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President Obama recently visited Ethiopia, the first sitting U.S. president to do so. Near the end of his trip, Obama spoke at a press conference and, when asked whether the U.S. would assist Ethiopia combat dissenting political groups, said: " "Our policy is that we oppose terrorism wherever it may occur. And we are opposed to any group that is promoting the violent overthrow of a government, including the government of Ethiopia, that has been democratically elected."
His remarks elicited some criticism from human rights advocates, who say Ethiopia is a far cry from an ideal, open democracy. In the country's May elections, the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front party won yet again, extending their dominance more than 25 years straight.
While those in power live well, much of Ethiopia's population lives in poverty. The World Bank reports that 30 percent of Ethiopians live below the poverty line. Several watchdog groups attribute this to rampant corruption between business and government sectors. Transparency International issued a report saying there is minimal transparency in public institutions, widespread bribery, and little to no oversight of government employees.
For those trying to change things in Ethiopia, it can be very challenging if not outright dangerous. Political dissent is heavily suppressed. During the 2005 election, police killed 22 protestors. It's also common for journalists and political activists to be imprisoned and tortured by authorities. Yet, in spite of all this, Ethiopia remains an important U.S. ally in the region, where extremism is on the rise.
"In 2014 the Ethiopian government continued to suppress free speech and associational rights, shattering hopes for meaningful reform under Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn."
Can Ethiopia's Resource Wealth Contribute to its Growth and Transformation? (worldbank.org)
"Ethiopia has averaged a 10.7% economic growth rate over the last 10 years, more than double the annual average of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, which was around 5.2%."
Overseas Business Risk - Ethiopia (gov.uk)
"Ethiopia is a federal democratic republic with its separate regions demarcated on ethnic lines."
Corruption Perceptions Index 2014: Results (transparency.org)
"Poorly equipped schools, counterfeit medicine and elections decided by money are just some of the consequences of public sector corruption."