By Andrew Nachemson |
(The Washington Times) – President Obama is poised to become the first sitting president to visit Ethiopia when he travels to Africa later this week, but the milestone is not a source of pride for Aklog Birara.
Like many Ethiopian-Americans, the economist and former adviser to the World Bank is expressing very mixed emotions about the trip and the symbolism it will have for Ethiopia’s authoritarian government. Mr. Birara fled his native country amid increased repression and is now an American citizen.
“Under normal circumstances I would not only admire but support a visit from a U.S. sitting president to Africa,” Mr. Birara said, but he added that the Ethiopian government is “one of the two worst jailers of journalists in Africa,” and the justice system is “practically nonexistent.”
His misgivings are shared by Lemlem Tsegaw, an Ethiopian-American poet and human rights activist.
“The government will twist the visit to serve their own purposes,” she claimed, fearing that the government of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn will attempt to use Mr. Obama’s visit as a tacit endorsement of the regime. Long criticized for human rights abuses and attacks on press freedom, Mr. Desalegn and his ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front coalition has been in power for more than two decades and captured every seat in May’s parliamentary elections.
The Washington area is home to perhaps the largest community of Ethiopian-Americans in the country, and the visit has become a focal point for protests. On July 3 a large group of Ethiopian-Americans gathered outside of the White House to vehemently protest the upcoming visit.