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Ethiopia: Washington Update

January 25, 2013

By Mesfin Mekonen

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith

We have recently learned that Rep. Chris Smith has been invited by the Ethiopian government and the African Union to visit Ethiopia soon. Smith chairs the House Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organization Subcommittee. His trip is good news for Ethiopia, as Smith has been a vigorous supporter of human rights, democracy and economic development in Ethiopia. He is expected to visit opposition leaders and to press the government to abide by human rights and to allow free and fair elections. Smith’s visit could provide more opportunities for the opposition to get its message heard in Washington, and could lead to hearings and hopefully legislation.

In recent discussions with State Department officials, senior officials said they are encouraging opposition leaders to set aside their differences and work together for the sake of their country. Senior State Department officials are visiting Ethiopia and the African Union to discuss security and regional issues.

President Obama used his second inaugural address to remind the U.S. of its responsibility and opportunity to promote democracy around the world: “We will support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom.” Obama’s second term provides an opportunity for the U.S. to turn fine words in real actions — which it failed to accomplish during his first four years in office.

While Ethiopia is not on the top of policy agendas in Washington, the rapid transformation of the Arab world, and the current situation in Mali, demonstrate that countries can change quite rapidly. Ethiopia is approaching a decision point: it could become a free, prosperous nation, or, if the current policies are kept in place, it could descend into instability. These views are articulated in a new White House report. The National Intelligence Council recently released a report on Global Trends 2030. This report highlights the opportunities and dangers in Ethiopia’s future. On the one hand it states that Ethiopia, along with Egypt and Nigeria, “have the potential to approach or surpass South Africa in overall national power.” It adds that “the key will be better governance to further economic growth and social and human development.” The report also ranks Ethiopia as 14th among nations at highest risk of “state failure” by 2030. Its scenario for 2030 predicts that unless urgent action is taken to improve governance — which means transitioning to a real democracy that adheres to the rule of law and respects human rights — Ethiopia could “fragment along sectarian, tribal, and ethnic lines” and become a safe haven for terrorists.

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