Highlights from Pres. Obama and PM Hailemariam joint presser

Yesterday at noon, President Barak Obama and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn held joint press conference, following a bilateral talks at the latter’s office.

Here are the main points.

President Obama’s opening remarks noted:

* The fast economic growth in Ethiopia

* Prime Minster Hailemariam’s vital role in shaping of the policy for development agenda, dubbed Addis Ababa Action. Agenda, for the developing world, during the conference of Finance for Development that was held in Addis last week.

* The President noted, to have Ethiopia’s increasingly fast economy and development continue to grow, human rights and press freedom must be further strengthened, and he has discussed these issues in great length and depth, during his bilateral meeting with Ethiopia’s leaders.Photo - Pres Obama and PM Hailemariam Desalegn joint press conference

* The president has acknowledged Ethiopia’s important role fighting Al Shabab in Somalia, including the taking of two major towns from Al Shabab last week and Ethiopia’s army vital role in that success.

* The president acknowledged the contributions of Ethiopian-Americans, particularly the large Ethiopian community outside of Ethiopia that is residing in Washington, DC.

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s opening remarks highlighted:

* He has touted Ethiopia’s “impressive” economic growth, with the obligatory mention of “double digit”.

* He noted that “other than minor differences here and there, particularly on the pace the democratization process is going”, they discussed and agreed on many issues, including human rights and governance.

* He pledged Ethiopia’s strong commitment to root out Al Shabab and to fight terrorism.

* He acknowledged the need to to have continuing work on democracy and human rights, but insisted that we are on the right direction.

* He stressed the need of increasing American investment and trade, which does not match the over one hundred years diplomatic relationship of the two countries.

During the question and answer session:

An EBC correspondent asked a seemingly pointed question that implied Ginbot 7 and its leader, going to Eritrea, without mentioning both the name and the leader. The correspondent made sure to note that this organization was based in the US and Eritrea.

* President Obama said without any ambiguity that Ethiopian government is a democratically elected government, and the US opposes, anyone that tries to overthrow democratically elected governments.

* President Obama thinks the activities of Ginbot 7 (not mentioned by name, but implied), based on US standards of determining terrorism and gathered intelligence, does not amount to be terrorism. He, however cautioned that, if the United States is presented with facts that any said organizations are “tipped to violently overthrow a properly constituted government, then we have a concern”. He said that these facts are to be established with continued consultations and intelligence sharing with Ethiopian government.

* President Obama has said his “observations” indicate that EPRDF (he called it the riparty) is popular, yet it wants it to use its popularity to facilitate opening a space for dissenting voices.

* President Obama praised the Ethiopian military as one of the most effective in the continent, adding “Ethiopians are tough fighters”.

* President Obama spoke at length on Iran deal and what Republican presidential candidates and some seating senators (with out mentioning his name, he took a swipe at Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton for calling Secretary of State John Kerry, Pontius Pilate) about it, including ad hominem attacks that were launched by the likes of Senator Ted Cruz, who called him a “Sponsor of Terrorism”, because of the Iran deal. This portion of his response could be the large part of the coverage of this press conference by the media in the United States. In his response, the president chastised the Republican presidential candidates saber rattling, as an attempt to catch up with the unexpected rise of billionaire Donald Trump in the polls.

Fox News correspondent had an excellent frame of questioning to Hailemariam about the “Perception” of Ethiopia around the world on human rights, rather than framing it with the often presumptuous character of talking about human rights on Ethiopia, which is a habit of the western media and human rights organizations.

* Prime Minister Hailemariam limited his responses with short, concise answers.

* To the question of arrested journalists, the prime minister, shifted his arguments to lack of “ethical journalism” as opposed to the usual charge the government levels, which was “terrorism”. However, he alluded that ethical journalism dictates that journalists wouldn’t ally themselves with groups that are deemed terrorists. He also told to the foreign press to share their experiences to strengthen “ethical journalism” and raise the standards of the professional journalism in Ethiopia..

On a lighter note:

* President Obama liked the Lions at the national Palace..and wondered, he wished he had one at the White House..

* DC Ethiopians got a shout out from President Obama..

* President Obama acknowledged that we Ethiopians are “tough fighters”…

* No gay issues were raised, as many Ethiopians were afraid they would be..

* President Obama struggled to speak some Amharic words… Both times at the beginning and ending of his remarks he mangled them up.


Naty Berhane

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