Ethiopian Business Review

Dedebits Successful President Aspires EFF Leadership

The story of football in Ethiopia has had many twists and turns. Many people have passed through and left their mark on the sport, including some like Awol Abdurehim (Col.). After establishing and successfully managing Dedebit Football Club, he is now one of the candidates for the leadership of the Ethiopian Football Federation (EFF). The embattled organisation has postponed the election six times since October 2017. EBR’s Abiy Wendifraw explores the career of the sporting giant.

Awol Abdurehim (Col.) is perhaps best known for establishing Dedebit Football Club, maybe the only club established with a clear cut vision, mission and plan of action in recent years. He managed to create a club that shone in the Ethiopian Premier League, which was dominated by longstanding clubs, 13 years after its establishment. Founded in 1997 at the Army Officers’ Residential compound in Kirkos District, Dedebit grabbed the headlines after being promoted to the Ethiopian Premier League during the 2008/09 season and became one of the top clubs on the league table until eventually finishing as runner-up to St. George Football Club. After staying competitive in the following three years, Dedebit, led by Awol realized one of its major objectives by winning the Ethiopian Premier League for the first time in 2012/13. 

Under Awol’s leadership, Dedebit was considered one of the most progressive football clubs in the country, aiming for improvement in every department. On top of that, bonuses and monetary incentives became another lure for footballers hoping to wear the blue shirt. The former president was known to pay hefty salaries and signing fees to players and coaches he thought were worth it. 

“I pay big if it is worth investing in someone. I raised payments because I believed the main actors on the field should benefit. That was a breakthrough,” he says. Although he believes the salary scale in Ethiopian football has now gone crazy, Awol does not feel guilty for starting the trend years ago.

“Well…I never regretted it. The intention was to fuel football development by rewarding those who are already in the game and attracting the best talent. Then we should have worked hard to raise the league standard. That’s when football can bring in money for its own expenses. Now we are throwing away hard earned money for nothing. Those in football administration in clubs and the Federation should take this seriously.”

As a man who spent his younger days in the military, Awol is perceived as a strong personality who can make tough decisions and show leadership in hard times. Outside of the football field, some praise him for his strange but brave acts aimed at transforming the country’s league football. Others criticize him for his authoritarian leadership.

“I served in the Ministry of Defence before managing Dedebit. I worked with colleagues and teams for different tasks. I can bring my leadership qualities and team experience to the Federation. I like planning. I think I am very serious when it comes to monitoring as well. This was how I put Dedebit on top. 

Awol loves giving names. “Sebrom” is the nickname he gave one of the prolific goal scorers on the national team, Getaneh Kebede. “That was actually a name I took from a famous soldier in the army. In Tigrigna, Sebrom means ‘break them apart.’ We had this huge game against Defense Football Club to qualify for the CAF Confederation Cup. We really needed to win that game to play in the continental tournament for the first time in the club’s history. Our opponent’s backline was very solid. At half time, I went to the dressing room and took the two strikers to a corner. I told them how important that game was. I said ‘Break their stronghold’. After some minutes, Getaneh broke the deadlock and we won the game. After the final whistle, I said to the team ‘From now on, Getaneh’s name is Sebrom.’

After managing Dedebit until 2015, Awol turned his attention to the business world and established Shire-Shanghai Industrial and Trading with his partner. Under the company, Awol and his colleague built a Polytech PP bag factory with a capital of ETB32 million, 75Pct of which came from the Development Bank of Ethiopia.  The factory is now in completion phase. 

 “This is a project we went for after conducting assessments on where exactly the bag scarcity is. All the customers in the state of Tigray buy bags from Addis. We wanted to take the advantage of that specific market,” Awol explained. “The name ‘Shire-Shanghai’ in our business echoes my dream to see my childhood town of Shire become Ethiopia’s Shanghai.” 

Although he is has his own business, Awol never isolated himself from the sport he loves. In fact, he is among the high profile names who will participate in the Ethiopian Football Federation’s (EFF) election, which had been postponed six times since October 2017. Years after leaving the arena, Awol announced his candidacy at the end of November, 2017, to replace Teklewoiny Assefa, who was barred from the nomination by the Tigray Football Federation for his eyebrow-raising sexist remarks. 

Despite once being one of Africa’s first football powers, Ethiopia has failed to make an impact on the continental scene for quite some time. Although the country returned to continental competition after a 31-year absence in 2012, the situation with Ethiopia’s football has gone from bad to worse after that. Ethiopia’s football is currently going through one of its darkest periods, struggling with challenges ranging from the problematic presidential election of EFF, to the poor form of the various clubs as well as the national team, and even hooliganism. 

It was during this turbulent time that the former president of Dedebit decided to return to the sport “for all good reasons”, as he put it. 

But, it does beg the question of why Awol made a U-turn at this time. “My passion for football wouldn’t just melt away. I was always planning to come back to football someday. When I was approached for the nomination, I could not say no. Because serving football is a deep desire in me,” says Awol.

This is good news for a sport which is struggling with a lack of competence and common sense its the administration. The Federation consistently fails to deliver on its list of priorities, and football development seems like a forgotten agenda. Players’ salaries and club financial trends are poorly regulated and the national team is poorly organised. If this is to change, it seems like the new leadership needs reformers.

“I want to be remembered for playing a crucial role in transforming the country’s football administrating body,” he hopes. “I am here to contribute. Who knows? Someday people may say we achieved this and that when Awol and his colleagues were in the office.”


6th Year . April 16  - May 15 2018 . No.60


 

 

Abiy Wendifraw

Special Contributor

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