Chris Blattman

Obama, authoritarian BFF?

“Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” Those were President Obama’s words when he addressed Ghana’s parliament in July 2009, during his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa as president. The historic speech, watched around the globe, was an optimistic clarion call to the leaders on the continent from the son of a Kenyan. “First, we must support strong and sustainable democratic governments,” Mr. Obama said.

The president seems to have forgotten that speech. Last week, the White House announced that, while traveling to Kenya next month, Mr. Obama also will stop in Ethiopia, the first such visit by a sitting U.S. president to the country of 94 million. It’s almost unfathomable that he would make time for an entrenched human rights abuser such as Ethi­o­pia while cold-shouldering the nation that just witnessed a historic, peaceful, democratic change of power: Nigeria.

That is a Washington Post Op-Ed. The most incredible part of this whole story: the Post editors thought African democracy mattered to its readers and the world. It’s a different era.

Personally, I think the Obama administration lost its democratic credentials when it dry humped Egypt’s coup leaders.

At least you could see the miserable strategic logic. But this Ethiopia business just goes to show that paltry little concerns, like troops in Somalia, are enough to abandon principle.

Then again, Susan Rice (Obama’s National Security Advisor) has always had a special place in her heart for African dictators who can get growth rates above 2%. She has a low bar.

But sincerely, I want to know: how does Obama the idealist justify cozying to a regime that is one of the worst oppressors of journalists, fixes and intimidates its way to victory at the polls, spies on international journalists and researchers, severely restricts freedom of expression and assembly, and that is getting worse not better over time?

10 Responses

  1. I think it’s reasonable to assume that the WaPo doesn’t care much about Africa, but rather enjoys some Obama-bashing — the same way that conservatives used to pretend to care about the Miskito people in Honduras and Nicaragua.

  2. This blog’s motto: “This ain’t the New York Times”

    Runner up motto: “Why don’t my pants fit anymore?”

    Some of the egregious errors corrected, thanks.

Comments are closed.

Why We Fight - Book Cover
Subscribe to Blog