The Washington Post
Published on May 6,2015
Regarding the May 1 editorial “Make-believe on Ethiopia”:
Ethiopia is a valuable partner in a critical region, from peacekeeping to fighting al-Shabab to pursuing peace in South Sudan. Ethiopia, among the world’s fastest-growing economies, has made significant progress toward its Millennium Development Goals.
But stability, security and economic development are sustainable only with the development of democratic values. Ethiopia has a long road to full democracy, as I publicly said there. As President Obama suggested, my comments were aspirational in hopes that the upcoming election would be a step forward. Later in the trip, I said, “Ethiopia is a young country in terms of democracy and over time we hope the political system matures in a way that provides real choices for the people.” I highlighted that more journalists are in jail in Ethiopia than anywhere else in Africa. Civil society leaders told me, “They are about solving problems and being advocates for people who don’t believe they have a voice.”
The United States maintains a frank discussion with Ethiopia regarding democracy and human rights. In my meetings in Addis Ababa, I expressed concerns about restrictions on political space, arrests and imprisonments of independent journalists and use of antiterrorism legislation to stifle political dissent.
It is unfortunate the editorial mischaracterized my remarks and, more important, underestimated the fullness of our bilateral relationship. The U.S. government closely monitors the human rights situation and works with Ethiopia to foster a true democracy as part of our valued relationship.
Wendy R. Sherman, Washington
The writer is undersecretary of state for political affairs.
When I grew up in Ethiopia, Americans built roads there and invested in education, agriculture and commerce. They showed us how to wash and dry our coffee. Consequently, quality, price and incomes improved. Ethiopia sold more than 50 percent of its high-quality coffee to the United States.
About 35 percent of Ethiopia’s development loans came from the United States. Pan American Airways helped modernize Ethiopian Airlines. Americans were our teachers and mentors in high schools and colleges.
After the Cold War, U.S. officials lost the motivation to invest in Ethiopia. Now China is lending money and building roads. India and Turkey are investing in agribusiness, manufacturing and banking. And U.S. officials are heaping praise on the regime in Ethiopia — their so-called key security ally in East Africa. But a free and democratic government is a better and more enduring ally than a repressive one.
The United States has not learned from its past mistakes of propping up dictatorial regimes in Africa.
Daniel Teferra, Madison, Wis.