Haile Gebrselassie yesterday won the most important race for Ethiopia. But as he himself said, he alone did not win, but "we all won."
This was not a race run on the track or on the roads. This was a much more important race run on the hearts and minds of all Ethiopians. And Haile's effort was instrumental in bringing a spirit of hope and reconciliation to the country through the release of high ranking leaders of Ethiopia's prominent opposition party who have been imprisoned for nearly two years. Haile was a member of the the team of elders who have been working to secure the release of the prisoners considered by Amnesty International as Prisoners of Conscience.
After Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi announced yesterday the decision to release the prisoners, Haile was interviewed by Negash Mohammed of Deutsche Welle's Radio's Amharic Programme. Below is an unofficial translation of the interview:
Negash Mohammed: [Introduction] Many people view the release of these politicians, who have been imprisoned as the result of the crisis that followed the 2005 election, as a good step in the right direction . Among the team of elders who worked tirelessly to secure the release of these politicians that had been sentenced to life imprisonment on Monday, I have spoken with the leader of the team Professor Ephraim Isaac and a member of the team Athlete Haile Gebrselassie. I was able to reach and speak with Haile first so I will start with him.
NM: Haile, we have known you for winning races. Are you now telling us that you also won in mediation?
Haile Gebrselassie: Not that I won, but we all won. At this time what I would say is that all have won- the team of elders, all the people of Ethiopia have won.
NM: We know that you have worked very hard for this. Can you explain to us briefly what went on?
HG: This mediation effort has been ongoing for a very long period of time. As you may have followed the developments, it has been going for 18 months. When we began the mediation, we first went to His Excellency the Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and he told us it is our right to initiate such effort as elders. He told us to proceed with the effort if we believed it could be successful. Based on that we went to the prisoners at the Kaliti prison. The prisoners also accepted our mediation effort and our work then began.
It was a difficult process that took a long time and was very tiring. But mediation is a process where it requires swallowing both the sweet and the bitter. The main aim of mediation is to put things back on the right track, even when mediating a quarrel between husband and wife. So our aim from the beginning was not just to get the prisoners released but to get Ethiopia back on track towards achieving things we think and dream about for our country.
So today this effort has become successful and today is a day of joy for all the people of Ethiopia. This is a huge step forward. It is a huge step to develop a tradition of mediation. One of the biggest gain that we have made out of this is that both the government and the opposition have accepted the mediation of local Ethiopian elders. We should all be proud, and particularly the elders, that our work has been accepted to this extent.
NM: I thank you Haile Gebrselassie.