AMSTERDAM— Heineken HEINY +1.93% NV will next month open a new brewery in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in what is the Dutch brewer’s latest push to expand in Africa, one of the world’s fastest-growing beer markets.
The brewery in Kilinto, on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, will be Heineken’s third plant in the East African country and will have an annual capacity of 1.5 million hectoliters.
The facility, which will produce local brands such as Bedele and Harar and possibly Heineken’s premium lager beer in the future, is meant to bolster the brewer’s footprint in the Ethiopian capital, said Siep Hiemstra, the president of Heineken’s operations in Africa and the Middle East, in an interview.
“We couldn’t serve the Addis Ababa region from our existing two breweries,” he said. “So this will strengthen our position in the country.”
Heineken’s expansion in Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous country, highlights the growing importance of the continent for the world’s top brewers.
Africa is one of the world’s fastest-growing beer markets thanks to its rosy economic prospects and emerging middle class. This has made the region a battleground for global brewers like Heineken, SABMiller SAB.LN +4.02% PLC and Diageo DGE.LN +2.21% PLC, as they seek to counter a slowdown in mature markets in Europe and North America.
“Competition is intensifying and that sharpens the game,” Mr. Hiemstra said, referring to Heineken’s main competitors.
By Nesru Jemal
Ethiopia and Israel on Tuesday agreed to further deepen all-round relations between the two countries.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman is in Ethiopia where he met with his counterpart Dr. Tedros Adhanom. He is also scheduled to meet Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and President Mulatu Teshome later Tuesday.
The two Foreign Ministers on the occasion signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Addis Ababa. According to Hilawe Yosef, Ethiopia’s Ambassador to Israel, the MoU incorporates political, economic and security cooperation.
At a joint press conference held after the meeting, Dr. Tedros said Mr. Liberman has reiterated his country’s readiness to step up its support for Africa in fighting terrorism.
Dr. Tedros said the security cooperation between Ethiopia and Israel includes intelligence sharing. “Today’s discussion is on how we can further deepen our cooperation,” he added.
Mr. Liberman for his part said the two countries have agreed to hold regular consultations through their foreign ministries.
“We are in the best page of our bilateral relations which goes as far back as two thousand years during the Solomonic era,” he said.
The current visit of the Israeli FM also aims to boost economic ties between the two countries.
More than 40 Israeli private businesses from the Israel Export Institute also accompanied Liberman, who is visiting Ethiopia for the second time in his current capacity.
The businesses are drawn from various sectors including agriculture and water technology, energy and mining, life science, information technology, banking, homeland security, infrastructure, consultancy and aviation.
Earlier the two foreign ministers opened an Ethio-Israel business forum at the Sheraton Addis.
The two day forum, jointly organized by Israel’s embassy in Addis Ababa and the Ethiopian and Addis Ababa Chambers of Commerce and Sectoral Associations, is aimed at boosting business to business ties between Ethiopian and Israeli companies.
The Israeli foreign minister, who is on a 10-day strategic Africa tour, will also visit Rwanda, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Kenya.
Bench Events, the organizer of the Africa Hotel Investment Forum, has announced that the event will now take place at the Sheraton Hotel in Addis Ababa.
The event, originally scheduled for Nairobi, will now head for the Ethiopian capital on September 29th-October 1st.
Alex Kyriakidis, president, Marriott International, Middle East & Africa, said: “I am very pleased that the next AHIF will give us the opportunity to take a closer look at Ethiopia. It has a tourism economy that is currently growing at 4.5 per cent per annum and that the World Travel & Tourism Council expects to grow at 4.8 per cent per annum for the whole of the next decade.
“That, coupled with its good air connections, make it a destination we want to explore more carefully.
“With AHIF here, we will have a great opportunity to meet good quality prospective local partners, which is an essential first step in making a successful hotel investment anywhere in Africa.”
AHIF was due to take place in Nairobi but a surge in interest from sponsors wanting to use the event for networking and promotion of their businesses led to concerns over physical space to accommodate increased numbers.
Matthew Weihs, managing director, Bench Events, said: “The speed of demand from new sponsors has taken us by pleasant surprise.
“I’d like to thank the InterContinental in Nairobi for being instrumental in allowing us to nurture this event. However, with over four months left, we’ve already reached capacity and with a strong pipeline of exhibitors, we felt a move to a bigger location now would mean we’d not have to disappoint anyone and we’d also be better able to reflect the growth story of the continent.”
“Bench had booked in to the largest five star hotel in Nairobi but looking at the physical layout, it could just not see how to fit in all the exhibition stands and all the people saying they want to come.”
“Last year’s conference attracted four hundred delegates and 27 corporate sponsors.
“Already, a similar number of sponsors had signed up and there is a pipeline of others, all expressing strong interest.”
The decision was further influenced by arguments from Ethiopian Airlines about its extensive route network in Africa, a highly competitive offer from the Sheraton Hotel in Addis Ababa and feedback from delegates requesting the event to keep changing destinations to enable them to capture a double benefit when attending AHIF of networking and widening their knowledge of Africa.
In announcing the decision to switch venues, Bench Events reiterated its appreciation to the government of Kenya, which has been a host sponsor for the last two years, and said that it would be assisting Kenya’s Tourism Finance Corporation, previously known as the Kenya Tourist Development Corporation, to hold hotel investment briefings in London and Dubai in the near future.
Jonathan Worsley, chairman, commented: “From our experience in Nairobi, I can say with real conviction that Kenya understands the importance of the tourism industry and it gets hospitality.
“It will be useful to the whole industry for investors to see how other countries measure up.”
For more information about AHIF, please go to the official website.
Sintayehu Beyene left Ethiopia planning to earn money to begin a carpentry business — he ended up captive in Yemen where Kalashnikov-wielding traffickers stole what little he owned.
Grabbed from a boatload of migrant workers as it landed on a Yemeni shore, he says the armed gang whisked him inland to a desert camp. Beaten and detained for nine days with about 30 other people, he was forced to hand over the 1,400 Ethiopian birr ($72) he was carrying before being released. He crossed to neighboring Saudi Arabia, where wages are sometimes more than double the rates paid in Ethiopia, only to be deported a month later when authorities cracked down on illegal migrants.
“They robbed and beat me,” Sintayehu, 31, said in a May 22 interview in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, recalling his treatment at the camp in northern Yemen five months ago. “They took all the money I had.”
Sintayehu may have got off lightly, according to Human Rights Watch. Ethiopians and other migrants arriving in Yemen have been captured and tortured by human traffickers planning to extort ransoms that can be more than $1,000 from their families, the New York-based advocacy group said in a May 25 report. One witness cited by HRW described captors gouging out a man’s eyes with a water bottle.
Torture is one of the dangers faced by thousands of Ethiopians who travel to seek work in the Arabian peninsula, where maids can earn $200 a month compared to the $90 the Ethiopian government estimated in 2012 that an average college graduate made back home.
Numbers traveling across the Gulf of Aden have risen this year even after Saudi Arabia, the intended destination for many, began mass deportations of unregistered employees. The number of African migrants in the northern Yemeni city of Haradh increased 10-fold to 8,000 between January and March, HRW said in the report titled “Yemen’s Torture Camps: Abuse of Migrants by Human Traffickers in a Climate of Impunity.”
While Saudi Arabia began expelling 160,000 illegal Ethiopian workers in November, the number of migrants traveling by boat to Yemen from Djibouti or Somalia increased to 8,356 in April, 56 percent more than a year earlier, according to the Nairobi, Kenya-based Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat, or RMMS. An estimated 82 percent of arrivals are Ethiopian, it said on May 16.
The number of people illegally traveling by boat to Yemen dropped to 65,000 in 2013 from 108,000 in 2012, HRW said, citing United Nations data. Aid workers say numbers fell during the second half of last year because Saudi Arabia tightened border security and threatened to deport illegal workers, according to the report.
“Some of the migrants encountered were actually re-attempting their journeys following deportation from Saudi and Yemen in the last couple of years,” Noela Barasa, an RMMS spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed response to questions on May 19 about this year’s increase. “A perceived labor gap following the massive deportations may be responsible for spurring movement.”
Ethiopia has temporarily banned citizens from traveling to work in Saudi Arabia until conditions improve and is “sensitizing the public” to the dangers of illegal migration, Foreign Ministry spokesman Dina Mufti said. The treatment of Ethiopians in Yemen wasn’t discussed during a recent meeting between government officials of the two nations, he said by phone from Addis Ababa. Yemen’s deputy foreign minister for political affairs, Hamid Alawadhi, said the government takes the HRW report “seriously” and has formed a committee including all authorities accused to discuss its allegations.
“Due to Yemen’s poor and limited resources in dealing with the flood of refugees and illegal migrants, as well as weak support from international institutions, there are problems related to this kind of asylum-seeking,” Alawadhi said. The government plans to issue a statement responding to the report, he said, without specifying when.
Yemen’s economy contracted 13 percent in 2011, in the wake of protests that ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the lost output won’t be recovered until next year, according to the International Monetary Fund. The nation is also battling an insurgency in its north and a threat from al-Qaeda militants.
Sintayehu, whose wife died of breast cancer last year, reckons he needs 50,000 birr to buy tools and begin a business in Ethiopia as a carpenter and painter, and a monthly income of 5,000 birr to support himself and his four-year-old daughter.
Before he began looking after his ailing father, he says he earned 80 birr a day on building sites in Ethiopia’s capital, where offices, hotels and shopping malls are sprouting up. That wasn’t enough for his needs, he said.
Economic hardship is the main reason Ethiopian arrivals in Yemen give for their journey, Barasa said. While Ethiopia, home to about 90 million people, has one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, with the IMF projecting expansion of 8 percent this year after average annual growth of 9.3 percent over the past four years, almost 40 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Agriculture accounts for 43 percent of gross domestic product and 82 percent of Ethiopians rely on subsistence farming, USAID said in a March 2012 report. Land is state-owned and the average plot size is less than a hectare (2.5 acres). Unemployment was 17.5 percent in Ethiopian towns and cities in 2012, according to the IMF.
Ethiopians sent home $3 billion in the last nine months, outstripping earnings from exports of goods of $2.3 billion, Addis Ababa-based Capital newspaper reported May 25, citing the National Bank of Ethiopia.
Wondiya Goshu, 31, says he left school before graduating and hasn’t been able to find work in his home country. He left for his fourth trip to sell an illicit alcoholic brew in Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, around the time his compatriots were being deported last year, he said.
Yemenis kidnapped him off the boat and contacted his friends in Saudi Arabia to extract a ransom of 3,500 Saudi riyals ($933). Wondiya stayed at a hot, lice-ridden camp for 28 days with about 60 others, surviving on tepid water and small portions of rice, he said in a May 22 interview in Addis Ababa.
The trafficking camps are near Haradh, where some government officials assist smugglers in an activity that may be responsible for about 80 percent of the area’s economy, Human Rights Watch said.
“Officials have more frequently warned traffickers of raids, freed them from jail when they are arrested, and in some cases, have actively helped the traffickers capture and detain migrants,” according to the report.
Illegally selling alcohol and washing cars, Wondiya says he earned 12,000 riyals ($3,200) in about two months in the Saudi city of Jeddah. He says he was later arrested, held at an immigration camp, stripped of his possessions and flown back to Ethiopia.
Such tales aren’t enough to discourage Sintayehu. He said he’d travel again across the Gulf of Aden — a trip that cost him a total of 6,000 birr last time — if he could only find the money.
“I am willing to work here, but the pay is low in comparison,” he said. “I wanted to take a risk; things are better in Saudi.”
To contact the reporter on this story: William Davison in Addis Ababa at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Richardson at email@example.com Michael Gunn, Karl Maier
The safety advisory the embassy said was issued due to threat from Al-Shabaab against Ethiopia and western interests in Ethiopia.
Citing to multiple and ongoing credible threats, the US embassy urged its citizens to take the highest precautions to maintain their personal safety and security.
“The Embassy continues to receive credible threat reports of Al-Shabaab’s intent and capability to attack Ethiopia and western interests in Ethiopia” it said in a statement Sudan Tribune received on Sunday.
The embassy said that there have been a number of incursions along the Ethiopian-Somali border in recent weeks urging its citizens to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to enhance personal security.
“While there is no known specific information regarding the timing or location of an attack, we would like to remind U.S. citizens to be especially vigilant in areas where large numbers of US and western citizens congregate, including restaurants, hotels, bars, places of worship, supermarkets, and shopping malls” the statement said.
The embassy highly recommended for Americans living in Ethiopia and those travelling to Ethiopia to enrol in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
“The STEP enrollment gives you the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the U.S. embassy or nearest U.S. consulate to contact you in an emergency. If you don’t have Internet access, enrol directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate” it added.
Ethiopia, which is a regional security partner of the United States government, has a deployed forces in war torn Somalia to help the weak government battle the Al-Qaeda-allied Al-Shabaab group.
In the past Al-Shabaab has repeatedly warned to carryout massive attacks in Ethiopia in retaliation for its military intervention and Addis Ababa takes such threats seriously.
However government officials often disclose that the country’s defence force and intelligence are capable enough to thwart Shabaab’s terror plots and to defend the country from any external enemy.
Addis Ababa says it will remain determined to keep its troops in Somalia till order, peace and security is fully restored in Somalia.
However Ethiopian opposition politicians on the contrary call on government for immediate pull-out arguing keeping the troops longer will increase the risk of retaliation attacks against the horn of Africa’s nation.
Source: Sudan Tribune
A U.S. management consultancy has won a short contract to run Ethiopia’s just-launched state-owned cash-and-carry chain, officials said, the first such concession given to a foreign company by a country that tightly controls its retail industry.
A.T. Kearney will run the Alle wholesaler for two-and-a-half years, similar to other management deals that have on rare occasions been offered to foreigners in other prized but protected areas, such as telecoms.
Ethiopia’s fast-growing market of 90 million people has lured foreign investors, including from Sweden, Turkey and India, to its manufacturing and agri-business sectors. But laws prevent international firms from entering sectors viewed domestically either as cash-cows or as politically sensitive.
Before Monday’s launch of the wholesaler Alle, Reuters revealed that Ethiopia – once run by communists – was pushing the door ajar to foreign retailers by offering management deals although it is keeping the state in control.
“We are an independent management company,” said Mirko Warschun of A.T. Kearney, which had advised on setting up Alle.
“Our work on behalf of the Ethiopia’s Ministry of Trade gave us the opportunity to take this much further – to reduce food price inflation and modernise trade,” he said, in comments at the Alle launch late on Monday.
Ethiopia has said it needs to modernise its supply and distribution networks and encourage competition to cut costs and keep down inflation, which leapt to 40 percent in 2011 when food prices surged and government price caps led to hoarding.
Trade Minister Kebede Chane said Ethiopia had looked into opening up the market to international companies such as Walmart as well as launching a state-owned “Walmart-like company”.
“The current unfortunate status of Ethiopian businesses, which are not ready to compete with international (companies) like Walmart … made government lose interest in the first option,” Kebede said at the launch.
Ethiopia’s private sector is not yet three decades old. During the 1970s and 1980s, the country’s communist leadership – best known for “Red Terror” purges and a 1980s famine – nationalised businesses and ran the economy into the ground.
While Ethiopia is now among sub-Saharan Africa’s fastest growing economies and its fifth biggest, it has spurned the liberalising approach of other African markets.
It has held control of its telecoms monopoly and kept foreigners out of retail and banking, while opening up its manufacturing industry to help create jobs.
Although Alle is state-owned, the government promises it will be run like a private firm.
The wholesaler’s interim director, Nuredin Mohamed, forecast Alle would control about a quarter of the wholesale market. Ethiopia’s leading commerical bank, the state-owned Commercial Bank of Ethiopia was financing 600 million birr ($31 million) of the 1 billion birr start-up capital, he said.
A.T. Kearney’s Warschun dismissed worries that other wholesalers would be crowded out. “There is huge opportunity for other competitors in the market because Ethiopia is growing, the market is growing, the middle class is developing,” he said. ($1 = 19.5625 Ethiopian birrs) (Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Louise Ireland)
Source: Reuters – By Binyam Tamene
Ethiopia may delay plans to join the World Trade Organization in 2015 if the country is required to liberalize its tightly regulated telecoms and banking industries sooner than it would like, the trade minister said.
Kebede Chane told lawmakers late on Tuesday that member countries had raised dozens of questions with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s government, focusing on the time frame for opening up the service sector to international competition.
Ethiopia’s fast-growing market of 90 million people has lured foreign investors from Sweden, China and Turkey to its manufacturing sector. But laws deny outside firms access to areas viewed domestically as cash-cows or politically sensitive.
Washington, which wants Ethiopia to allow more competition, said it was committed to renewing its African Growth and Opportunities Act with Addis Ababa, an accord that gives Ethiopia-made textiles preferential access to U.S. markets.
“A lot of issues are being raised regarding the service sector,” Kebede said in parliament, referring to the telecoms, banking and power industries. “We are being asked to clarify our timetable for privatizing these sectors.”
Addis Ababa, with its strong state-interventionist policies, has one of sub-Saharan Africa’s fastest growing economies and its fifth biggest.
But it has spurned the liberalizing approach of other African markets to shield its infant private sector from foreign competition and to keep profits at home.
Reuters revealed this week that Ethiopia – once run by communists – was pushing the door ajar to outside investors by offering management of government-owned enterprises while leaving the state in full control.
U.S. retail giant Walmart’s unit Massmart told Reuters Ethiopia offered a “compelling growth opportunity.”
“[Washington] is interested in ways to update the legislation to encourage diversification within Africa’s economies, which will better support the continent’s growth, development and competitiveness,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said in a statement after visiting Ethiopia.
Other big brands are prising open the door in areas opened up by the government. Drinks giant Diageo DGE.L bought a brewery and fashion retailer Hennes & Mauritz makes garments in Ethiopia. Trade officials said last year that Unilever and Nestle were both sniffing around.
However, Ethiopia has held onto control of its telecoms monopoly and kept foreigners out of retail and banking.
A U.S. management consultancy firm this week announced its deal to run Ethiopia’s just-launched state-owned cash-and-carry chain, the first such retail concession.
Kebede said Addis Ababa was under pressure to deepen reform to liberalize its service industries before the conclusion of its current five-year economic plan ending in 2015.
“We need to give serious thought to this issue,” Kebede said. “Right now, our economy is small and still needs to develop a lot.”
The minister cited Asian powerhouse China, which he said took 50 years to accept membership into the global trading club.
New WTO rules adopted in 2012 lowered the bar for joining for the world’s least developed countries. They allow members to open fewer sectors, liberalize fewer types of transactions, and only open up their markets as their economies develop.
“We are now looking into which laws are compatible with WTO’s regulations and which are not. We are taking one step at a time. As a result, membership might not be completed [in 2015],” Kebede said.
In an unprecedented manner, the government of China is going to extend a 500 million dollar loan to Ethiopian Airlines to finance Boeing jetliner purchases.
During Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s state visit to Ethiopia last week, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Ethiopian Airlines and ICBC Financial Leasing Co., Ltd.
A senior official at Ethiopian told The Reporter that the MoU relates only to Boeing aircrafts but in the future it can be extended to other fleet types. “The understanding is for 500 million dollars in financial facility. The loan negotiation will be the next stage,” the official said.
The senior official said that it was the first time that a Chinese bank had taken the lead in providing aircraft financing to Ethiopian. However, ICBC was already a junior loan partner in the B777-200LR freighter deal.
According to the MoU, ICBC Leasing will provide Ethiopian Airlines with financial support for its fleet expansion plan, including but not limited to B737 and B787 aircrafts in the form of finance lease, sale and lease back, commercial loans or operating lease from ICBC Leasing’s Boeing order.
Ethiopian said the MOU was one of the largest financial cooperation in the aviation industry between the two countries, which is an important step for China’s financial industry to go international.
“We are delighted to work with Ethiopian Airlines – the top leading operator in Africa, and to support its fleet expansion.” Chief Executive Officer of ICBC Leasing, Cong Lin, said “The MoU marks a significant milestone between China’s Lessors and African airlines, which will promote deep financial cooperation between China and Africa.”
ICBC Leasing, a wholly owned subsidiary of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), with a registered capital of 11 billion Yuan, was founded in November 2007. ICBC said it was the largest and the most innovative Lessor in China. With domestic and foreign assets of 200 billion Yuan as of the end of March 2014, it manages more than 380 aircraft, of which 168 were delivered to more than 50 domestic and foreign world-class airlines. ICBC Leasing claims to be the top aviation leasing company in China and one of the leading Lessors in the international aviation leasing market.
“We are pleased to have ICBC Leasing, a leading global leasing company, as a strategic partner.” Chief Executive Officer of Ethiopian Airlines, Tewolde Gebremariam, said. “The cooperation with ICBC Leasing and its parent company ICBC Bank, the largest commercial bank in the world, will support our Vision 2025 of fast, profitable and sustainable growth strategy. We look forward to a long-term and mutually beneficial partnership with ICBC.”
Chinese banks are financing the ongoing construction of Ethiopian’s five- star hotel and new maintenance hangar.
China is not known in the global aviation industry for manufacturing and supplying aircraft for international carriers. However, the introduction of a new regional jetliner by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) was a success.
In 2010, COMAC announced its plan to manufacture a narrow body aircraft with a seat capacity of 158-174. The regional aircraft – COMAC C919 – will be the largest commercial airliner designed and built in China. The aircraft is currently under development. Its first flight is expected to take place next year, with first deliveries scheduled for 2016.
So far COMAC has won 400 orders for the C919, the mainland’s largest locally produced aircraft intended to compete with the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 narrow body jetliners. Aviation experts forecast that COMAC will be a strong competitor of Boeing and Airbus in 20 years’ time. According to aviation experts, COMAC’s immediate focus is on the domestic market in China but it could break the duopoly by Boeing and Airbus after 20 years.
Sources told The Reporter that COMAC has an interest in selling the C919 to Ethiopian. When asked if ICBC’s financing could be a sign of Ethiopian interest to buy Chinese made aircrafts, the senior executive said “this is purely a financial facility arrangement. Aircraft evaluation is done purely on technical consideration by experts, fitness for mission (meeting our network requirement) and fleet commonality for cost consideration.”
Established in 1945, Ethiopian is a national flag carrier that currently serves 80 international destinations across five continents with over 200 daily flights, and using the latest technology aircrafts including B777s and B787s.
ICBC Leasing is the largest bank in the world by total assets and market capitalization. It is one of China’s ‘Big Four’ state-owned commercial banks. It was founded as a limited company on January 1, 1984. As of March 2010, it has assets worth USD 1.9 trillion, with over 18,000 outlets including 106 overseas branches and agents globally. In 2013 and 2014, it ranked number 1 on Forbes Global 2000 list of World’s Biggest Public Companies, and number 1 in The Banker’s Top 1000 World Banks ranking – the first time ever for a Chinese bank.
Seven people were killed during protests in a western Ethiopian town over the expansion of the capital, Addis Ababa, General-Secretary of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress Bekele Nega said.
The police opened fire on April 29 in Ambo as demonstrators invaded the state-owned Construction and Business Bank after a security guard shot dead a male protester, Nega said today by phone. Communications Minister Redwan Hussein and State Minister of Communications Shimeles Kemal didn’t answer their phones today when called for comment.
Protests by Oromo people, Ethiopia’s most populous ethnic group, have been taking place for the past week, mostly around universities in several towns across the Oromia region, which surrounds Addis Ababa, Nega said.
One person died and about 70 others were injured in a blast at Haromaya University in the east, pro-government Fana Broadcasting Corp. said on its website yesterday, citing a Communications Ministry statement.
By William Davison
To contact the reporter on this story: William Davison in Addis Ababa at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Nasreen Seria at email@example.com Sarah McGregor, Karl Maier
US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Ethiopia on Thursday to allow greater freedoms for civil society and journalists, expressing concern for a group of bloggers and journalists arrested last week.
“They need to create greater opportunities for citizens to be able to engage with their fellow citizens and with their government by opening up more space for civil society,” Kerry told reporters.
Rights group accuse Ethiopia of having one of the most closed press environments in the world.
“I am raising a very legitimate concern, we are concerned about any imprisoned journalist here or anywhere else,” Kerry added, following a meeting with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
Washington is one of Ethiopia’s largest donors, and Kerry urged Addis Ababa to support a free press as an essential precursor to a legitimate democracy.
“The work of journalists, whether it’s print journalism or the Internet or media of other kinds, makes societies stronger, makes them more vibrant and ultimately provides greater stability and greater voice to democracy,” he said.
Nine people were arrested last week on charges of “serious criminal activities”. Rights groups said they were journalists and bloggers targeted in a sweeping crackdown against free speech.
Ethiopia has been accused of cracking down on independent media and has doled out several heavy sentences for journalists charged under controversial anti-terror legislation.
“We shouldn’t use the anti-terrorism proclamation as mechanisms to be able to curb the free exchange of ideas,” said Kerry.
The secretary of state is in Ethiopia as part of his first major Africa tour, aimed at addressing bloody conflicts in several troubled countries including South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Kerry is due to travel on to DR Congo and Angola on his Africa trip, which runs until May 5.