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June 15, 2021
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Obama visit to Ethiopia brings fresh eyes to the country, say Seattle Ethiopians

President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Ethiopia in July—the first visit for a sitting U.S. President— is an exciting moment for Ethiopian Americans in Seattle, and gives hope the attention will help erase the negative and outdated stereotypes of the African nation.

“It highlights how Ethiopia has taken the leading role to become a safe place to invest,” said Ezra Teshome, a successful Ethopian American businessman in Seattle.

While the U.S. was one of the most generous countries to Ethiopia in its dismal past,Ethiopians now in the U.S. hope Obama’s historic visit will start a new era of partnership in investment and trading between the two nations.

“It’s exciting to see a sitting  president  set foot in Ethiopia,” said Teshome, who came to the United States in 1971. “To me, seeing the first African American president visiting Ethiopia is very exciting.”

The White House announced last Friday that POTUS will be visiting Ethiopia in late July. The president plans to visit Ethiopia and the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, according to the announcement. The trip to Ethiopia will follow the president’s visit to Kenya.

The White House added that the visit underscores US efforts to work with “sub-Saharan Africa to accelerate economic growth, strengthen democratic institutions, and improve security.”

While Obama had visited  Ethiopia in 2006 as a senator, the presidential visit now is being welcomed by Ethiopian Americans living in Seattle.

Teshome noted the progress and modernization in Ethiopia over the past decade.

“I see tremendous changes in Ethiopia in terms of the economic growth, infrastructure such as roads and light rail system being built and major freeway being built connecting Addis to Djibouti,” he said.

“The government has done some good, some bad, but overall there is a tremendous, encouraging progress in the economy,” Teshome said.

Similarly, Elias Godifay a Ph.D student in Finance at Northcentral University and an accounting teacher at North Seattle College also has hopes that Obama’s visit will bring some positive attention to Ethiopia.

“What this means is, specially from the US side, it’ll open eyes to really invest and see with a new eye what Ethiopia is like right now and kind of leave the stereotype they (investors) have about Ethiopia.”

Godifay, who has been in the U.S. since 2003, says that U.S. investors seem to have retained old stereotypes of Ethiopia.

Such fears are unfounded, Godifay said.

“The country is stable and appealing to investors and recently Ethiopia has issued a bond for the first time but still rated B+(B1) by Moody’s which I think is a great achievement,” he said.

Godifay says Ethiopia is attracting a lot of Foreign Direct Investment from Asia and Europe but the US is lagging behind. He hopes the Obama visit to Ethiopia will make a difference.

“A time has come to give attention to Africa,” said Godifay. “Africa has been neglected for so many years because of inflated risks or some risks that don’t even exist such as political instability, lack of infrastructure and low return-on-investment.”

He thinks the visit will give a lesson to the entire world and mainly fellow Americans “who are behind the game when it comes to engaging and investing in Africa.”

Abel Ghirmai immigrated from Ethiopia more than 20 years ago and now works with immigrants through the city’s Ready to Work Initiative, says with the president’s “Power Africa” initiative and this upcoming visit, it’s now Obama’s moment to accomplish tangible benefits to Africa, much like the people who preceded him in office.

“Obama’s predecessors Bill Clinton and George Bush have really accomplished some tangible things. Bill Clinton did the AGOA (African Growth Opportunity Act) that significantly helped African nations. Also George Bush combated the HIV AIDS” epidemic, which Ghirmai noted had effective results.

Abel Ghirmai who has lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years, at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (Photo courtesy Abel Ghirmai.)
Abel Ghirmai who has lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years, poses at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (Photo courtesy Abel Ghirmai.)

The visit has not been without its critics, particularly those concerned about the free press. For example, the May 24 Ethiopian General Election showed a 100 percent election victory for the ruling party winning 546 of the 547 parliamentary seats, according to Ethiopian newspaper Addis Standard, was received with suspicion.

Kenneth Roth, the Executive Director for Human Rights Watch expressed his dismay on Twitter.

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However, Godifay, Ghirmai and Teshome said avoiding Ethiopia wouldn’t improve the issues of human rights and freedom of the press in that country.

“I think they may have some points but the absence of Obama’s visit doesn’t mean it will improve the situation. Probably not. I’d rather see him go and open a dialogue with the government to address the issues,” Teshome said.

Ezra Teshome, a businessman in Seattle who immigrated from Ethiopia in 1971, talks about his hopes for President Obama’s upcoming visit to Ethiopia. (Photo by Goorish Wibneh.)

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