Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman, US Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, paid a day-long visit to Ethiopia on Wednesday, November 7th, as part of a visit to various African countries including Uganda, Somalia and Kenya over the previous few days. During her stay in Addis Ababa, Ambassador Sherman met and held discussions with Prime Minister Hailemariam, Ambassador Berhane Gebrechristos, the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs and Ato Bereket Simon, Minister of Government Communications Affairs.

Prime Minister Hailemariam welcomed the American delegation led by Ambassador Wendy Sherman, and congratulated her on the successful US presidential election. Ambassador Sherman, who said it was the first time she had been abroad on Election Day, took the opportunity to express her deepest condolences on the untimely death of the late Prime Minister Meles. She said the US considered Ethiopia to have a mature democracy and a long history of statehood and the country’s smooth transition of power had been no surprise. She noted that Ethio-US relations were close and getting deeper in all facets of their bilateral relationship.

Prime Minister Hailemariam thanked Ambassador Sherman for her remarks and for the response of the people and government of the United States to the death of the late Prime Minister and for the thoughtful speech delivered by Ambassador Rice at the funeral ceremony. The democratic system and constitutional setup now in place had produced a peaceful, legal and stable transition. He pointed out that Ethiopia’s democracy was only twenty years old but in that period it had had four very different elections. Democracy and democratic thinking had to be embedded in a culture. He stressed that opposition parties should sign the Code of Conduct for Political Parties, as an indication that they had renounced violence. They should give in to the peaceful democratic culture. This culture was a process and it was one on the right track. Ethiopia, he said, could not function without democracy as it was a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society with a huge proportion of young people whose needs and aspirations were of critical importance.

The Prime Minister said many foreign observers often missed the fact that the country was now successfully addressing two major issues. One was the past of ethnic oppression when peoples’ rights as a group were not respected, resulting in inequality and injustice. The second was the question of freedom of religion and the necessity of having a secular government. The Prime Minister noted that despite the positive steps taken by the government to address the grievances of the past, there were still extremists from ethnic groups who had fled the country and opted for a violent solution. This, however, had no place in the current Ethiopian reality. Any deficiencies that needed to be addressed could be discussed within the country’s constitutional framework. The government was prepared for a peaceful dialogue; it would like all to put down their arms and talk.

Ambassador Wendy said that she was impressed by the inclusive nature of democracy in Ethiopia. She thought Ethiopia had done an incredible job in improving its economy and she appreciated the growth of Ethio-US commercial ties, mentioning the upcoming US-Ethiopia Agribusiness meeting organized by the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) in Addis Ababa and a recent GE US$100 million deal for railway signalling equipment.

On bilateral matters the discussion focused on the strengthening of cooperation in the areas of peace and security, democracy and good governance and the promotion of economic growth and development. Regional discussions covered developments in Somalia, progress on Sudan and South Sudan negotiations and Eritrea. Prime Minister Hailemariam said there seemed to be real hope for Somalia now. The approach now being taken to solve the Somali problem, through a Somali-led process supported by IGAD and neighboring countries and then by Africa and the rest of the world, was working.

On Sudan and South Sudan, Prime Minister Hailemariam said the agreement on oil was going smoothly, and the border trade and security arrangements could also be said to be moving in the right direction. The toughest issue still on the table was Abyie and the Prime Minister said the international community must encourage the two sides to find a lasting solution. On Eritrea, the Prime Minister noted that the regime in Asmara was arming all its civilians, and that recently there had been a high number of refugees crossing the border, most of them soldiers. He said that Eritrea was currently attempting to reach out to the international community in a bid to get support to lift the sanctions on Eritrea, but this was only to try to find a solution to the problems of the regime and did not indicate any change in its behaviour

Ambassador Sherman also held talks with Ambassador Berhane
Gebrechristos, Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, on bilateral issues and ways to strengthen bilateral ties in areas of mutual interest. They exchanged views on various political issues including religious extremism and covered regional matters with an emphasis on Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Eritrea. Ambassador Berhane also briefed the Under Secretary on the progress and performance of the five year Growth and Transformation Plan.

During her earlier visit to Mogadishu, Ambassador Sherman had welcomed the appointment of the new Somali cabinet by Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon, and said the United States was pleased to see that the new cabinet included two women. This was a positive reflection of the important role women played in all aspects of Somali life, she said. Ambassador Sherman stressed her conviction that Somalia was now a place of hope, not of despair. She affirmed the centrality of the Somali government and people in guiding international support to the country and urged the Somali leadership to continue to consolidate gains by helping local governance structures emerge from community dialogue and reconciliation. She also encouraged Somalia’s civil society and business community to engage with emerging governmental institutions. She praised the “extraordinary” work of Somalia’s new parliament to rebuild the country under difficult circumstances. During her visit to Mogadishu she met with President Hassan Sheikh Mahamud, the Speaker of the Federal Parliament, Mohammed Osman Jawari, with the AMISOM Force Commander, Lieutenant-General Andrew Gutti, and leaders of Somalia’s civil society and business community.

* Originally published on A Week in the Horn – Nov. 9, 2012 issue, titled “US Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs in Addis Ababa”. Items from A Week in the Horn are re-published here with a permission to do so.

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