In Ethiopia, a stranglehold on freedom

When Secretary of State John F. Kerry traveled to Ethiopia last year, he met a young blogger named Natnael Feleke. When he returned a few months ago, Kerry found that Feleke, along with five other bloggers and three journalists, had been arrested — the latest in a long line of journalists the Ethiopian government has detained on the claim that they were trying to incite terrorism. Although Kerry addressed the arrests with officials he met, and President

South Sudan: Hard-won hope turns to ashes

It is our hope that President Obama will use the summit of African leaders he is hosting this week to launch a new chapter in U.S.-African relationships — one in which support for good governance will guide U.S. policy, in deed as well as in word. If not, the result is likely to be more of the very violence and instability that counter-terrorism is supposed to curb.

lRelated The heroic women of Nigeria are standing up to Boko Haram
Op-EdThe heroic women of Nigeria are standing up to Boko HaramSee all related

In our country of Ethiopia, the government maintains a stranglehold on freedom of expression. Journalists or activists who question the ruling party or its actions face arbitrary arrests and repression. After his April visit, when Kerry made the long overdue comment that it was important for anti-terrorist mechanisms to avoid curbing the free exchange of ideas, Ethiopian democracy activists around the world were thrilled.

Yet at the same time, we know that words, even from a U.S. secretary of State, will not be sufficient to counter years of repression and disregard for human rights. The Ethiopian ruling regime — like many others in Africa — has ignored criticism from abroad; indeed, Feleke’s and the other journalists’ arrests came just days before Kerry’s visit to Ethiopia.

See Also:  French president backs Ethiopia leader's sweeping reforms
See Also:  Egypt's el-Sisi in Sudan to discuss water, Halayeb | Sudan News

Such oppression, combined with systematic state corruption, have resulted in a narrow, monopolistic form of governance. Ethiopia’s much-touted economic growth has mainly benefited kleptocrats, while reducing standards of living for many. In rural Ethiopia, the government has opened vast tracts of land to foreign investors from Saudi Arabia, India and China, and has also allotted enormous tracts to government-owned sugar plantations — whose returns enrich regime insiders. Large dams have flooded indigenous lands, and are creating renewed conflict over land and water resources. Such tactics are not a recipe for stability — quite the reverse.

Yet, U.S. officials seem oblivious to how the Ethiopian regime exploits its role as a key ally in America’s war on terrorism to crush dissent and silence journalists and human rights activists.

Awareness of oppression in Ethiopia is growing. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) has been urging various administrations to reconsider support of the regime since the 2005 elections, when hundreds of peaceful protesters were killed. And in June 2013, Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) held a hearing called “The Future of Democracy and Human Rights” in Ethiopia.

We welcome this sort of pressure from the international community and specifically from the United States, and we believe that over the long term it can help bring about democratic change. President Obama, who is much admired in Ethiopia, should review U.S. policy and take a clear stand; his words must then be reinforced by the actions of his government.

Meron Ahadu and Lulit Mesfin are Ethiopian American democracy and human rights advocates.

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

Recommended For You

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.