Why is President Barack Obama even going to Ethiopia?

Human rights advocates and many regional specialists are asking that very question of Obama, who travels to the capital Addis Ababa on Sunday to address the African Union.

”Let’s be clear, Ethiopia is not a model of democracy that should be rewarded with a presidential visit,” says Jeffrey Smith, an Africa specialist at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. He co-wrote an article in Foreign Policyentitled “Obama Should Stay Away From Ethiopia.”

Smith does concede that the two nations’ longstanding many shared interests, “including promoting and maintaining regional stability, facilitating peace in a very troublesome context in South Sudan, countering al-Shabab in Somalia and Kenya as well which is a real and ongoing threat and, let’s face it, and advancing Ethiopia’s own growth and development, which has been rather modest and at times impressive over the past decade.”


Once you start to peel back the layers of Ethiopia, Smith says, Ethiopia looks a little sinister. The country has become a model for political repression in sub-Saharan Africa with a range of repressive laws, he says, laws that have stifled the political opposition and decimated civil society. The US State Department backs up that point in its annual human rights report. Smith paraphrases the section on Ethiopia that cites widespread “restrictions on freedom of expression,” “politically motivated trials,” “harassment and intimidation of opposition members and journalists,” “alleged arbitrary killings … torture,” limits on citizens’ ability to change their government, and restrictions on freedom of assembly, association, and movement.



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