United States President Barack Obama has returned to Washington after a two-day visit to Addis Abeba, the capital of Ethiopia, and the seat of the African Union (AU). The logical query would be, how can we assess the presidential visit? The phrase “presidential visit” is used here for want of any other appropriate expression for there was nothing by way of according him the usual protocol reserved for leaders of sovereign nations. No proper red carpet was rolled out, nor was there any gun salute squad.
A relation between a patron and subject was assumed on both sides. Just like an avalanche of welcoming folks were at the airport in Kingston, Jamaica to receive Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie I, a shower of rain poured down after a long spell of drought. That was taken as a good omen that reinforced the view of the Emperor as a Messiah, which holds to this day in the minds and beliefs of Ras Tafarians. You can find a small community of adherents settled at the outskirts of Shashemene.
Our officials, in an undignified way, were shoving and standing on their toes to have a good look at the president from a better vantage point, to reach for his hand as if he were the Messiah. This all seemed not befitting of top officials of this free and proud nation, proud of its freedom, proud of its ancient civilisation, and proud of its culture and of its diversity.
Every action of reception protocol was taken over by US security agents, alienating our officials, making them strangers in their own land. Even local media reporters were blocked out of the show and forced to borrow perhaps from foreign news reporters.
Like I noted in last week’s article, many observers did not know what to expect from the President. His public address to over 4,000 youth at Nairobi stadium was very much emphatic and to the point. He raised issues which African youth wanted to hear.
The next day, we watched Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and President Obama giving a joint press release. While the US President, coming from Kenya, was cautiously responding to questions, the Ethiopian Prime Minister seemed to lose his leadership esteem and pride, to answer questions off-the-cuff and impromptu instead of reading prepared answers.
A journalist asked President Obama about Ethio-Eritrea recent relations. The question was not lost on him.
His answer on political competition was very diplomatic. In fact, he stressed that democracy is inclusive and the ruling party would be better if it were less hegemonic on press freedom which could contribute positively to the development of democracy.
President Obama neither spoke to members of opposition parties, nor did he refer emphatically to the so-called democratic election that made the ruling party grab every seat in parliament. The Premier, on the other hand, spoke highly of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
But at the same time, officials of the Ministry of Education (MoE) were telling reporters that students from Grade Five to Grade Eight drop out of schools more than ever before. About 40pc were dropping out because they could not continue classes for poverty-related reasons.
People ask where the glory of our double digit economic growth is. Surely, figures tell the facts better than rhetoric.
President Obama comes from Washington DC where hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians live.
Our Ethio-American relations go beyond the search of profit and scramble for trade. Prime Minister Hailemariam almost pleaded to the President to bring investors with him as if trade is operated by order or presidential instructions instead of the law of economics.
Ethiopian soldiers are praised for their bravery and dying in the battlefield as if US sends them to take revenge. But Somalis are only our brothers. Al-Shabaab should be handled only politically, if possible. Bullets should be the last option unless killing brothers by blasting bombs has become a source of income for poor people.
But the double-edged sword, so to speak, was drawn out the next day. It was in the afternoon of the next day of his visit that the long-awaited intoned eloquence of the President was echoed in the conference hall of the African Union. Like all the rarely heard deliveries, he was addressing the summit, reminiscent of Mark Anthony’s inciting his fellow Romans to gang up against Julius Caesar.
He laid the basic historical and philosophical bricks on the ground and went on building up the ladder, one at a time, until the climax was reached. Using his own background as an example, he told the house even the US was not immune from criticism and explicitly cornered those who denied their people’s share of what they constitutionally deserve by their being human.
The concerned leaders could not enjoy everything he said. In fact, some may have realised, although belatedly, that some manipulations could have been done at least for the sake of mockery to bring down the 100pc syndrome, if anything. His speech was overwhelmed by a storm of animation and applause almost throughout his delivery.
We shall soon see whether or not change is going to come in the African continent sooner rather than later as President Obama would like it to.