US President Barack Obama made history this week by becoming the first sitting president to visit Ethiopia and to deliver a speech before the African Union.
Obama's plan to visit Ethiopia was rebuked by human right advocates who argued that it would award undue praise to the Ethiopian government, which has pursued a crackdown on local media workers resulting in dozens of detentions and multi-year prison sentences, including the jailing of six members of the Global Voices community. The ruling party also secured 100% of parliamentary seats in the May 2015 elections, leaving Ethiopians suspicious that authorities had interfered with electoral systems.
The tone of the disappointment and anger began to ease after the release of several bloggers and journalists prior to the arrival of President Obama.
During his visit, President Obama and PM Desalegn were joined for a state dinner by prominent Ethiopian figures including artists, sportsmen and politicians. However, the leader of the Ethiopian Blue Party Yilikal Getnet turned down an invitation to the dinner, saying “it would amount to taking part in a luxurious dinner while millions suffer in Ethiopia.”
Displeased with President Obama's support for the Ethiopian government, Jawar Mohammed, a prominent advocate in Ethiopia-Oromo affairs, wrote on Facebook:
The US is now firmly and officially endorsing authoritarianism in Ethiopia
When we look at the statements by US officials Donald Booth (former ambassador to Ethiopia who said the 2010 election was good enough), Wendy Sherman (Deputy Secretary of State), Susan Rice (national security adviser) and now president Obama who in his speech twice declared the regime is democratically elected, we reach a conclusion that the United States [has] decided to publicly align itself with the Ethiopian authoritarian regime, both in words and deeds. The US has always supported this regime practically through massive aid, however, even George Bush's administration maintained verbal criticism of the authoritarian nature of the regime. The US has now gone blunt as Obama's administration has officially and openly endorsed the ‘developmental dictatorship’ narrative. Why is that?
1) Somalia- after the attempt to replace Ethiopia by Kenya and Uganda as its own extended hand for messing with Somalia's internal affairs failed to produce result, America is now back to the old tactic of fully relying on Ethiopian army and intelligence.
2) China- While US remains increasingly dependent on Ethiopia for its security interest, China has developed unmatched influence in the economy. William Davison nicely summarized this reality in his latest report, writing ” When Barack Obama became the first sitting President of the United States to touch down in Ethiopia’s capital on Sunday evening, it was at an airport being upgraded using a $250-million Chinese loan. His convoy then zipped along a six-lane urban expressway, also funded by the Export-Import Bank of China, to Meskel Square, where the two lines of a new Chinese-built electric railway intersect. Towering over the capital’s southwest, he may have spotted the headquarters of the African Union, a $200 million giveaway from China’s leaders.”
Such investment gives China significant influence not only over Ethiopia but also the rest Africa through the African Union which is located there.
Reacting to his Jawar's assessment, Amin Kedir advised:
Dont depend on external body to bring change, justice, democracy, etc for your internal issues. Mr. Obama come for his own benefit (his country benefit), dont expect more changes from Mr.Obama.
Kedir Tibeso did not expect much from Obama either:
Dictators are always dictators, and america want ethiopia for its own benefit. i do not expect any thing from obama.
Concurring with Jawar's arguments, Mohammed Siraj wrote:
Excellent analysis. Those who anticipated long for America to liberate them, be informed that America [is a] pragmatic country that run after its own interest. This is a good opportunity to get calm and think [about] the ineffective path being traveled so long.
The problem is not Obama but the lack of a united opposition movement based on ideology rather than tribe, noted Abo Ethio:
As long as z opposition groups are not united and show their strength (tangible), USA will continue to supporter z opperssor. You should hv to make note on what he spoke in Kenya, regarding ethnic based politics……. We will not have a strong alternative as long as we continue to organize our politics based on ethnic groups rather than the well founded political ideology n understanding of z geo-politics.
Many commenters on the visit concurred that Ethiopians should not wait for the US to build a democratic government in their country. They control their own destiny, wrote Falmataa Lamii:
[…]This is more than enough for us that USA Compromise Democracy with Security!! They are running after their national security. They don’t care about innocent people killed and jailed by those dictators! The western world (USA) always pleased dancing over the dead bodies the innocent people and wining of innocent blood!!
Therefore no more begging USA to generously give us Democracy!!! The western world (USA) officials (OBAMA) are not daddies of Democracy. But it is the result of united hands of the people! The united hands of our people are stronger than that of Western world (USA)!
Let us do that and reign the democracy we are longing for!!!!
During Obama's address to the African Union, Adam took note of Obama's support for presidential term limits:
Great speech Mr President. I hope that The African Union council must adopt new policy for African governors or promote maximum two terms in office for all African President. This will help growth and developments of the continent.
Note: This post was removed from Facebook as of Aug. 10, 2015.
For a summary of what transpired during his visit to Ethiopia, read these highlights from Horn Affairs blog.