In Ethiopia, Obama highlights human rights concerns
Obama's two-day visit to Ethiopia started on Monday, where he attended the state dinner with Ethiopian PM Hailemariam Desalegn. While he praised the country's contribution to maintain peace in the region, he also pressed on poor human rights record in Ethiopia and raised concerns over growing security issues in Africa. The threat of Somalia-based militant group, al-Shabab and crisis in South Sudan were discussed.
US President Barack Obama was set to travel to Kenya and Ethiopia. The four-day visit would start in Nairobi for the Global Entrepreneurship summit 2015 and end in Addis Ababa, where the African Union is headquartered. The trip would be the first time Obama travels to Kenya as the President and the first time a sitting US president visits Ethiopia.
Obama would travel to participate in the annual gathering of entrepreneurs and government officials and to engage with African leaders. The trip would offer an opportunity to improve America's trade and investment relationship with Africa. Obama was expected to give a speech before the African Union on the last day of his trip. This too would be a first for a sitting US president.
Obama, was born to a Kenyan father. His father Barack Obama Sr. was a senior Kenyan government economist. Obama Sr., is a central figure of president Obama's memoir, 'Dreams From My Father'.
In Kenya, Obama urged the people to deepen democracy, tackle corruption and end politics of exclusion based on gender or ethnicity. Obama promised US cooperation to tackle terrorist groups like al-Shabab. Lecturing on gay rights, he said, "When you treat people differently not because of any harm they do to anybody, but because they are different, that's the path where freedom starts to erode".
Obama's visit to Africa drew criticism from human rights groups who are concerned that it will give backing to governments that condemn dissent and media freedom . While Kenyan government is accused of human rights abuses, Ethiopian government is guilty of wrongfully imprisoning journalists and bloggers and clamping down political dissent. Human rights activists fear that the visit lends legitimacy to these repressive governments.
Despite concerns about the country's human rights record, Obama defended his decision to visit Ethiopia. Speaking at a press conference in Ethiopia, President Obama said, America wants to engage with other governments on mutual interest, even if their democratic policies do not align with that of US. He further urged the the East African nation to embrace political openness.