Gonzalo Guajardo – ሻሎ አሸናፊ



Analysis of the first-ever visit of a sitting US president to Ethiopia.

August 2015 / Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

As rumors that Barack Hussein Obama, the first-ever sitting US president to come to Ethiopia, were confirmed by the White House a few weeks ago, people in this part of the world received the

_MG_2157 news with enthusiasm. However, skepticism soon followed due to the complete digital silence about the details of his visit. The when, the where, and the how were completely unknown to the media during the following days, leaving us in the dark. “Wore Tefá,” they would say here. “We know nothing anymore.” Obviously, for security reasons, we assumed; this is not Central Park, but rather the Horn of Africa, and caution must be exercised. It was only recently, after seeing him on the news ready to fly to Kenya, that we realized he was indeed coming to do his Africa Tour. We quickly requested press passes to attend his visit and cover this historical event. Many journalists were expected to come from everywhere, including international and local correspondents, many of whom were part of the US delegation itself. The number was so significant that even being part of an Ethiopian media corporation did not guarantee us permits._MG_2228 But we were granted the permits. Although we missed the first encounter with the current Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, as it was reserved for a selective group of correspondents, we were allowed to attend the meeting held at the African Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa during the second day of his visit. There, he would address hundreds of delegates not only from the continent but from all around the world. Before his arrival, preparations were in full swing in Ethiopia. Gardens were beautifully arranged, roads were quickly asphalted, Ethiopian police donned their most elegant uniforms, and federal authorities secured every corner of the city. CIA and FBI agents arrived in advance and carried out their street work. Cars were regularly inspected, and American and Ethiopian flags proudly fluttered along the main avenues. Beggars mysteriously disappeared from sight, and pictures of our esteemed visitor were displayed on the bridges where he was expected to pass. Ethiopians even composed a song and organized a parade to welcome him! Just as we prepare our homes for a special visit, Ethiopia prepared itself for this historical moment._MG_2141 In a country like this, where photography is madly obsessed over, and where everyone, from officials to unpredictable individuals, will question why you’re taking a picture – I couldn’t have chosen another country to practice my profession – I knew it would be challenging to move around and have comprehensive coverage of the events. However, I managed to navigate through the necessary but sometimes annoying controls, and I safely arrived at the meeting with my equipment ready to work. Surprisingly, I found an unusual environment of permissiveness within those walls, likely due to the international presence. In a country where working as a photographer is an adventure and a challenge itself, this was a welcomed exception.

But let us return to the main topic. What did his visit leave us? Why did Obama come all the way down here to the Horn? I believe he (or his team, if you prefer) was very intelligent in the way the messages were delivered. During the first meeting with the Prime Minister, he did not get into much trouble. He praised a few things here and there, talked about principles and the future of Africa, and provided advice, but not much more than that. He was concise, conservative, and polite. He left without going any further, leaving many people wondering what his visit would actually achieve.

_MG_2219However, it was during his address at the African Union headquarters that Obama truly made an impact. He delivered a powerful speech that resonated with the audience, both within Africa and around the world. He acknowledged Africa’s progress, highlighting economic growth, improved governance, and the potential for further development. He praised the entrepreneurial spirit and the young generation’s drive for change. Obama emphasized the importance of democratic institutions, human rights, and inclusive governance as crucial pillars for sustained development. But it wasn’t just empty rhetoric. Obama backed his words with concrete commitments. He announced a new initiative, the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), aimed at empowering and supporting the next generation of African leaders. This program would provide leadership training, mentorship, and networking opportunities for young Africans to develop their skills and contribute to their communities. _MG_2357Obama also stressed the need for increased investment in Africa, both from the United States and other countries. He acknowledged that while progress had been made, more resources and partnerships were required to unleash Africa’s full potential. He highlighted areas such as energy, infrastructure, and healthcare as critical sectors for investment and collaboration. Furthermore, Obama addressed the issue of governance and corruption, urging African leaders to prioritize accountability, transparency, and the rule of law. He emphasized that sustainable development could only be achieved when leaders acted in the best interests of their people and tackled corruption head-on.

Overall, Obama’s visit to Ethiopia sent a strong message of partnership and support to the African continent. It demonstrated the United States’ commitment to engaging with Africa on various fronts, including economic development, youth empowerment, and good governance. By highlighting the progress made and identifying areas for further collaboration, Obama sought to foster stronger ties between the United States and Africa, while also encouraging African nations to take charge of their own destinies. In the days following Obama’s visit, the media coverage was extensive, both in Ethiopia and globally. It sparked discussions and debates about the future of Africa, the role of external actors, and the responsibilities of African leaders. The visit brought attention to the continent’s potential and the need for sustained efforts to realize it. While the impact of Obama’s visit cannot be measured immediately, it certainly left a lasting impression. It provided hope, inspiration, and tangible commitments for the future. The Young African Leaders Initiative, in particular, has continued to thrive, empowering countless young Africans and fostering a network of change-makers across the continent. _MG_2367 In conclusion, Obama’s visit to Ethiopia in 2015 marked a significant milestone in U.S.-Africa relations. It showcased the United States’ recognition of Africa’s progress and its commitment to supporting further development. The visit left a positive impact by emphasizing key principles such as democracy, human rights, and good governance, and by announcing concrete initiatives like the Young African Leaders Initiative. Ultimately, Obama’s visit served as a catalyst for dialogue, collaboration, and renewed hope for Africa’s future.