Ethiopia’s foreign minister praised U.S. President Barack Obama’s historic speech to the African Union saying Africa needs genuine partners, not those who patronize it. Tedros Adhanom described Obama as wise and candid.
During his meeting with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Obama urged the government to allow journalists and opposition parties to operate more freely. He said creating space for journalists and opposition voices "will strengthen rather than inhibit" the ruling party's agenda.
Adhanom said Ethiopia’s democracy is a nascent democracy that is still under construction. He said Ethiopia will continue to listen to genuine friends and partners like the United States to help improve its young democracy.
“You know, the message to our continent was very important. Of course, some may agree, some may disagree, but it doesn’t matter because he was speaking his mind. One thing that really made me happy was when he started telling [us] what his suggestions are. He said, ‘I’m saying this as a friend and as a partner,’ and that was very kind of him because we don’t want someone who patronizes us. We need partners; we need to have our dignity,” he said.
Adhanom said Ethiopia needs democracy to unite and develop its diverse country. He said Obama made his appeal for Ethiopia to open up its political space in a humble manner.
“[Obama] even said no two countries can be the same, and we are not asking you to be the same as some of the mature democracies, in a very humble way. Not only because he said it, we also believe we have challenges; we have problems because we believe that our democracy is a nascent democracy. So, his remarks are not actually unfounded,” Adhanom said.
In speech to the AU, Obama warned the continent’s democratic progress is at risk from leaders who refuse to step aside when their terms end. He pointed to the political crisis in Burundi as an example.
“When a leader tries to change the rules in the middle of the game just to stay in office, it risks instability and strife, as we’ve seen in Burundi, and it’s often just a first step down a perilous path,” Obama said.
Adhanom welcomed Obama’s comments about term limits, but he said they are the creation of human beings and, whenever there’s genuine and popular support from the people of a particular country to change it, then it should be changed.
“The issue is whether the majority and whether the people at large are in support of it because they made the law and they can change the law. So, that should be taken into perspective. But, the most important thing here is whether the question to revise a constitution to increase the term limit is a genuine and popular question from the people or not,” he said.
Adhanom said he has no problem with a country that might want to amend its constitution as long as that decision is a genuine and popular one.
On the South Sudan conflict, Adhanom said, although some progress has been made in the peace negotiations, there remains an urgent need to reach an agreement by the August 17 regional (IGAD) deadline, especially considering the mounting civilian casualties.