Mr. Obama’s visit to Ethiopia sends the wrong message on democracy. Washington Post editorial.

June 25th, 2015 Print Print Email Email

“AFRICA DOESN’T need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.”

Those were President Obama’s words when he addressed Ghana’s parliament in July 2009, during his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa as president. The historic speech, watched around the globe, was an optimistic clarion call to the leaders on the continent from the son of a Kenyan. “First, we must support strong and sustainable democratic governments,” Mr. Obama said.

The president seems to have forgotten that speech. Last week, the White House announced that, while traveling to Kenya next month, Mr. Obama also will stop in Ethiopia, the first such visit by a sitting U.S. president to the country of 94 million. It’s almost unfathomable that he would make time for an entrenched human rights abuser such as Ethi­o­pia while cold-shouldering the nation that just witnessed a historic, peaceful, democratic change of power: Nigeria.

Administration officials justify the trip by citing the United States’ long-standing cooperation with Ethi­o­pia on issues of regional security and the country’s accelerating economic growth. Ethi­o­pia is a major recipient of U.S. development assistance, and the African Union has its headquarters there. But it also stands out in Africa for its increasingly harsh repression and its escalating chokehold on independent media and political dissent. Since June 2014, 34 journalists have been forced to flee the country, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Ethi­o­pia is also one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists.

The administration already undermined Ethiopia’s struggling journalists and democracy advocates in April, when Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman said Ethi­o­pia has “moved forward in strengthening its democracy. Every time there is an election, it gets better and better.” Shortly after her statement, the ruling party held an election in which it secured 100 percent of the parliamentary seats. That was indeed an improvement upon its 2010 performance, when it won 99.6 percent of seats. In the months ahead of the May 24 polls, opposition party members and leaders were harassed and arrested. The Ethiopian government refused to allow independent election observers, except from the African Union. Since the election, two opposition members and one candidate have been murdered. The government has denied any responsibility for the killings.

Meanwhile, Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation and the one with the largest economy, overcame risks of electoral violence and Boko Haram’s terrorism to manage a peaceful transfer of power for the first time since the country’s return to democracy in 1999. With numerous African countries facing elections in the next two years, a visit to Nigeria would have signaled U.S. commitment to partnering with governments that respect freedom, the rule of law and the will of their people. Snubbing Nigeria for a trip to Ethi­o­pia sends the opposite message, in essence validat ing Ethiopia’s sham elections and rewarding a regime that has shown no intent to reform. Six years after his idealistic speech in Ghana, Mr. Obama is sending a message to Africa that democracy isn’t all that important after all.

  1. Hailu
    | #1

    He will come to Ethiopia as planed but it is not a big deal.Ethiopia is marching to right track .Thanks to brilliant leadership of EPRDF.

  2. Mulunesh Garba
    | #2

    Do not get me wrong. I have enormous respect for Obama for his rhetorical skills, where it puts him to the White House for the second term. I admired George H. Bush the steps that he had taken against Daniel Arap Moi for human rights violations of Kenya to the late Robert Okuo ( a kinsman to the now US president), who was at that time a Foreign Minister, a little before he was mauled to his death. I also admire Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush for their crucial roles they played to help Africa in the past. Put simply, Obama has no track record unlike the past Presidents of the US. Credit is due where it deserve. One does not have to go far to see in Kenya, where the Luos, the ancestors of President Obama are the Third-Class Citizens, to the chagrins and intense frustrations of modern Africa history students.
    Today Africa is run by hopelessly horrific Neanderthals, whom Obama is Sanctifying by visiting the shrine of African Union, which is Ethiopia. This is not a case of “Native Son” coming home!

  3. Ittu Aba Farda
    | #3

    I think President Obama should go to the old country to keep engaged with the current leaders of that country. We know what a ‘no engagement’ policy of the 1970′s did to the political landscape over there. President Obama’s primary objective and task is to keep the American public safe. That is one of the tasks on his job descriptions when we all hired him. Whether we are willing to recognize it or not, Ethiopian troops are playing major role in fighting those Eyal Al-Souqs gathered around Al-Shabaab.

    Also, we have no idea what he will bring up discreetly behind the closed door when he meets with the leaders of the current regime in Addis(Finfine). I am sure he will bring up the issues of political prisoners and other human rights issues. He has to keep engaged with that regime. China with all its knock-off gained dollars is already there.

    The other major and nagging problem for westerns leaders like Obama and others is the status of the opposition. Who should he talk to that is strong and viable? Which one? TPDM, G7, EPPF, WSLF, ONLF, OLF, SNLF, BLUE, MEDREK, AUEP, EDU, EPRP, MEISON, ARDUF, ALF, Erob Protection Front, OPDF, Red Fox Liberation Front, Black Maned Lion Resurrection Army, I am running out of breath just countting now!!!! Who? Some of these have the nerve to go all the way to Asmara and bow to the killer of them all, Al-Toweel Isaias!!! What I am eluding to is the fact that the opposition must do a self examination and do the proper house-keeping. They should swallow to prescribed medicine peel no matter how bitter it is and come together under a united front. Otherwise, no one will ever take them seriously. They are all dangerously divided. They are fighting with words now and we all know what will happen if they come together in a vacuum. Just ask the EPRP’s and MEISON’s of the 1970’s. First it was words and then it did not take too long to turn deadly. Just ask them or read their history including their own accounts.

  4. Sam
    | #4

    The Washington post got it all wrong. Obama’s visit does not mean he believes the Ethiopian government is democratic. Not at all. The visit, I believe, is intended to exert influence. Whether we like it or not EPDRF is going to dominate the politics of Ethiopia for some time to come. Is it not unwise to ignore the Ethiopian government while it institutes a one party rule? The best way to influence is to make communication open. US “might” influence Ethiopian politics if engaged. If the US administration condemns EPDRF as a dictator that should not deserve a visit by US president, well, the Chinese will have everything going good for them. After the 2005 Ethiopian election the late prime minister chose to counterbalance the US influence with that of China. That was a shrewd move. I think Obama got it– not the Washington Post– and he saw the political calculation made. He seems to understand to totally ignore the Ethiopian government means to give the Chinese immense influence. He does not like it, and either do I.

  5. Development without Freedom
    | #5

    Visiting Ethiopia and shaking hands with thieves is the biggest policy mistake President Obama will make. His visit will be an endorsement of TPLF’s policies of oppressions. Good speech about democracy does not change that.

  6. dinzisa
    | #6

    People are always right because they do think collectively; this is why it is believed and proved that customers are always right, but President Obama is completely wrong in making a faulty decision to shake hands with the criminals in the Fascist TPLF regime. The US administration, in particular Obama’s, have been criticizing and belittling chine’s rulers for violation of human rights while the same US president supporting and helping juntas and dictators just like the TPLF in suppressing and oppressing the millions in Ethiopia. President Obama has been widely and deeply known for preaching something that he has never put it into practice; Editorials, human right organizations, national and international activists and advocates, you name it; all in all the global communities are voicing their concern and advising Mr. Obama to not make a gross mistake by favoring junta criminals who have been known widely for their making atrocities and carnage on millions for the last twenty four years; currently, as facts on the ground speaks for itself and for all, Mr. Obama is ignoring the global communities’ plea and feedback and go ahead with his trip to sand with TPLF against the strongest objection of the millions.

  7. .
    | #7

    shame on you Obama.
    Ethiopian community has a good contribution for your election time but there is no third term that is why you are supporting dictators.

  8. channeaweke
    | #8

    America is now officially the land of sodom and Gommorah,

  9. Ethio-Tazabi
    | #9

    It seems, the people that are advising Obama to visit Ethiopia by ignoring the overwhelming human rights abuse in Ethiopia, and to shake hands and to wine and dine with tplf mafia mass murderers — obviously, some of his staff have been manipulated and misinformed by tplf and do not give a crap about the legacy of the First Black American US President Obama. Sad indeed to know that, Obama doesn’t have people in his administration that deeply care about him and his legacy. No way in the world that, the former president George W. Bush’s staff would have advised him to visit a tplf mafia that gunned down openly, in the broad day light, over 200 innocent people in 2005. Poor Obama!

  10. Tumsa
    | #10

    *Oromians: Time to Walk the Talk of Alliance Against the Oppressive System*

    Surprisingly, the TPLF we despised at the beginning of its move towards Tulluu Daalattii (Arat Kilo) ruled us with brute force for quarter of a century. Our separated and sporadic resistance against it didn’t work till now. Especially, lack of cooperation between the two opposition camps (the pro self-rule liberation fronts and the pro shared-rule unity forces), is the main cause for our failure. No need to write more about the already well known common political problem we do have, but let’s think about our common solution. First of all, I would like to suggest that we do agree on common citizens’ and cultural identity: being Oromian as a synthetic identity of ‘being Ethiopian vs being Oromo’, the two identities we used to antagonize till now. Accordingly, Oromia = formerly Ethiopia, as defined here; http://finfinnetribune.com/Gadaa/2014/12/fayyis-oromia-why-not-the-union-state-of-oromia-as-an-optimal-solution-for-the-majority-at-the-center/ ; is a union in which the following five points (FADOB-score) will be implemented: F = Freedom from the system of domination; A = Afan Oromo as a working language of federal governmnet in the union; D = Democracy as rule of game in the union; O = Oromia instead of Ethiopia as name of the union; and B = Black-red-white as Cushitic flag of the Union. This upper Nile country called Oromia by the native owners of the land is used to be named as Abyssinia by the Portugeese, Kush by the Jews, Ardulhabesha by the Arabs, Punt by the Egyptians and Ethiopia by the Greeks.

    This approach of equating Ethiopia to Oromia or using the two designations interchangeably can solve our problem regarding the controversy around the name – Ethiopia:
    - certain Ethio-nationalists love this name because of its appearance in the Holy Book and the ancient meaning given as the glorious Cushitic kingdom.
    - some Ethno-nationalists hate it because of the association with Habesha dominattion and with exclusively Christian kingom of the past Abyssinian history.
    - few from both sides are ambivalent, just trying to be rational and they want to use or avoid this naming pragmatically.

    I think now, it is time to work on a common solution for the common political problem we do have. The TPLF already showed its uncompromising desire to stay on power by “winning the election 100%”. President Obama is going to “celebrate the victory”, just for the sake of using the TPLF as servant of America’s geopolitical interest in the region. We like it or not, the only way to get rid of the apartheid/domination system is through forging a necessary unity of purpose and by building a persuasive force; of course the common purpose is freedom from the system. Such unity is not necessarily structural, but it can be an alliance by default, which is practiced by targetting only and only the TPLF and by avoiding any wastage of resource in the horizontal fighting. All organizaions struggling for freedom from this system can encircle the regime in Tulluu Daalatti 360°, both figuratively and realistically. It is absurd to quarrel on the topic: “which way is better: non-violent or per-violent?”, as the pro-unity forces are currently doing in different cyber and public forums. Actually, as Oromians in general, we can accomodate both ways of the struggle; but specifically, as individuals or organzations, we can choose one of the two, without denouncing the one we don’t prefer. Further more, we have to avoid any division based on our past history or our far future; let’s leave our pre-Woyane history for historians and the post-Woyane decision for the stake-holder peoples of the country, so that we can concentrate on the current struggle for freedom.

    To be effective in our fighting, we better reduce the talks and writings we excercised till now, but increase the necessary thinkings and walks in a very beneficial way. We surely heard and read the principle “action speaks louder than words” very often. Those of us, who really want freedom, have to be practical personalities; it is better to act for 5 minutes than talk for 5 days. What are the concrete important actions to be taken for a success of our cooperation? Here are few points of the necessary list:
    - stop horizontal fight between the anti-Woyane forces.
    - possibly forge an AFD like alliance by design or else don’t spoil the existing alliance by default.
    - those in diaspora should move back home like the ODF already planned, be it per Bole for non-violent struggle or through Bale for armed struggle.
    - the diaspora should see themselves more as a support group rather than as determining freedom fighters; their main contribution being to provide the 3M’s (money, media & military) support.
    - the main activity at home should be undergound, not to expose the productive personalities, as usually was the case during the past ritual “election” processes.
    - try to accomodate both self-rule and shared-rule, instead of polarizing/antagonizing them and rejecting one at the benefit of the other position.
    - etc

    In short, both the non-violent and per-violent struggles should focus at home being supported by the huge resource of the diaspora. The struggle needs perseverance like running marathon; it is not similar to a short, but exhaustive sprint. Remember again and again: unallied we fail, united we prevail. The TPLF leaders know this more than anyone of us; that is why Meles Zenawi once said: “the TPLF has got historical advantage to rule the country for a century, because of the Amhara-Oromo conflict.” Unfortunately he is right; the elites from the two big nations still fear, hate and sabotage each other more than they do fight the TPLF. They think with the pre-1991 mentality; the situation of both nations is already changed, but the solution in the mind of the elites is not changed. Now, it is time for these elites to decide: either we cooperate and be free together or dwell on the old conflict and live as slaves of the Woyane’s brutal system of ethnic apartheid for a century. We should not only speak and write about this indispensable way of struggle in unison, but also we have to walk the talk.

    My message in this short opinion is clear: an inclusive unity of purpose is inevitable for victory; I used to write on this issue of alliance against the system repeatedly. As Dr. Marara put in his recent interview with SBS radio, the anti-Woyane forces need to do their homework of empowering the freedom fighters through necessary cooperation of the two opposition camps on a common denominator or middle ground of self-rule with shared-rule, as suggested by the democratic federalists. It is good to hear that the existing Oromo liberation fronts are consolidating their unity; it is also encouraging to see pro-unity forces coming together and even suggesting a formation of an inclusive government in exile. But only unity of groups in their respective camp is not enough; there must also be an efficient and working alliance of the two blocs against the system. Such approach of structural unity was tried repeatedly in the last 24 years, but failed. Can we learn from our mistakes and come up with working mechanism against the tyrants or are we doomed to be ruled and exploited further. The choice is ours: either walk the talk of alliance for freedom or live under the system of domination/apartheid/slavery/internal colony/tyranny for a century! May Waaqa help us choose the first!

    Galatooma!

  11. zigzag
    | #11

    It is ok let him visit.
    Do you blev usa is a demokratic country

  12. Teodros Kiros
    | #12

    Dear Woyanne in crisis;

    You are still refusing to read the article. If you were to do so, you will notice that all the examples are A and B and c, which I did deliberately, so that I will not be accused of ethnicity. Not ones do I mention the Amharas or Tigreans under NME. This is my final word on this, and I hope you respect this and stop harassing me. I will always write in love and justice as my Ethiopian parents taught me.

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