By KEVIN J KELLEY
Posted Saturday, June 27 2015 at 13:20
Human rights groups and a leading US newspaper are criticising President Barack Obama’s planned visit next month to Ethiopia.
“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,” the Washington Post declared in a June 24 editorial.
The Obama administration has previously rebuked Ethiopian authorities for repressive practices. But the US also recently praised Ethiopia for “strengthening its democracy” and has remained silent on the results of elections last month that saw the ruling party, in power for nearly 25 years, capture every seat in the 547-member parliament.
Sarah Margon, Washington director for Human Rights Watch, called that outcome “ridiculous” and likened it to the results of sham elections in the former Soviet bloc.
“We’re disappointed the president is going to Ethiopia,” Ms Margon said in an interview with The East-African. “It’s only going to be seen as, and played by the Ethiopian government as, a reward.”
Human Rights Watch has “no problem” with Mr Obama’s scheduled visit to African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ms Margon added. The US media often portrays Ethiopia as “a success story,” she said, when in fact “it’s a human-rights disaster.”
Some analysts suggest that the US leader’s decision to meet with Ethiopia’s rulers reflects the overriding priority that Washington assigns to counter-terrorism initiatives in East Africa.
Ethiopia contributes nearly 4,500 troops to the 22,000-member African Union force fighting Al Shabaab in Somalia.
The US maintains a base in eastern Ethiopia from which it flies Predator drones over parts of the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia was also reportedly among the sites where the CIA operated secret prisons for interrogating suspected members of Al Qaeda.
Some US businesses are eager to invest in Ethiopia, a country of 94 million people that has recorded significant economic growth in recent years. The Washington-based Corporate Council on Africa is holding its bi-annual US-Africa Business Summit in Addis Ababa in November.
“A decade-long campaign by Ethiopia’s government to silence dissent forcibly has left the country without a viable political opposition, without independent media, and without public challenges to the ruling party’s ideology,” Freedom House, a New York-based NGO, commented last week.
The organisation noted that of the $400 million in projected US aid to Ethiopia’s “oppressive regime” this year, only $2 million is focused on promoting democracy and human rights.
“Ethiopia is also one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists,” the Washington Post noted in its editorial.
The newspaper argued that Mr Obama’s planned meetings with Ethiopian officials contradicts his declaration of support for African democracies during a visit to Ghana in 2009. “Africa doesn’t need strongmen,” the US president said on that occasion. “It needs strong institutions.”
Mr Obama’s trip to Ethiopia will send “the opposite message, in essence validating Ethiopia’s sham elections and rewarding a regime that has shown no intent to reform,” the Post’s editors wrote.
“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.”