato Efrem has written in the past. But I am afraid this one is a bit short on facts, unfair, and full of emotional outburst against an organization that had held aloft the banner of Ethiopia and Ethiopianess more than any other organization in North America for the past 27 years.
Ato Efrem and others must know that ESFNA is an organization for all Ethiopians irrespective of their political or religious affiliation.
I will assure Ato Efrem and others who do not know ESFNA closely, that we have individuals amongst us who long for the days of the Emperor or the Derg, as much as we have those who support EPRP, UDJ, Ginbot 7, OLF, or EPRDF for that matter, and many others that occupy the Ethiopian political landscape.
The only criterion our organization imposes on our members is that they are Ethiopians; and the only restriction we put upon them is that they can not impose their political or religious views on others and or the organization. That is the secret behind our longevity. If you have not noticed until now, we have not gathered in ESFNA as an organization to ‘fight for freedom and liberty of our people’ as lofty a cause as it is; for that, political organizations like yours are better equipped.
Ato Efrem has also suggested that ESFNA ignore by-laws when convenient…etc I do not share your views on this, and in fact as much as possible we at ESFNA always try to be true to our by-laws. But if and when by-laws need to be changed we will do so in accordance to our governing principles.
It is my hope that after Ato Efrem verifies the facts as they occurred in ESFNA’s October meeting, he will recognize his errors and maybe write a correction to his piece that was totally unfair to those dedicated members of ESFNA who have toiled tirelessly to the betterment of this venerable Ethiopian institution, and whose Ethiopianess he questioned.
At Shakespear, on his part, makes a passionate argument to establish that ESFNA must have ‘misunderstood or misinterpreted its own by-laws’ and goes on to argue that an organization that allows host cities to invite local dignitaries to make perfunctory appearance to its events can not say it will not invite Ethiopian political leaders; for this it tantamount to discrimination. (Though what Shakespear says is undisputed fact that ESFNA routinely invites Senators, Congressmen, Governors, or Mayors… I personally am not aware of any Senators or Governors who attended ESFNA events as ESFNA’s Guests of Honor and or were invited as such)
Ato Shakespear being a lawyer might be correct in saying that we might have been misunderstanding our by-laws or misinterpreted them all this time, or maybe our by-laws as he says are ‘broadly vague’. But I would like to assure Ato Shakespear that the intent of ESFNA has always been to maintain our non-profit status by following regulations as we understood them to be, so as to maintain our organization as a gathering place for all Ethiopians irrespective of their political or religious affiliation. To this end the by-laws of the organization that were drafted by volunteer Ethiopian lawyers and then adopted by our Board members are what we have and what we try to be true to, to the best of our ability.
That our by-laws might have weaknesses is something we can agree on and, if you in your capacity as a professional are willing to help our organization clarify the legal fine points incorporated in our by-laws while maintaining our core principles you are most welcome.
However, the undue pressure you try to exert on our organization to reverse its position by threatening it with’ far reaching public relations and legal consequences’ is not only unfair but verges on blackmail.
Ato Shakespear,it can not be lost on you in your capacity as a political activist, that there might be some amongst us who would wish the political personality of their choice to be invited and recognized as a guest of honor by ESFNA.
In the past, people like Dr. Beyene Petros, Dr. Taye WoldeSemaite, Dr. Merrera Gudina, Ato Abera Yemaneab, are some of the personalities that have been brought up by our members as possible guests of honor for ESFNA’s Annual event; yet we as a non-political organization felt we can not accommodate the wishes of some of our members if we are to be true to our principle of being non-political.
I personally believe it would be more appropriate for support organizations of UDJ in North America to invite Wzt. Birtukan and as you say, make her a guest of honor to all the Ethiopians who in one way or another fought for her release from prison and not insist that ESFNA make her its guest of honor.
If we are honest with ourselves Wzt. Birtukan is able to garner such widespread support among Ethiopians at large, not because she is a single mom, a moral leader or inspiration to our youth, or a respected judge as some would want us to believe, but precisely because of her courage as a leader of a political party, who against all odds tries to fight for liberty and justice. In other words above all, she is a political leader.
The other commentator that came up with a suggestion is Ato Abiy Tekle Mariam of Addisnegeronline.com web site. I had great respect for Addis Neger Newspaper and I still maintain my respect to Addis Neger online and its columnists.
Ato Abiy’s article is titled “Reforming ESFNA”.
Though I have no doubt Ato Abiy is full of good intentions in suggesting the reform of ESFNA, I am not sure how much he knows about the organization to suggest with such urgency that it be reformed.
ESFNA was established by pioneering Ethiopians who resided in different cities in North America and who felt the importance of creating a sense of community using soccer games as a medium. The constituent clubs of ESFNA have always managed their clubs, principally by money collected from their members and augmented by fundraisings in their local communities. Every year for the past 27 years members of clubs who participate in ESFNA’s annual tournament on the average spend $1000-$1500 per person of their own money to cover for transportation, food and lodging.
It is true that Mr. Al Amoudi has made generous gifts a couple of times to ESFNA and the organization was grateful for it. However to suggest that somehow ESFNA’s leadership is beholden to Mr. Al Amoudi because of these generous gifts does not hold water. ESFNA has accepted gifts before and reserves the right to accept gifts in the future as long as it is convinced there are no strings attached.
ESFNA has not depended on anticipated gifts from generous benefactors to conduct its activities in the past 27 years nor will it do so in the future. Having depended principally on its members as a source of funding to its activities it is always on the look out for possible sources of funding to lessen the financial burden on its members.
It is our earnest hope that someday all our clubs will be funded from generous sources who would be willing to support our cause. With no strings attached of course!
As for the Barcelona model and its application to ESFNA, I regret that I do not have much knowledge to comment upon.
As a final comment, I would like it to be known that ESFNA is not beholden to any individual with a large purse or any political organization and will continue to cherish its independence in continuing its mission of “Bringing all Ethiopians overseas Together”
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