By Alem Habtu (New York) |

Regarding the June 25 editorial “The wrong message on democracy”:

President Obama should pass up Ethiopia and visit Nigeria. Nigeria plays a far more critical role in regional security and economic issues. Nigeria’s recent elections — open and peaceful, as opposed to Ethiopia’s — encourage hope for progress and security in the region.

If Mr. Obama has to visit Ethiopia, however, he must press the parties involved in the South Sudan negotiations in Addis Ababa to settle the dispute, end the fighting and relieve the suffering of millions of hungry and homeless South Sudanese. The president would have a unique opportunity to directly affect the talks slated to convene in late July at the end of Ramadan.

It is odd to interpret President Obama’s upcoming visit to Ethiopia as “cold-shouldering” Nigeria. U.S. presidents go not only to countries whose policies they approve of but also to those they have business with.

Having maintained diplomatic relations since the early 20th century , the United States and Ethiopia share an interest in fighting terrorism and securing stability in a troubling sub-region of Africa. When the president visits Kenya, it makes sense for him to go next door to meet with African Union and Ethiopian officials. Visiting African Union officials would be historic. Visiting Ethiopia would give Mr. Obama an opportunity to nudge Ethiopia’s officials to expand the political space and embark on an honest democratization process.

Ethiopia’s ruling party won all the parliamentary seats through a plurality of votes because the country has a first-past-the-post (or, winner-take-all), not proportional representation, electoral system. The ruling party won all 23 parliamentary seats in Addis Ababa, for example, with only 64.5 percent of the vote; weak, fragmented opposition parties won the balance. Expanded political space is called for, but criticism of Mr. Obama for “snubbing Nigeria for a trip to Ethiopia” is not. It would be salutary for Mr. Obama to encourage Ethiopia’s officials to uphold transparency and human rights.

Source: The Washington Post

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