Academic journal article Journal of International and Global Studies

Flag Politics in Ethiopia and the Ethio-American Diaspora

Academic journal article Journal of International and Global Studies

Flag Politics in Ethiopia and the Ethio-American Diaspora

Article excerpt

Every summer, the Ethiopian Sports Federation in North America (ESFNA) holds a tournament that brings together 30 affiliated soccer clubs, involving more than 800 players and coaches from the Ethiopian diaspora in the United States and Canada. Thousands of Ethio-Americans and Ethio-Canadians regularly attend this week-long festival, proudly displaying flags and other symbols of their cultural and national backgrounds. The ESFNA is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-religious organization, founded in 1984 to promote greater solidarity within the diaspora through improved physical and economic well-being. Youths, both female and male (though the tournament itself largely focuses on the latter) are encouraged to participate in sporting events. In addition, the ESFNA raises funds for student scholarships and mentoring. The annual tournament brings significant benefit to its host city, attracting large numbers of visitors, who also bolster diaspora-owned businesses. Although focused mainly on the Ethiopian immigrant community, the ESFNA has sent humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia, including to recent drought victims (www.esfna.net). The 2015 ESFNA tournament took place in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, which has the largest number of first- and second-generation Ethiopian immigrants in the United States (MPI, 2014). In attending ESFNA tournament events in 2015, the widespread display of flags by members of the public impressed Goshu Tefera, an Ethiopian and then-graduate student at Syracuse University and intern at the Washington, DC Mayor's Office on African Affairs. Many flags from the country's past were on display at the games, particularly the well-known plain tricolor flag, containing the green, yellow, and red stripes of the country's imperial flag (without the royal Lion of Judah emblem). (2) There were also some imperial flags flown at the tournament matches, featuring the Lion of Judah symbol associated with Emperor Haile Selassie. Conspicuous by its absence, however, was Ethiopia's current national flag, distinguished by its yellow pentagram set against a light blue disk. Had this public sporting event been held in Ethiopia, only the current national flag, associated with the ruling regime, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), could be legally displayed. There, the plain tricolor flag--and all other flags--are banned, with those who fly them facing imprisonment and fines.

Through formal and informal conversations with members of the Washington-area Ethiopian diaspora, Goshu came to understand that at public events such as the sport tournament, flag choice frequently reflects political sentiment, representing an open yet subtle way for Ethio-Americans to express dissatisfaction with, if not disaffection from, Ethiopia's ruling regime. Though subtle, this form of political expression should not be overlooked or underestimated. Smith (2013, p. 192) contends that cultural values held by many Ethiopians, such as yelunneta, urge deference to those in authority, or at least discourage open disagreement with authority figures. Fear of reprisal for political expression is another consideration, as reports of the Ethiopian government conducting surveillance of its diaspora populations have surfaced (Horne, 2014). The flying of officially banned flags at the ESFNA tournaments involves yet another political context. Despite ESFNA's non-partisan status, current ESFNA leadership feels that it should not stand completely "silently on the sideline" when incidents of injustice occur in Ethiopia (www.facebook.com/ESFNA). In 2010, ESFNA's subtle political engagement meant inviting Birtukan Mideksa, an Ethiopian jurist and opposition leader recently released from jail, to that year's tournament as a guest of honor. Some tournament directors objected to this move, and they quit the ESFNA to form another Ethiopian sports organization, with its own soccer clubs and annual tournament, financed through the philanthropy of Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi, a billionaire Ethiopian-Saudi and close supporter of the EPRDF government. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.