President Obama has been fiercely criticized for his claim at a press conference in Addis Ababa that the Ethiopian government is “democratically elected.” The facts on the ground do not support him. But his message of hope to the continent was well received.
The 54-year-young black president of the United States of America, Barak Hussein Obama, has recently amplified his foreign policy on Africa by the recent 5-day tour of Eastern Africa, to Kenya and Ethiopia. He became the first sitting U.S. president to address the African Union.
Both Kenya and Ethiopia are strong allies of U.S. in the fight against al-Shabaab/terrorism in Somalia. Though the U.S. and Ethiopia have a shadow of a long diplomatic relationship, the present U.S. foreign policy is mainly militaristic in the region.
His highly anticipated trip to Ethiopia was actualized as his Air Force One touched the ground on Sunday 26 July 2015. Much to say, his trip was welcomed by some rain and a rainbow, which have created ambiguity amongst Ethiopians as they translate the event to suggest his gay rights agenda while others as see it as a blessing.
Obama was attacked by human right groups, the Ethiopian opposition groups in diaspora, the international community and activists in social media when he called the Ethiopian government ‘democratically elected’ in the joint press conference with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on 27 July 2015. As one put it in the social media, ‘President Obama could not be softer than this.’
However, President Obama’s trip to East Africa was saved by his historic speech at the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, when he told blatantly the audience including the host Prime Minister Desalegn, high government officials of Ethiopia and AUC chairperson, that ‘Democracy is not just formal elections’. He stressed: ‘When journalists are put behind bars for doing their jobs or activists are threatened as governments crackdown on civil society then you may have democracy in name, but not in substance’.
Ethiopia’s recent election was an anticipated one, and in fact the nation went to vote for new parliamentarians but not a new party, leader or idea. As a result the EPRDF, the ruling party extended, its two decades in power with a ‘historical’ 100% seats won by its cadres. As the Guardian put it at that time, ‘Ethiopia’s election is a wake-up call on human rights and sound governance.’
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) research, Ethiopia holds two in Africa for jailed journalists, following Eritrea and preceding Egypt and is fourth in the world following Eritrea, North Korea and Saudi Arabia.
Obama also touched on the issue of ‘third term’, whereby the African heads of state amend their constitution to stay in power more than two terms and in some cases for life. ‘Nobody should be president for life,’ Obama noted. ‘Your country is better off if you have new blood and new ideas’. He asserted: 'Sometimes you will hear leaders say ‘I am the only person who can hold this nation together.’ If that is true, then the leaders have failed to truly build their nation.’ Nevertheless, he lauded the African countries that have transferred power peacefully, such as Benin, Botswana, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and South Africa.
The president underlined women’s empowerment with a simple, yet powerful, resonating phrase: ‘Let the girls learn!’ He added, ‘And when girls cannot go to school and grow up not knowing how to read or write, that denies the world future women engineers and presidents - that sets us all back.’ He asserted that ‘the single best indicator of whether a nation will succeed is how it treats its women.’
Creating opportunity for development, to exercise a real democracy, to fight corruption, peace and security, human rights and women’s education and empowerment are amongst the key issues that the first African American President put across in his message. He repeatedly reminded the African leaders that in their endeavor to address the above issues, United States would be their true partner. ‘As you build the Africa you believe in, you will have no better partner and friend that the United States of America. God Bless Africa,’ he concluded.
The speech the president started in a friendly way, saying that he is ‘a son of African’, progressed to ripping the oppressive and despotic government in the continent. Though the charming president didn’t get the chance to make his historic address in front of the Heads of States who have the upper hand on the AU, he received a standing ovation and cheers especially from the young audience which he probably would not have got from the heads of state.
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
* BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka and make a donation NOW to help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!