Obama Disappoints Human Rights Industry but Pleases Business and Security Sectors [opinion] (allAfrica.com)

Human right industry will not refrain from continuing to campaign against Ethiopia. Their only disappointment is their sensational reports are unlikely to turn Ethiopia into another Libya, argues Sam Akaki.

Anyone who focused on the euphoria around the historic, first visit by a sitting US president to Ethiopia would have missed the more significant undercurrent that was swirling underneath the surface. The current was being driven by three multi-billion industry sectors, namely, the human rights, manufacturing and the security industries, which were pushing US president, Barack Obama in different directions.

On the one hand, according to the US Word Report, “as President Barack Obama visits Kenya and Ethiopia this week, press coverage so far seems to be missing a core theme of the president’s trip: trade, investment and enterprise. Obama’s most visible commitment is attending the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi, which has attracted 200 American investors, including Shark Tank’s Daymond John and AirBnB’s Brian Chesksy, who will interact with Africa’s future business leaders.” On the other hand, the international human rights industrialists, led by the Belgium-based International Crisis Group (ICP), the London-based Amnesty International (AI) and the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), were very pleased when National Security Advisor Ambassador Ms Susan Rice told the press in Washington that “Barack Obama will hold bilateral meetings with President Mulatu Teshome (PhD) and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn where he will raise issues concerning press freedom, transparency, space for civil society, and the political opposition”. (Obama to hold frank discussions on press freedom, political opposition.”

According to Sarah Margon, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, “the visit undermines a lot of the presidential goals about good governance on the continent. In many ways, I guess it’s a reward. Ethiopia at this time doesn’t deserve that.”

Over the last few years, these organisations have gone on over-drive in their co-ordinated efforts to undermine the current government in Ethiopia. In August 2011, a joint undercover investigation by BBC Newsnight and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism claimed to have “uncovered evidence that the Ethiopian government is using billions of dollars of development aid as a tool for political oppression.”

Then in an August 2012 report, International Crisis Group issued the report ‘Ethiopia after Meles’, which urged “the international community, particularly Ethiopia’s core allies, the US, UK and European Union (EU), to seek to play a significant role in preparing for and shaping the transition” because “the weakened Tigrayan elite, confronted with the nation’s ethnic and religious cleavages, will be forced to rely on greater repression if it is to maintain power and control over other ethnic elites. Ethno-religious divisions and social unrest are likely to present genuine threats to the state’s long-term stability and cohesion.”

And, in October 2014, Amnesty International produced a report ‘Because I am Oromo”, which accused the Ethiopian government of committing acts of ethnic cleansing. “Between 2011 and 2014, at least 5,000 Oromos have been arrested based on their actual or suspected peaceful opposition to the government. These include thousands of peaceful protesters and hundreds of opposition political party members. In numerous cases, actual or suspected dissenters have been detained without charge or trial, killed by security services during protests, arrests and in detention.”

The report continued, “Expressions of Oromo culture and heritage have been interpreted as manifestations of dissent, and the government has also shown signs of fearing cultural expression as a potential catalyst for opposition to the government. Oromo singers, writers and poets have been arrested for allegedly criticising the government and/or inciting people through their work. People wearing traditional Oromo clothing have been arrested on the accusation that this demonstrated a political agenda. Hundreds of people have been arrested at Oromo traditional festivals.”

To their disappointment, however, president Obama’s entourage did not include a single human rights advice, for example, the pre-eminent Hollywood actor George Clooney, who support dozens of groups such as ENOUGH, which campaigns to end genocide and crimes against humanity in Sudan, Chad, eastern Congo, northern Uganda, and Somalia; and Not on Our Watch, which focus global attention and resources towards putting an end to mass atrocities around the world.

As he addressed leaders assembled in the African Union, the president must have been acutely aware that the gleaming building was a USD 200-million “gift” from China, which now dominates trade in Africa.

Seasoned commentators have noted that “today, the undeniable progress in business, innovation and entrepreneurship occurring in places like Kenya and Ethiopia has done two things: turned trade and investment, not human rights, into a priority for US diplomacy toward Africa and rendered unidimensional doctrines toward the continent obsolete. Much of that has to do with Sub-Saharan Africa’s rapidly changing realities, which are influencing a shifting political economy between the US and the region. The continent has also hit a number of demographic milestones, such as having the world’s fastest-growing populations and consumer class. Finally, it is also experiencing mass modernization of digital and hard infrastructure, such as broadband capacity, power, roads and bridges.”

No wonder, instead of criticising Ethiopia, as the human rights lobby would have loved, President Obama declared that “Ethiopian is an outstanding partner” in the fight against militant Islamists. President Obama also pledged more support to Ethiopian and other regional countries in their effort to bring peace to South Sudan. Obama is right to recognise that without peace and security, the US would not be able not reap from Ethiopia’s abundant but yet untapped market.

Not that these stark realities will stop the human right industry from continuing to campaign against Ethiopia. Their only disappointment is their sensational reports are unlikely to turn Ethiopia into another Libya, where the US intervened ostensibly to save the Libyans from Gadaffi only to deliver them into the abyss.

Ed.’s Note: Sam Akaki is Ugandan-born former independent parliamentary candidate in the UK’s May 2010 general election, and now executive Director, African Solutions. The views expressed in this articel do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at