Obama urges Ethiopia to curb crackdowns on media, opposition

2015-07-27 15:26
President Barack Obama in Kenya. (AP)

President Barack Obama in Kenya. (AP)

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Addis Ababa - US President Barack Obama visited Ethiopia on Monday, offering a blunt appraisal of his host's democratic deficit, but indicating it would not scuttle a close security and political relationship.

"There is still more work to do, and I think the prime minister is the first to admit there is still more to do," Obama said, standing next to Hailemariam Desalegn, whose party has 100% of seats in parliament.

"We are very mindful of Ethiopia's history," Obama added, after lauding the country's role in fighting Somali militants al-Shabaab and peacemaking in South Sudan.

The White House has indicated that it does not want recent contested elections in Ethiopia to overshadow relations with Africa's second largest country and a rapidly growing economy.

The White House bristle at suggestions Obama should not have visited a country that is one of the continent's worst jailers of journalists and where elections are flawed.

Officials believe that Ethiopia, as a smaller nation, is being held to a higher standard than larger partners like China.

Obama said it was important that there was not a double standard where "big countries in one fashion and small countries in another".

Hailemariam attempted to counter criticism of his government.

"Our commitment to democracy is real and not skin deep," he said, adding that "perception and reality" does not always match.

"This is fledgling democracy, we are coming out of centuries of undemocratic practices," he said.

President Barack Obama urged Ethiopia's leaders to curb crackdowns on press freedom and political openness.

"When all voices are being heard, when people know they are being included in the political process, that makes a country more successful," Obama said.

Obama's trip marks the first visit by a sitting US president to Ethiopia, a fast-growing economy once defined by poverty and famine.

Obama said he was frank in his discussions with Ethiopian leaders about the need to allow political opponents to operate freely.

-AFP, AP

Read more on:    barack obama  |  hailemariam desalegn  |  ethiopia  |  security  |  east africa

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