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Susan Rice: Ethiopia’s election was “absolutely — 100 percent” democratic

Susan Rice

(OPride) — U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice on Thursday briefed reporters and responded to questions on President Barack Obama’s five-day trip to Ethiopia and Kenya. She talked about the president’s itinerary and priorities during his controversial stopover in Addis Ababa. 

Ambassador Rice said Washington had concerns about “the integrity of the electoral process” during Ethiopia’s recent election, in which the ruling party won 100 percent of seats in parliament, but said Obama thinks the election was “absolutely — 100 percent” democratic. 

Here are the relevant parts from the White House daily briefing as it pertains to Ethiopia. 

Susan E. Rice

This will be the President’s fourth trip to Africa — the most of any sitting American President. It will also be the first time that a sitting American President travels to Kenya, the first time a sitting American President travels to Ethiopia, and the first time a sitting American President addresses the African Union.

Susan E. Rice

The upcoming travel will go a long distance, as well, to advance our trade and investment relationship with Africa, as well as our continued work to help African governments strengthen their business environment and their capacity for regional and global trade.

Susan E. Rice

In this regard, the President will lift up the recent 10-year renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which we’ll also celebrate here tonight at the White House. And we’ll note what a strong signal that sends to our African partners that we’re serious about expanding and sustaining U.S.-Africa trade, including by helping to create new customers for U.S. businesses overseas.

Susan E. Rice

Congress’s bipartisan support for this legislation allowed us to secure AGOA’s renewal. And the President, as he has on past trips, has invited a number of House and Senate members to join him. We’re cognizant that Africa’s economic growth will support increased demand for U.S. exports, which, in turn, will help create U.S. jobs at home, and provide valuable investment opportunities for American businesses.

Susan E. Rice

And that’s why we’re intensifying our efforts to create an environment that enables greater trade and investment through encouraging regional integration, legal reforms that allow for the free flow of goods and services, greater transparency, and anti-corruption measures.

Susan E. Rice

The President will also stress the importance of strong, democratic institutions, respect for the rule of law, fighting corruption, and our support for open and accountable governance, and respect for human rights across the continent.

Susan E. Rice

This trip is an opportunity to voice strong support for the vital role played by civil society, as well as to call attention to other important issues, such as the global campaign to combat wildlife trafficking and to stress the importance of equal opportunities for women and girls.

Susan E. Rice

As we move on to Ethiopia, the President’s visit will reflect the fact that we have a longstanding, strong bilateral relationship with Ethiopia. Among our shared interests are facilitating peace in South Sudan, countering al-Shabaab in Somalia, and advancing Ethiopia’s growth and development, as well as promoting regional stability.

Susan E. Rice

And just as we work closely together in many arenas, we also regularly conveyed to Ethiopia’s leadership our concerns in such areas as press freedom, transparency, space for civil society, and the political opposition. So this trip is also an opportunity for to continue our frank discussions and to urge progress in these areas.

Susan E. Rice

While in Ethiopia, the President will meet with the leadership of the African Union, and speak to the whole continent from the African Union headquarters. The African Union is a leader on a broad array of global issues, including peace and security, health and agriculture. And we have come to work very closely with the African Union on this broad spectrum of issues.

Susan E. Rice

On Monday, in Ethiopia, the President will take part again in a bilateral program with the government of Ethiopia, including an arrival ceremony, bilateral meetings with the President and the Prime Minister, as well as a press conference with the Ethiopian Prime Minister and a state dinner. I also expect that the President will take part in a summit meeting with a handful of regional leaders on shared priorities, particularly the crisis in South Sudan and regional counterterrorism issues.

Susan E. Rice

On Tuesday, our final day, the President will participate in a civil society roundtable, and he will speak before the African Union, which, as you know, is headquartered in Addis.

Q : Ambassador Rice, I have a couple of questions to ask you. For Kenya and Ethiopia, particularly on issues of human rights, there are concerns about human rights issues when it comes to peaceful assembly in Ethiopia as well as silencing journalists and bloggers. And then when we talk about Kenya, Kenya in particular with the issue of same-sex couples, how is the President approaching these human rights issues as he travels and makes this historic visit? 

Susan E. Rice

For free, yes. (Laughter.) Let me address your first question first. I think as you all know well, we go to many places in Asia and Africa and the Middle East where we engage with countries and leaders with whom we have some questions and concerns about their human rights record, their respect for democracy and the rule of law. So there is nothing unique about this in the African context, but what is consistent is that wherever we go, whether it’s in Africa or elsewhere in the world where we have such concerns, we raise them directly and clearly, both in public and in private. And we will do that as we always do when we visit Kenya and Ethiopia.

Each of these are different countries with different contexts. Obviously, in Ethiopia in particular, we have consistently expressed concern about the treatment of journalists, among other issues. We noted that recently the Ethiopian government did release five journalists, which is a welcome step but they have a long way to go. And I think we have been very clear in our dialogue with them on this and other issues related to democracy and governance that we believe they can and should do more and better. And we look forward to engaging with them on this topic and similarly with the concerns that you raise that are specific to Kenya. But both these countries are very important longstanding U.S. partners with whom we have a broad range of issues, not just in the governance — in the interests, not just issues.

But in the governance space and the security space, in the economic space, we have a lot that we can do and are doing cooperatively and productively with these countries, and our aim is to be forthright about the concerns where we have them and strengthen and deepen cooperation in our mutual interests where we can. So that’s how we’ll approach it. I won’t speak for the President. I think you’ll have an opportunity to hear from him during the course of the trip about his personal ties to Kenya. I do know that he is very much looking forward to both the stops on this trip. And obviously when you go to a country where you have familial ties and you’re a sitting President, it’s a different deal than when you’re going as a private citizen or even as a United States senator. So there are certain constraints not only of time but of logistics that limit what he might do in a different context. But I’m quite confident that he’s looking forward to the trip and the opportunity to spend some time in private with some of his relatives.

Q : Can you speak a little bit more broadly to the security concerns on this trip? Are they higher than normal for a presidential trip, given the countries that he’s visiting and the situation like this? And also, to just follow up on what Christi was saying, does the President consider the presidents of Kenya and Ethiopia democratically-elected Presidents?

Susan E. Rice

First of all, you mean — okay, let me come to the second one. The short answer is, on the security side, Isaac, I think I should refer you to Secret Service for any detailed questions. But obviously we wouldn’t be taking this trip if we thought that security conditions precluded us doing so. But it is important to note that Kenya in particular — Ethiopia less recently — has been the victim of terrorism, primarily perpetrated by al-Shabaab. We are very concerned for the people of Kenya and for the region, that this threat remains a real one. And that’s why we’ve cooperated so actively not only with the African Union force in Somalia, which is countering al-Shabaab, but also in a bilateral way with the government of Kenya, the government of Ethiopia, and Uganda and others in the region that have experienced the threat from al-Shabaab.So it’s something that obviously, given their history and given the strong counterterrorism cooperation we have with the countries in the region, that we take seriously.

The democrat role — first of all, yes, I think we would say that the President of Kenya was democratically elected. That was a competitive process. I think the Prime Minister of Ethiopia was just elected with 100 percent of the vote, which I think suggests, as we have stated in our public statements, some concern for the integrity of the electoral process — at least if not in the outcomes then in some of the mechanisms that supported the process, the freedom for the opposition to campaign.

Q: So is that — but does he think that that was a democratic election?

Susan E. Rice:  Absolutely — 100 percent.

Q: Ambassador, you addressed already a little bit of the issue of human rights. Some aid groups have said that a presidential trip gives the White House a lot of leverage to press Ethiopia and Kenya on rights. Do you feel you’ve used that leverage? And do you expect any additional announcements of journalist release or other things along those lines from the Ethiopian government?

Susan E. Rice

I can’t speak for the Ethiopian government, Jeff. I can say that we always — not just in Africa, but around the world — when we are traveling to countries where we have concerns about the rule of law, human rights, corruption, whatever, democratic governance, we make those concerns known, publicly and privately. And we have done so continuously in the case of these two countries, and we’ll continue to do so. I think our interest is not in some gesture necessarily tied to the trip but in lasting change, which is sustained over time that benefits the people of these countries.

Q: Why didn’t Bill Clinton go (to Ethiopia)?

Susan E. Rice

I’m not sure why we didn’t go to Ethiopia or Kenya. I think one strong thing about Ethiopia that was less the case back then is the African Union, which back then was the Organization of African Unity, has come into its own and become a very strong force for unity and progress, frankly, on the continent. And so our partnership with the African Union has definitely strengthened and deepened. It’s been under this administration that we appointed an ambassador to the African Union. And in many ways, the strength and importance of that relationship has changed. We’ve always had an interest in Ethiopia’s progress, particularly after the end of the Derg. And we had Secretaries of State in the Clinton administration who went to Ethiopia and to Kenya, of course. But we did not have the opportunity for President Clinton to go. He took two trips to Africa, as you’ll recall. First one in 1998, where he went to I think six countries, and then a subsequent one where he — it was a shorter trip where he just went to two.


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