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Africa Needs Strong Institutions, Indeed!!

Africa Needs Strong Institutions, Indeed!!

Tsehaye Debalkew, Washington D.C. June  29, 2015

It has been over  a decade now since Ethiopia and the United States  celebrated the Centennial of their mutually beneficial diplomatic ties. Ethiopia as the only independent    African nation that  defeated the army of a colonial power when it had the  luxury of establishing diplomatic relations.. The US,  as a rising world power , shared similar history wherein the US had defeated another colonial power and declared its independence .

It is not accidental  that the AU finds its headquarters in Addis Ababa .History is replete with a plethora of events testifying to Ethiopia's contribution towards African independence and freedom  beginning from the League of Nations, the UN and up to and including arming and training African Liberation movements.

As the White House Press Release put it,  Obama's  African visit  scheduled to take place towards the end of July is aimed at accelerating economic growth, strengthening  democratic institutions, and improve security.   As a  US  sitting President, Barack Obama  becomes the first  American leader ever to visit Ethiopia.   I ardently believe that the visit is well deserved if not long overdue

It appears  here that the celebrated Washington Post in its editorial recently has missed the gist of the president's address. Small wonder the Editorial quotes the President “First, we must support strong and sustainable democratic governments,” as saying in the same speech .Is not President Obama's visit to Kenya and Ethiopia precisely to support strong and sustainable democratic governments as he rightly put it which are institutions and not strong men?,  Add to this, the upcoming visit to the  US  by the newly elected leader of Nigeria is by the same token to support a strong and sustainable democratic government of Nigeria.

Yes, there is a need on the part of Ethiopia to learn from the vast reservoir of experience of the US in the realm of building strong democratic institutions and culture, and strong economy. But  Ethiopia  does not welcome the president of the US, with folded arms  It has already made strides  in economic growth,  in strengthening  democratic institutions, and in improving security.

  On economic development Ethiopia is  one of the five fastest-growing countries in the world, with  double-digit growth  over a decade.It is emerging as an African leader in hydropower development, thanks to an ambitious construction program that aims to harness the potential of the Blue Nile with the launch of the Great Renaissance  Dam.

Obama’s historic visit will start a new era of partnership in investment and trade between the two nations. The country’s potential to expand will grow even more, as the African Growth and Opportunity Act  /AGOA / which has been renewed for the next ten years by the US Congress continues unabated.

It is a country that is investing a lot in education, health and infrastructure. It is a flag of an African success story that will be celebrating the completion of meeting all or most of the MDGs.  The recently concluded 5th National and Regional Election, based on the testimony given by the AU Election Observers' team and by the thousands of observers deployed with the approval of the opposition parties was credible and peaceful.

All parties who ran for election enjoyed the financial  support  from the government  to wage campaigns and the debates carried over freely through the public and private media  by the contending parties had enabled the electorate to make an informed decision while casting their votes

As an anchor of stability in a very volatile region Ethiopia's location on the Horn of Africa—and its proximity to the land and water in surrounding areas makes it of particular strategic importance to the US   Ethiopia has historically been a strong ally of the United States,

The two  sisterly countries fought on the same side during the early days of peace keeping., and more recently worked together in the global effort against terrorism after the September 11, 2001 attacks by al-Qaeda on the American homeland, according to  Dr .Peter Pham ,Director of the Atlantic Council.

Furthermore, the Ethiopian National Defense Force has played key roles both in Somalia—fighting Al-Shabaab terrorists and in the disputed Abiye  region between Sudan and South Sudan.

 Ethiopia is home to the headquarters of the fifty-four-member African Union (AU) And President Obama has clearly indicated in his sojourn menu that he will hold bilateral talks with the leaders of the AU.

It is appropriate to state that there will be those who criticize the visit because of one difference or another with the government of Ethiopia.  But according to Dr. Peter Pham , the President’s visit is not so much a " Good Housekeeping seal of approval’ as an opportunity to engage a key partner—including on topics on which the two countries  might differ—and above all, to advance US strategic interests".

It is at this juncture that, the Editorial piece of the Washington Post clings to mind  The Washington Post has run several editorials on Ethiopia’s May Election.. All these were published in two months time. All these have harshly criticized Ethiopian election and democracy.  Never has Ethiopia “enjoyed” so much intense editorial attention and space from the Washington Post before. Nor do I believe this has happened without a reason- a reason that may have little to do with the journalistic duty of the Paper and much about tending to act as a de facto political operative for the region. This is a bit away from the basic tenets of Journalism which professes an  item should reflect in its content, accuracy and, balance and  should try to be unbiased

The latest editorial published on June 24 under the title, “Mr. Obama’s visit to Ethiopia sends the wrong message on democracy”. It is unfortunate to see The Washington Post erring repeatedly on facts and judgments as reflected on all its Ethiopia-related editorials.

 In its latest editorial, the Post said “…”the ruling party held an election in which it secured 100 percent of the parliamentary seats.”  The current ruling party, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front, EPRDF, has never run for all seats of the parliament and could have never won 100% of the seats. EPRDF’s electoral constituency is fenced only in 4 regions and 2 cities, out of the 9 regions and two federal cities.

 In the other 5 regions, the ruling party has no electoral or membership presence. Secondly, the Ethiopian government never refused to allow independent election observers. And there were several observers deployed throughout from the people, civic organizations, community organizations, universities, faith-based organization other than the AU delegates.

The Post has wrongly reduced the bilateral relationship value of countries to one asset only. May I hasten to add that research capacity and true information seeking and gathering capacity, I believe of the US government is by far  larger and better than that of the Post. To say the least the Paper has, regrettably,  failed to present the big picture in its editorial comments.

 


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