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The difference between Ethiopia’s Gabrselassie and Liberia’s Weah

By Konye Obaji Ori
Posted on Tuesday, 9 July 2013 07:49

The two-time Olympic gold medalist and multiple world 10,000 metre champion says he wants to “reach more people” through politics.

Liberia’s George Weah is the only other former athlete in Africa who has attempted, and failed, to transfer fame gained on the sports field into a political calling of his nation’s highest office.

Europe and America have had their fair share of athletes that have made the transition from the world of sports to the world of politics.

But whether Gebrselassie’s fame will be enough to sway Ethiopians could depend on how he enters politics, unlike Weah who went straight for the presidential seat right from the onset.

Like Weah, Gebrselassie is highly decorated globally. He set over 26 world records in 5,000 meters and marathon races.

But unlike Weah, Gebrselassie plans to run for a seat in parliament as an independent candidate in 2015. Ethiopia counts just one opposition member, an independent, in parliament.

The next presidential election, being only two months away, in September, Gebrselassie believes it is probably “too soon,” to target the office of the president of Ethiopia.

“The big mistake would be to stay out of politics and miss the chance to do something to help.

“We are here in our country, Ethiopia. And as long as we live here, we should play our part. We have to sort (out) any problems we have,” the icon toldAssociated Press news agency.

Gebrselassie has seemingly studied the terrain and has adopted a more strategic approach to his presidential ambitions than Weah appeared to have done in 2005.

While Weah was running for Liberia’s presidency against subsequent winner President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2005, Gebrselassie was setting up a group called the Elders Council.

The Elders Council eventually brokered peace between the ruling party and opponents following post-election violence in 2005 that left hundreds dead and led to opposition leaders being jailed.

According to reports, Gebrselassie’s influence helped free them.

Combining his strategic initiation into civic engagement in Ethiopia and his athletics fame, Gebrselassie has shown prowess as a successful businessman, with a cinema and a luxurious resort among his interests.

Many in Ethiopia are not only wowed by his athletic accomplishments, they are impressed by his socio-political commitment and commercial entrepreneurship.

“He (Haile) is my most favourite Ethiopian and he is much more than an athlete.

“He can easily become a very skilled statesman,” a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Addis Ababa, Hallelujah Lulie, wrote on Facebook.

“The smiling assassin” — as he was once famously dubbed — has broken every record in the book and won a glut of Olympic and world titles, but even at the age of 40, Gebrselassie has no intention of resting on his laurels.

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