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  • More Political Openness Would Strengthen Ethiopia, Says Obama 28 July 2015 | View comments

  • U.S. President Barack Obama told Ethiopia’s leaders on Monday that allowing more freedoms would strengthen the African nation, which had already lifted millions in the once famine-stricken country out of poverty.

    Obama was speaking after talks with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn during the first trip by a serving U.S. president to Ethiopia, one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies but which has often been criticised for its rights record.

    The opposition failed to secure a single seat in a May parliamentary election, while the United States has criticised Ethiopia’s detention of bloggers and journalists in the past. The government insists those detained have committed crimes.

    “The governing party has significant breadth and popularity and, as a consequence, making sure to open additional space for journalists or media or opposition voices will strengthen rather than inhibit the agenda that the prime minister and the ruling party have put forward,” Obama told a news conference.

    Hailemariam, speaking at the same briefing, acknowledged his country was “young democracy” that had more to do, but also said he had “minor differences” with the United States about the speed of that process.

    The Ethiopian Prime Minister noted a century of diplomatic ties with the United States but said the U.S. “investment flow doesn’t match.” He particularly noted that America was a leader in science and technology, which African needed more of.

    Ethiopia’s breakneck economic growth has been driven largely by state-led investment, which economists said is squeezing out private business. Hailemariam said the country had to do more to remove bureaucracy and bottlenecks to avoid deterring investors.

    The government has often turned to China to help build new roads, railways and dams in its bid to expand the industrial base in the largely agrarian economy. The new metro line that snakes through Addis Ababa was built by a Chinese firm.

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