The inaugural CanKen 5K road race was held on Sunday in Mississauga, Ont. in an effort to strengthen Kenya-Canada relations through sport, business and community. The 5K was dominated by the Toronto Olympic Club as the event attracted some of southern Ontario’s top talent featuring Kenyan and Ethiopian teams.
At the front of the pack, Ethiopian Hajin Tola won in 14:45 and performed a political gesture crossing his wrists above his head in an “X,” done in solidarity with the Oromo people in his home country. The protest is the fourth such notable act by an Ethiopian at a race in the past month.
How the protests got started
Olympic silver medallist Feyisa Lilesa was the first to make headlines in August when he performed the protest in Rio in the men’s marathon. He feared for his life following the race as the protest was directed at the Ethiopian government.
The protests are being done in response to the government’s displacing of Oromo people outside of Addis Ababa as the municipal boundary of the capital city is extended into neighbouring areas.
Why the “x” gesture?
The anti-government protest is meant to signify being handcuffed at the wrists. The Oromo people, with much of the population living in an area named Oromia, are the largest ethnic group in the Horn of Africa. As many as 500 people have been killed in the protests between November 2015 and June as reported by Human Rights Watch.
Lilesa, the Olympic marathon silver medallist, performed the protest in Rio and said after the race that “If I go back to Ethiopia, I will be killed.” He has since arrived in the United States on a special skills visa and has not returned to East Africa though his family remains in Ethiopia. A GoFundMe page in his name has raised more than US$160,000 for travel and living costs.
Also in Sunday’s race was Ebisa Ejigu who won the Quebec City Marathon at the end of August and also protested against the Ethiopian government. Ejigu finished fourth on Sunday in 15:04.
At the Mississauga race, the first three positions were awarded cash prizes of $1,500, $750 and $500 in both the men’s and women’s categories. Jane Murage was the women’s race winner in 17:16. There were a number of notable figures on hand for the inaugural event including Deputy Kenya High Commissioner to Canada Ambassador Jane Onsongo.
The 1K kids dash encouraged the next generation of runners to participate with a medal being awarded to all participants and trophies going to the top three finishers.
The Toronto Olympic Club won the team trophy for fastest average time and Team Umoja won the largest turnout trophy. Team Umoja is mainly drawn from Kenyans living in Canada.
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