Another elite Ethiopian runner has turned his success into a political statement. In a show of solidarity with anti-government protesters in his home country, Ebisa Ejigu crossed his arms over his head as he ran through the finish line to win the Quebec City Marathon this weekend.
Ejigu follows in the footsteps of Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lilesa, who made the gesture while winning silver in the men’s marathon at the Rio Olympics last month, bringing it to international attention.
The X made with crossed arms raised overhead has been used by ethnic Oromo protesters over the past year in demonstrations against what they see as the government’s systematic marginalization of their culture and rights. The protests first began last November, when the government announced a plan to expand the capital, Addis Ababa, into Oromo-occupied territory. The Oromo are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group.
The demonstrations have intensified in recent weeks with the participation of the Amhara, Ethiopia’s second largest ethnic group, who mobilized in response to the government’s brutal suppression of protesters. An estimated 400 people have been killed in the process, many of them students, according to Human Rights Watch. (The government disputes these figures).
The defiant actions of Ethiopia’s top runners presents a particular challenge for the government, which has attempted to stem news of the protests through internet blackouts and censorship of Lilesa’s protest gesture.