Washington, DC — I saw what the Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn told Foreign Policy website about my protest in Rio and subsequent trip to the United States.
I was not surprised by his comments because individuals who are always controlled by others tend to assume everyone is that way as well. I base my positions on my own convictions. I am not a follower and no one can sway me into darkness or an immoral direction. Unlike the prime minister, I make my own decisions and speak for myself.
The prime minister stated that he sent me to Rio for the Olympic games and that he hosted a farewell dinner for all the athletes. I have never entered the ministerial palace and did not attend the said dinner. Even if I was invited, I would have declined because I cannot break bread with a government that is and has been killing my people. I will never dine or wine with someone who killed my relatives. One can go back and look at the photographs of athletes who attended the dinner party with that country’s president. You will not find me in it. I also doubt that the prime minister himself was in attendance.
In the Oromo culture and according to the values I was raised with, grown ups — particularly those in the position of leadership — don’t lie. As someone who inherited these Oromo values, I am embarrassed by the prime minister’s blatant lies.
Bottom line: Hailemariam’s claims are baseless, completely false and insulting. His government has become adept at insulting and assigning labels to critics. For example, the prime minister has said that members of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) told me to protest in Rio. And that I didn’t have the capacity to do so on my own. First of all, does he know me or my abilities? How did he measure my capacity?
OLF did not tell me to speak out or be a voice for my people. My conscience made me do that. I spoke out because I wanted to expose the gross violation of human rights in Ethiopia. I spoke out because I’m personally affected by the Ethiopian government’s abuses. For example, my friend, Kebede Feyisa, was shot and burned to death along with other prisoners in the Qilinto prison on September 3, 2016 a month after he was unjustly arrested for participating in a peaceful protest. Other prisoners who remain in Ethiopia’s many prisons are still being subjected to harsh treatment.
I am not a politician, I’m an athlete. I do not support or condemn the OLF. But I love my people. And I am prepared to sacrifice even my life for them.
OLF did not uncover and show me the abuses of Hailemariam’s government. I grew up hearing and seeing the suffering of my people and have been personally affected by it. I used to frequently visit friends at Qilinto and Maekelawi prisons. I always signed my name to gain entry to the prisons. Those visitation records can be viewed to check if I am telling the truth. Suffice to say, I have a firsthand knowledge of the problems in that country.
Furthermore, it’s the Oromo people and friends of the Oromo, not the OLF, who facilitated my trip to the United States. Hailemariam’s government has jailed and killed far too many people under the pretext of supporting the OLF. The Oromo people can no longer be fooled.
Finally, I am not a robot that operates by a remote control. I am my own person, with my own convictions and opinions, fully capable of making decisions for myself. My words and statements are my own, unlike the Prime Minister whose speeches and talking points are written and handed to him by his Tigrayan masters.
I am not a messenger for any individual or group. Never will be.