On The Scene: VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Aru Pande / VOA
ADDIS ABABA—President Barack Obama says the United States and Ethiopia are “strong partners” on many issues, but is urging the government to allow journalists and opposition parties to operate more freely.
In a news conference Monday with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Obama praised Ethiopia’s economic record, noting the country has lifted millions out of dire poverty, and said Ethiopia has played a vital role in fighting the Somali militant group Al-Shabab.
The U.S. president said he also held “frank discussions” with the prime minister, and that opening space for journalists and opposition voices “will strengthen rather than inhibit” the ruling party’s agenda.
Hailemariam said Ethiopia is committed to improving human rights and governance.
“Our commitment to democracy is real, not skin deep,” he said.
Rights groups have called for Obama to demand reforms from Ethiopia, where the government controls 100 percent of the seats in parliament and keeps a tight leash on the media.
While in Addis Ababa, Obama is meeting with the leaders of Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and the African Union to discuss the civil war in South Sudan.
At the news conference, the U.S. president said conditions in South Sudan are getting “much, much worse,” and said the United States and East African countries will discuss what can be done to forge a peace deal.
He said South Sudan’s president and opposition leaders have been stubborn and are looking out for their own self-interest rather than the interest of their country.
President Obama is the first sitting U.S. president to visit Ethiopia.
Obama said the U.S. will continue to work to advance Ethiopia’s economic progress, human rights, governance and access to electricity.