Waving Different Flags, Ethiopians Celebrate their Fight at AFCON 2013

Ethiopians across the world are celebrating TeamEthiopia, their national Soccer team, who fought a hard draw against defending champions Zambia in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in Nelspruit, South Africa.

Besides the beauty of the Ethiopian game and the composure the players showed after a long absence from the AFCON tournament, Ethiopian politics was at the centre of online discussion. Ethiopian fans in the stadium displayed various placards and flags representing different political interests.

Ethiopian Muslims continue protesting the Ethiopian Government while supporting Ethiopian Team in South Africa at The Cup of African Nations 2013.

Ethiopian Muslims protest the Ethiopian Government while supporting the Ethiopian Team in South Africa at The Cup of African Nations 2013. From the Awolia School Support Page Facebook Page

In a bid to create a sense of deja vu for Ethiopians the blog Addis Rumble published a few historical photos from old AFCON tournaments in which Ethiopia had participated.

In the pictorial post titled, The Ethiopian comeback it wrote

This week Ethiopia is making a surprise comeback at the 2013 Cup of Nations in South Africa after knocking out neighboring rivals Sudan through an aggregate 5-5 draw in the final qualification round. In the days after the qualification was secured in October last year, Addis seemed like a transformed city. Previously you would hardly notice any football celebrations in the cityscape (other than of the usual English Premier League teams) but following the qualification most of the capital’s blue taxis and mini-buses – usually the best way of distilling public opinion – started displaying posters of the national team with a ‘Yes We Can’ text added.


The occasion was also packed with interesting Ethiopian political tidbits. Mohamed Ademo, a blogger based in New York wrote on Facebook about how different groups stood behind one team despite their variation on the political and cultural spectrum:

Sport brings people together. The cheerful Oromo crowd in South Africa today is a good example of that. In the states, rarely do we see both sides (Oromo and other Ethiopians) cheering for the same team. We have separate sporting tournaments and federations.

For Ethiopia's football fans in South Africa, the choice today was between OLF flag, the defacto Oromo flag, and the EPRDF (Ethiopia's ruling party) flag. As you have said so eloquently, whether the Oromo and non-Oromo fans of Team Ethiopia displayed different flags didn't matter. They both supported one team.

For far too long, at international sporting events and bazaars, a monolithic image of Ethiopia have been presented to the world. An Ethiopia with 3000 years of history that is still a christian island, has one flag, and speaks only Amharic.

But in reality, Ethiopia is a truly diverse nation with divergent aspirations and historical experiences. As a result, contending national sentiments (isms) have emerged. Under previous Ethiopian regimes, for example, the use of Afan Oromo in public spaces and government offices was banned.

In EPRDF's Ethiopia, while linguistic and cultural rights are – at least in theory – respected, wearing or displaying an OLF flag amounts to an act of terrorism. What you saw today (the bitching and moaning about Oromo flag from those who still want to control the narrative of Ethiopia) is an extension of that false sense of unity. I concur with you that, at the absence of “national” consensus, the way forward is to recognize our differences and respect people's rights to identify however they see fit.

In the same vein, our Oromo activists should also stop pouncing on every chance to question the nationalism of those who are passionate football fans – and chose to look beyond politics.

All the while, it's imperative to stay civil and use this opportune moment to ask: who is Ethiopian, what's the Ethiopian identity, does the EPRDF flag represent the aspirations of the diverse people of Ethiopia, does waving OLF flag automatically make one a secessionist, why do Oromos love the OLF flag, why are non-Oromo Ethiopians so scared of assertive Oromo nationalism etc.

Shared by Ermias M Amare on Facebook

Shared by Ermias M Amare on Facebook

On Twitter, under the hashtags of #TeamEthiopia and #Eritrea, there was also a great deal of discussion about sport and politics! Kweschn Media tweeted:

While #Zambia's fans waved only 1 flag, #Ethiopia‘s side had more than 2 flags. Politicized soccer – Reflection of unresolved issues.

But for Zerihun it would have been great for Eritreans if Eritrea was still a part of Ethiopia. Mentioning the alleged failed coup attempt by Eritrean rebel soldiers, he tweeted:

If you hadn't been allowed to secede, you could have enjoyed the game with us :) #Ethiopia makes fun of today's #Eritrea Coup #TeamEthiopia

Ethiopia will face Burkina Faso in the second match of group C of the AFCON tournament while Zambia will play Nigeria. The 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, also known as the Orange Africa Cup of Nations, is ‘the’ football championship of Africa organized by the Confederation of African Football (CAF).  This is the 29th Africa Cup of Nations, and is being held from 19 January to 10 February 2013.

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