PM Hailemariam Blames Olympic Protest on U.S. Based Opposition Groups

“I strongly believe that groups of anti-government Ethiopians based in the United States convinced the athlete to use the Summer Games as a protest venue.” – PM Hailemariam Desalegn

By Siobhan O’Grady and Brian Stout | for Foreign Policy,

When Ethiopian marathoner Feyisa Lilesa held his arms in an “X” as he crossed the finish line for a silver medal last month at the Rio Olympics, he says he was culminating a political protest he’d planned for months. But top Ethiopian officials say he was put up to the stunt by U.S. based opposition groups in order to protest the government’s crackdown on demonstrations and further fuel controversial secessionist movements at home and in neighboring Eritrea.

Speaking to Foreign Policy in an exclusive interview from the living room of his suite at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Tuesday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said he strongly believes that groups of anti-government Ethiopians based in the United States convinced the athlete to use the Summer Games as a protest venue. He also figures they helped get him from a Rio hotel to Washington, D.C. in time for a televised press conference last week.

“It’s me who sent him to Rio for the Olympics, and we expected him to come back after winning the medal,” Hailemariam said, specifically naming members of the Oromo Liberation Front as having likely contributed to Feyisa’s protest. “This is not the capacity of the man himself. It’s something which has been orchestrated by someone else from outside.”

The OLF did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Feyisa could not be reached for comment, but he told the Washington Post earlier this month that Oromo sympathizers helped him with his U.S. visa application.

pm-feyisa-2Feyisa’s move was meant to signal solidarity with protesters in Ethiopia’s Oromia Region, who have taken to the streets in recent months to protest their marginalization from the country’s central government. International human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have reported that security forces killed more than 400 peaceful protesters in the Oromia and Amhara regions since demonstrations began last November.

Feyisa claims that he had planned his own protest in Rio for months. Fearing retribution for his political demonstration, the silver-medal winner left the Olympic Village after his race and hid in a Brazilian hotel until early September, when he flew to the United States and appeared at a press conference organized by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa. There, Smith announced his plan to introduce bipartisan legislation that would recommend the Ethiopian government allow an independent rapporteur into Ethiopia to assess the human rights situation in the country. Ethiopia wants nothing to do with that.

Hailemariam, who is in New York for the U.N. General Assembly this week, told FP that he would never allow an outside investigation to take place when Ethiopia has its own institutions available, because to do so would be a “breach of sovereignty.

In an email to FP, Smith said that the rapporteur would not be imposed upon Ethiopia without its consent, but that “in the absence of any credible human rights reporting from the Ethiopian government on many incidents regarding the denial of human rights,”it would be standard for the U.N. to “gain an impartial assessment” of the situation on the ground.

But Smith’s claim that Ethiopia has not proved itself credible in human rights investigations rubbed both the prime minister and the ambassador the wrong way.

“Ethiopia is a sovereign country and Ethiopia has the capability to investigate its own case,” the Ethiopian ambassador to Washington, Girma Birru, told FP in a conversation at the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington last week. “When the Ethiopian government is assumed to have failed to do these things, it’s an insult.”

He accepted that protesters have legitimate grievances regarding land reform but denied accusations of institutional discrimination by the government, pointing to Oromia’s share of seats in both chambers of parliament — the largest of any region.

Critics of Ethiopia’s human rights investigations say the government deflates numbers in order to cover up abuses taking place at the hands of their security services. Human Rights Watch’s death statistics roughly quadruple those of Ethiopian civil society groups such as Human Rights Council Ethiopia, a nongovernmental organization that monitors human rights in the country, and those published in an official Ethiopia Human Rights Commission report presented to the country’s parliament.

pm-feyisa-1The Ethiopian parliament endorsed the commission’s findings, which determined that agitators seized upon the peaceful protests and used them as an opportunity to incite ethno-religious hatred. According to the commission, 28 police officers were killed in November and December alone. The commission also reported that excessive use of force had been used on some occasions in the northern region of Amhara, but not in Oromia. And Girma stressed that international advocacy organizations failed to acknowledge that protesters also used weapons.

Girma could not explain why security forces have fired upon crowds with live ammunition instead of rubber bullets or other nonlethal rounds commonly used in riot control. But he pointed out that the protests in which the government found itself to have used excessive force were illegal for failing to provide local authorities with advance notice.

And both Girma and Hailemariam said that their government is committed to revealing abuses that may have taken place on both sides. According to the prime minister’s count, some 70 percent of those wounded during the protests this year have been law enforcement officials. But he also said that there are measures in place to determine whether excessive use of force may also have been used against civilians by government security forces.

“There is no need for somebody from outside to come and investigate this issue,” Hailemariam said. “It’s not because there is something to be hidden but it’s because we have a sovereignty that needs to be kept.”

The Oromo protests have put the Ethiopian government on shaky ground with international partners who worry the intensity of the government’s crackdown could spark larger demonstrations, and threaten to disrupt the relatively stable nation that finds itself sandwiched between war-torn South Sudan on one side and the failing state of Somalia on the other. More than 700,000 refugees now live in Ethiopia, straining the fledgling democracy’s already limited resources.

Last year, Ethiopia hosted talks intended to end the brutal civil war in South Sudan. But the peace deal signed in Addis Ababa last August has since all but fallen apart: Opposition leader Riek Machar took eight months to return to Juba after the talks, then fled in July after his forces and those loyal to his rival, President Salva Kiir, opened fire on one another in the capital.

Hailemariam said Tuesday that Machar, who is now in Khartoum but lived in Ethiopia for significant stretches of the civil war, will be allowed to pass through Ethiopia in his travels but is not welcome to stay again long-term.

“We do not need someone who is leading an armed struggle in Ethiopia,” he said.

27 thoughts on “PM Hailemariam Blames Olympic Protest on U.S. Based Opposition Groups

  1. Thanks to the want to be opposition in the US, they took a hero from us to make him a dish washer or taxi driver, he can choose. Innocent lives were bought with dollars, very interesting words were used to incite civil war and HP, Dell got rich since they had to buy laptops for their hooligans. The return on their investment were very disappointing. But, we do say thank you for giving EPRDF a big chance to make bold changes we need as well as clean out house. Stay tuned.

    1. ዓጃው Imbecile, ዶንቆሮ። thanks to EPRDF/TPLF you and the likes of you have no place to call home. Ethiopians are saying you are not part of them,
      you are not Ethiopian and Eritreans are saying ገጽኩም ትርሓቕ ሰሓንዋ ደኣ ለመንቲ።

    2. From my mum ‘ Deki May Telamit’ ! It’s the end Sentek, I will miss your
      comments because sometimes you are so naive, full of hate and ridiculous
      that becomes hilarious. Bye Bye EPRDF/TPLF :-), idkukum halifa
      tsenihatkum, telamat deki telamat!

    3. You can put lipstick, or even give it a pedicure, but it is still a pig. What is needed is to roast that pig and get a new animal in place. Just make sure that it is not a pig again!

    4. “Habenye, welcome back, greatly missed. To go back to your cute comment, yes really. Didnt wedi afom explained to you, we are the peace keepers of the horn? Geeeez”

      bla bla bla ….. y must be ashamed of yr government and yr people if not I can dare all the TPLF. Y produce a school book to the extent of dragging a geogrphical area of other region to yr place. What a shame! If I were you I wouldn’t have come to this forum after this exposure. “to make him a dish washer or taxi driver” That was why you steal Eritrean property to cover up your inferiority complex. Sweating is God’s order no shame to be a dish washer or else. Please teseter!

    5. Ohh.. Poor senteq I see u still here and daydreaming. LOL.. U didn’t even changed a bit for ur beloved dying Woyane ????????????????. But everyone saw the change in adey Esthopia, Tigrayans/Agame getting deported from Ethiopia! ????????????????????. My, my, how the tables have turned. Like the wise said, “Be patient. With time, everything becomes clear”. And now we’re seeing u clearly, while u ppl getting what u deserve. Well Karma’s a bitch Senteiqo, Enjoy it!! S’teyo’mber nabey dhr’dhire Cheers!! ???? l’arsey l’arska!! LOLHahaha????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

  2. PPMHD loves being the fall guy for the inept Tigray People’s Liberation Front. He is telling the world he had sent the brave and courageous Lelissa Feyisa to Rio to win and come back to the slaughter house as a sheep hailemariam himself is. No! Hailemariam! the world knows you are nothing but a puppet to yet another puppet.

  3. I feel sorry for PM Desalegn, when TPLF prod him he utters nonsensical words that he does not believe, otherwise the staple diet of WOY-ANE is blame someone, like a lazy student blames his pencil is not sharp enough to pass the test thus he failed.

  4. If you don’t believe and accept that Fieysa Lilesa is a hero, you got to check whether or not you are touching the ground when walking. It is so obvious that even the mocked-up prime minster believes it, on his won no direction from TPLF here!

    What the heroic athlete has done is supreme, effectively brought the plight of his people to the world stage in an instant! I’m sure his deed will remain itched in the heart and minds of his people, and beyond, forever. What a man!

    I’m sure mothers in Oromia are naming most of their newborn boys Feyisa or Lilesa. Could this be what is irritating the TPLF-led government?

    1. Feyisa will always be our hero regardless of his X or Y sign. He made us proud in more than one occasion. The hard truth however, few idiots made him a promise and distroyed his life. Out of 200,000 diaspora just in the US, only 2000 gave $$$ total of 200,000. Im willing to bet, half was from ESAT. Hell, we collected 500,000 in one day for Abay bond. That should tell you, the support for choas lovers, laptop freedom fighters is less than ten percent. By the time they feed him Mcdonald and US chicken the size of Addis cow, his entire capacity to compete is done. Next stop will be parking lot job. Thats just sad and sad.

      1. You said: “we collected 500,000 in one day for Abay bond…. ”

        Do you think that is a big figure compared to your population? Compare that with the ONE MILLION dollar Eritreans in the U.S. collected in less than ONE HOUR during PIA visit in 1999 – 2000 (?) or the 4.6 BILLION Egyptians collect in just ONE DAY for the construction of the Suez Canal a few months ago, your half a million a day bond is like a pittance. Try something else.

      2. I don’t think you believe what you just wrote about Feyisa. Let alone the opposing Oromo man, you guys didn’t even care about Merust Yefter. I feel sorry for him and the TPLF!!

        I wouldn’t write too much about the fund raising.

      3. What about ur Tigrayan/Agame hero ‘ Robel the Whale’.. Is he ur hero too?? eeeLOL

        Fetikn dikin, key’fetekn ember whatho!! ???????? hahaha..

    1. Habenye, welcome back, greatly missed. To go back to your cute comment, yes really. Didnt wedi afom explained to you, we are the peace keepers of the horn? Geeeez

      1. Thank you.
        I can name several organizations running with guns in Ethiopia. You said “peace keepers” ? I think you meant peace destroyers. The entire horn, and even your sponsor, the US, have come to realizes that. Your days are numbered.

  5. The European Investment Bank (EIB) is set to lend Ethiopia $200 million to build two industry parks that will employ 30,000 refugees in a move aimed at curbing migration to Europe, the bank said on Wednesday. The Horn of Africa country hosts more than 743,000 refugees and asylum seekers from neighboring countries mainly Eritreans , many of whom use its camps as way stations on a longer journey to Europe. The bank said the 30,000 refugees will be among 100,000 people who will be employed altogether in a scheme that will cost $500 million. The World Bank, Britain, and other EU nations will provide the rest of the financing.
    Great News for Eritrean Refuges In Ethiopia.

    1. Asmerom believe or not there is no Eritreans in ethiopia as much as that number. Most of Eritreans they used ethiopia as to transfer to the Sudan. They have brought a lot ethiopian local people Especially tigrigna speakers from tigray. In the previous years in 2010 they announced we have 11 thousand Eritrean refugee in Shimelba camp. Every Eritrean refugee who used to live there know it. 7 thousand Ethiopians were there. Only 4 thousan Eritreans were there. Seriously if you need to know personally you can contact me.

  6. Bravo Feyisa, u make ur ppl proud of u. For letting their suffering by the hand of the apartheid regime Woyane-Tigrai known in-front of the whole world. I salute u!!

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