Obama’s Trip To Africa Fails To Secure Human Rights Commitments

By  Sahara Reporters

On Tuesday, United States President Barack Obama concluded his visit to Kenya and Ethiopia. Besides holding meetings with leaders in the African Union, the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, and the Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Mr. Obama also heralded Africa as nation filled with people with “dignity.”

Despite these meetings, Mr. Obama left Africa without securing any human rights commitment from Ethiopia. In addition, the critiques of various human rights groups who claim Obama’s visit legitimizes the oppressive governments confirm that these past five days in Africa were a trivial international exercise.

In June, a report released by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) put Ethiopia near the top of a list of countries that violate the freedom of journalists. Since May of 2014, the Ethiopian government has forced 34 journalists to leave the country in exile. After Eritrea, Ethiopia continues to be the African country that imprisons the most journalists.

Jeff Smith of the John F. Kennedy Human Rights Center spoke to SaharaReporters and said, “The Ethiopia trip doesn’t fair well for strengthening democratic institutions.”

Though Obama lauded the democracy in Ethiopia, the ignored the egregious flaws in the country. Before and even after Ethiopia’s Anti-Terror Proclamation of 2009 criminalized dissent, “Human rights are being absolutely decimated in Ethiopia.”

A recent U.S. State Department annual report assessed Ethiopia’s human rights records: “The most significant human rights problems included restrictions on freedom of expression, restrictions on print media and on the Internet, and restrictions on freedom of association, including through arrests; politically motivated trials; and harassment and intimidation of opposition members and journalists.”

According to Mr. Smith, “Obama’s fiscal year 2016 budget request has less than 1%” for democratic initiatives abroad; “a better signal would have been to travel to Nigeria.” This statement elucidated the fact that there are no follow up commitments concerning human rights in Ethiopia.

These flaws do not just pertain to Ethiopia, Mr. Smith added. Even in Kenya there has been a “deregistration of non-governmental organizations” and “Muslim human rights groups have been targeted.”