Friday, July 31, 2015
Thursday, July 30, 2015
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — President Obama twice called the government of Ethiopia “democratically elected” on Monday as he stood by the country’s prime minister, two months after elections that handed every seat in Parliament to the governing party and its allies.
Although human rights groups had called on Mr. Obama to use his visit to press for change, the president took a mild tone in his public remarks. He gently urged the Ethiopian government to make room for opposition, while stressing his respect for the country and its challenges in emerging from a long era of monarchy and autocracy.
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Clean water being distributed among residents in Malakal. A civil war in South Sudan has displaced more than two million people.Obama Gathers Leaders in Effort to End South Sudan WarJULY 27, 2015
President Obama talked with President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya after arriving in Nairobi on Friday.The Effects of Obama’s Presidency in Africa: Readers’ OpinionsJULY 24, 2015
A billboard in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, on Sunday, the day President Obama arrived there.Obama’s Visit to Ethiopia Promises Little for Human Rights ActivistsJULY 26, 2015
Government in Ethiopia Is on Track to Win With 100% of VoteJUNE 22, 2015
Voters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, reading newspapers ahead of Sunday’s election. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, which currently governs, is expected to win.Ethiopia’s Ruling Party Is Expected to Keep Grip on PowerMAY 23, 2015
“We are very mindful of Ethiopia’s history, the hardships that this country has gone through,” Mr. Obama said at a joint news conference with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. “It has been relatively recently in which the Constitution that was formed, and elections put forward a democratically elected government.” He added that “there is still more work to do, and I think the prime minister is the first to acknowledge that there is more work to do.”
President Obama with his national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, right, and Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen Hassen of Ethiopia during a state dinner in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Monday. Mr. Obama was being toasted by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times
The elections in May were condemned by human rights groups as a sham. The government made it hard for opposition candidates to register, raise money and mobilize supporters, according to watchdog groups. Peaceful protesters were denied permits, harassed and in some cases arrested. News organizations were shut down and reporters harassed, threatened or arrested.
American diplomats were denied accreditation as election observers and prohibited from formally observing the process, according to the State Department, and the only international observers on the ground were from the African Union. The State Department said at the time that it was “troubled” that opposition party observers were barred from some locations.
“The recent election in Ethiopia was anything but a democratic one,” said Sarah Margon, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch. “There may not have been widespread violence or blatant ballot box stuffing on Election Day,” Ms. Margon said, but “the systematic repression of basic rights” made it “extremely unlikely that Ethiopians would feel safe enough to express themselves, particularly if that expression included criticism of the government.”
David J. Kramer, a former assistant secretary of state for democracy under President George W. Bush, said that Ethiopia has a “very repressive regime” in which opposition parties are not given a fair chance to compete. “To suggest otherwise is both to misrepresent the true state of affairs there and to demoralize those struggling to promote human rights and freedom in Ethiopia,” he said.
Even Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, indicated at a briefing last week that the result of the election was not credible. “The prime minister of Ethiopia was just elected with 100 percent of the vote, which I think suggests, as we have stated in our public statements, some concern for the integrity of the electoral process,” she said.
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When a reporter at the briefing asked her whether Mr. Obama thought that was a democratic election, Ms. Rice repeated in a sarcastic tone, “One hundred percent,” as if no further answer were necessary.
With a busy diplomatic schedule during his two-day visit, Mr. Obama made the most of the little extra time he had during this first presidential trip. He managed to see the black-maned Abyssinian lions that famously live on the grounds of the National Palace (“I’m considering getting some for the White House,” he joked) and later he got a private showing of “Lucy,” the iconic 3.2 million-year-old remains of a human ancestor.
“It shows that every single person here, 7 billion people, including Donald Trump, came down through this chain,” the anthropologist Zeresenay Alemseged told the president. Mr. Obama laughed but did not take the bait. During his toast at a subsequent state dinner, though, he cited his meeting with Lucy and turned it into a message of unity. “We are reminded that Ethiopians, Americans, all the people of the world are part of the same human family, the same chain,” he said.
Trips to countries with repressive governments often present a challenge for Mr. Obama as he tries to balance other American interests against the promotion of democracy and human rights. Ethiopia has been an important partner in combating the Shabab, a ruthless Somalia-based affiliate of Al Qaeda. Ethiopia also has an important role to play in resolving ethnic conflict in South Sudan.
Mr. Obama is the first sitting American president to visit Ethiopia, and he defended his decision to come. “We don’t improve cooperation and advance the very interests that you talk about by staying away,” he said. “So we have to be in a conversation. And I think the prime minister will indicate that I don’t bite my tongue too much when it comes to these issues. But I do so from a position of respect and regard for the Ethiopian people, and recognizing their history and the challenges that they continue to face.”
Mr. Hailemariam acknowledged that the country’s system needed improvement. “This is a fledgling democracy, and we are coming out of, you know, centuries of undemocratic practices and culture in this country,” he said. “And it’s not easy, within a few decades — in our case, only two decades of democratization — that we can get rid of all these attitudinal problems and some challenges we face.”
“But,” he added, “we feel that we’re on the right track, and there is a constitutional democracy, which we all are obliged to observe, for the sake of our own people and prosperity.”
Asked about the arrests of reporters and bloggers, which have given Ethiopia a reputation as one of Africa’s leading jailers of journalists, Mr. Hailemariam said he supported journalism as long as it was “ethical” and not tied to terrorists.
“Maybe those of you who are in developed nations, you can help our journalists, domestic journalists, to increase their capacity, to work in an ethical manner,” he said.
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After the news conference, aides to Mr. Obama rejected suggestions that the president had gone soft on the Ethiopian leadership, saying that Mr. Obama was merely trying to put the country’s journey in context. They said Mr. Hailemariam had acknowledged flaws in Ethiopia’s democracy in public and even more so during private sessions with Mr. Obama.
In those meetings, Ethiopian leaders “expressed some discomfort” with the ruling party’s sweep of the election because it was “not indicative of the kind of competition they want to have,” said a senior Obama administration official who insisted on anonymity to discuss the private talks. After years of working on Africa, the official said, “I’ve never seen a day like today.”
Some Ethiopian journalists were less impressed. Reeyot Alemu, 35, who was arrested in 2011 under an antiterrorism law and then abruptly released on July 9, rejected Mr. Hailemariam’s assessment of Ethiopian journalism. “I don’t believe him, because we have ethical journalists,” she said. “We tried to work like that, and they arrested us because we criticized the government.”
She said Mr. Obama should not believe Ethiopian officials who tell him they want to make more room for political opposition. “They just want to pretend in front of Obama and the international community that they are democratic and trying to improve human rights conditions,” she said. “When these kinds of meetings happen, it’s always like that.”
A version of this article appears in print on July 28, 2015, on page A9 of the New Y
An Ethiopia national flag, left, is seen next to a U.S. flag, center, in a busy street ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Saturday, July 25, 2015.
July 26, 2015 8:38 AM
Ethiopia did not roll out the red carpet when a little-known U.S. senator decided, in 2006, to visit a flood-stricken rural town and pledged to lobby for aid from the U.S. military.
Nine years later, as president of the United States, Barack Obama is being welcomed with pomp and excitement in the nation that made such a strong impression on him as a junior senator.
Until Sunday morning, the only sign of his impending arrival in this security-conscious diplomatic capital were heavily armed federal police stationed on every major road. Local police also set up roadblocks and conducted vehicle searches and pat-downs on drivers and passengers.
But on Sunday afternoon, American flags began to pop up on Addis Ababa’s main Bole Road thoroughfare, alongside posters bearing Obama’s smiling face.
WATCH: VOA's Anita Powell previews President Obama's visit to Ethiopia
Serious agenda in Ethiopia
Obama is getting a very different reception here than in his ancestral homeland of Kenya, where the preparations for his visit started weeks ago, and where presidential paraphernalia mushroomed on street corners.
Fittingly, Obama brings a very serious agenda to Ethiopia: terrorism, development and investment are dominating his discussions with Ethiopia’s government and with leaders at the African Union.
Ethiopia has long been praised for its rapid, double-digit economic growth, for its efficient use of international donor funds and for its success in keeping Somalia’s al-Shabab extremist group at bay. Al-Shabab strikes often in its home country of Somalia, and has also hit targets in neighboring Kenya and as far afield as Uganda. But Ethiopia, which shares a long border with Somalia, has managed to stave off attacks.
Some critics of the government – among them, more than a dozen imprisoned journalists and bloggers – say this security often comes at the expense of their civil liberties and human rights.
The U.S. State Department’s human rights report on Ethiopia reads like a laundry list of violations, starting with “restrictions on freedom of expression … restrictions on freedom of association, including through arrests; politically motivated trials; and harassment and intimidation of opposition members and journalists,” and progressing to more severe crimes like “alleged arbitrary killings; alleged torture, beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees by security forces; reports of harsh and at times life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention; a weak, overburdened judiciary subject to political influence.”
WATCH: Rights Groups Decry Treatment of Media in Ethiopia
Ethiopians mixed on Obama
Many residents of Addis Ababa, when approached by VOA, said they had no opinion on Obama’s visit. Critics of Ethiopia’s government say free expression is often stifled or punished by authorities.
“I’m not a politician,” shrugged one young man, “you cannot ask me these questions.”
Others agreed only to speak off-camera, saying they are disappointed in Obama – a common refrain in Africa, where many citizens say they expected more from the first American president of African origin.
Other Addis Ababa residents said they did not agree with Obama’s stance on gay rights – here in conservative Ethiopia, homosexuality is illegal.
But others said they were hopeful about his visit.
Information technology manager Samson Kiflom demurred before deciding what he wanted to see from the American president, saying more cooperation with the American IT industry would be nice.
But his biggest wish?
“Maybe better freedom,” he ventured. “Not technology, actually – better freedom.”
And bank employee Melaku Alameru echoed concerns from government critics that Obama’s carefully choreographed trip would shield him from the often harsh realities of life for many Ethiopians.
“The president shall see whether the development of Ethiopia is real or not and whether the government is true or the opposition is true,” he said. “... The government is saying that human rights are respected and the opposition are saying that not respected – rather the government is denying the human rights of Ethiopia.”
After speaking to Melaku, VOA was ordered by Addis Ababa police to stop filming and immediately leave the area.
Monday, July 27, 2015
Sunday, July 26, 2015
Obama's Visit Raises Ethiopia's Stature Amid Rights Concerns
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Jul 26, 2015, 6:08 AM ET
By ELIAS MESERET Associated Press
Like the visit to Kenya, President Barack Obama's trip Sunday to Ethiopia represents the first time a sitting U.S. president has been to this East African country and according to its government, it is a sign of the nation's growing stature.
Grave concerns remain, however, over political freedoms in this nation of more than 90 million — Africa's second largest — and opposition figures fear that the visit, coming on the heels of an improbable 100 percent ruling party win in elections, will give international legitimacy to a repressive government.
With its history of pan-African activism, Ethiopia is also the home of the African Union and on Tuesday Obama will be addressing the whole continent from the organization's new headquarters in Addis Ababa.
After centuries of ties — the first bilateral trade agreement was signed in 1903 — only now is a U.S. president visiting, noted Communication Minister Redwan Hussein.
"The choice by a sitting U.S. President to visit us was made because we have become more visible and important enough to be visited," he told The Associated Press. "Being visited by the first sitting American president will enhance the confidence and aspirations of Ethiopians."
Obama is set to holds talks with his counterpart Mulatu Teshome as well as Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and is expected to discuss the conflict in southern Sudan, confronting the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab in Somalia and economic development.
Administration officials have also promised frank discussions over the lack of press freedom and political openness in Ethiopia.
In May, the ruling party took all the seats in legislative elections described by the U.S. and theEuropean Union as unfair.
Woretaw Wassie, a leader of the opposition Blue Party said members of his party were arrested ahead of Obama's visit on suspicion they would make a fuss.
"Visiting a country which is totally contrary to the values of the West is very controversial," he said. "But in any case, the U.S. believes that engaging can make a difference so maybe it will be a good opportunity to put some pressure."
Another touchy subject would be gay rights which Obama championed on Saturday in Kenya, calling for equal treatment for all under the law.
"All religions in Ethiopia should oppose the president if he raises the gay issue here," said Memihir Dereje Negash, of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church-linked Weyiniye Teklehaimanot