Thinking Aloud: Obama’s Misguided Ethiopia Trip

July 22, 2015 by Darius 

This Friday, President Obama is set to begin a tour of several African countries.  Among the countries Obama is scheduled to visit is Ethiopia; Obama’s trip will be the first time a US president has visited Ethiopia.  I’m as much for diplomatic outreach as the next person, but President Obama should not be setting foot anywhere near Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s regime ranks 110th in the world in corruption, behind China and Egypt.*  In press freedom, Ethiopia does even worse, ranking 142nd in the world, behind Venezuela and Zimbabwe (places it’s hard to imagine President Obama visiting).**  Obama cannot even claim Ethiopia is pursuing democratic reforms.  In the latest elections, held this year, which were of course thoroughly rigged by the government, the ruling party did not see fit to allow the opposition to win a single seat in parliament.  In short, the Ethiopian regime in no way reflects the values the US tries so hard to project around the world.

Obama’s visit may seem innocuous enough, but it will have serious consequences for the people of Ethiopia, the region, and the world.  The United States is still seen around the world as the most important country and, often, as a beacon of freedom.  The inevitable photo ops from Obama’s Ethiopian visit will be used by the Ethiopian regime as proof that the United States approves of it and its practices.  The regime wouldn’t be wrong: Obama is choosing now to make his first ever visit to Ethiopia.  As a result of the visit, some of the resentment felt by Ethiopians towards their government will be shifted onto the United States for condoning the government’s atrocious behavior.  It isn’t just Ethiopia: this pattern is repeated all over the world, from Africa to Afghanistan and in between.

The US should certainly be engaging with Ethiopia diplomatically.  A presidential visit, though, should be reserved for countries that either share US values or are at least heading down the right path.  Ethiopia is neither.  Obama’s trip sends the wrong message to the world on every level.

* Transparency International 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index

**  Reporters Without Borders 2015 Press Freedom Index

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