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My Take on Obama’s Visit to Ethiopia

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By Abel Asbineh Asfaw
obama480reutersUS President Barack Obama will be traveling to Ethiopia at the end of this month. This makes him the first sitting US president to visit our country. The purpose of his visit, as stated by the White House, is to hold bilateral talks with Government officials in Ethiopia and African Union representatives regarding economic development, democracy and security.
I am on the side of many individuals and rights groups who firmly criticize the president’s decision to visit a country led by one of the most brutal regimes in Africa. His visit would mean endorsing a government that has been increasingly jailing political opponents, journalists and human rights activists that dared to openly criticize the regime.
I was mesmerized by President Obama’s electrifying speech he made to Dhana’s Parliament when he went to Accra, Ghana, in July 2009 in which he talked about the importance of strong democratic institutions and good governance for sustainable development. To use his own words, “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.”  Obama has stressed on the need to support the struggle for democracy in Africa on numerous occasions. However, it is now clear that his words were just empty promises and more of the usual diplomatic talks. The fact that the visit was announced immediately after the EPRDF government claims a sweeping victory in the national election makes his visit more shocking. The EPRDF regime in Addis Ababa has claimed 100% victory in the recent national elections held in May 2015. It swept all 547 parliamentary seats in this unheard-of election. This is a mockery on democracy and signals the peak of a complete totalitarian rule.
Ethiopia currently ranks 4th among the top ten most censored countries in the world according to the committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). There are countless opposition members, journalists and rights activists languishing in jail right now for exercising their constitutional rights to write and express their political views freely.  To name a few, Eskinder Nega, Andualem Arage, Habtamu Ayalew, Abreha Desta, Temesgen Desalegn and many more. The recently freed bloggers and journalists were also a victim of the repressive regime who should not have been jailed in the first place as they were simply participating in their country’s affairs by expressing their political views by blogging. The government also goes as far as murdering those it considers as a threat to its power. Just recently, Semayawi party member Samuel Awekeand Tadesse Abreha of Arena- Medrek were brutally murdered by government cadres. The brutal regime in Ethiopia rules by fear, intimidation, corruption and purposely instigating ethnic division in order to extend its stay in power. It continues to arrest, jail, torture and kill innocent Ethiopians.
It is for this reason I and many concerned individuals and groups oppose Obama’s visit to Ethiopia. I believe the US should look into long term strategic partnership that can benefit both US interests in the region as well as Ethiopia’s rather than focusing on short term alliance with the dictatorial regime in Addis Ababa. The US should use its diplomatic and financial power to pressure the government of Ethiopia to open up the political space and hold genuinely free and fair election where all Ethiopians would have the opportunity to elect their chosen leaders. This in turn constitutes a democratic government that is stable, accountable and further more one that can play a dominant role in stabilizing the region as a whole.
On July 3rd 2015, thousands of Ethiopians demonstrated outside the White House in opposition to Obama’s visit to Ethiopia. In addition, The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights, Washington Post, Foreign Policy Magazine and The Guardian were all critical of the president’s visit. The US State Department has time and again indicated that the human rights situation in Ethiopia is worsening from time to time in its annual human rights report by country. It might be too late to reverse the decision of his visit to Ethiopia. However, as Martin Luther King said “the time is always right to do the right thing.” Hence, I suggest Obama should listen to all these concerns from various individuals and groups and air their concern to the government of Ethiopia.
Abel Asbneh Asfaw