March 18, 2013
German President Joachim Gauck has begun a four-day official tour to Ethiopia.He is expected to meet Ethiopian leaders,civil society representatives and address the African Union.
President Gauck, who arrived in Addis Ababa on Sunday, met the Ethiopian Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalegn for dinner shortly after his arrival and was expected to meet his Ethiopian counterpart Girma Wolde-Giorgis on Monday.
The German head of state will also hold talks with members of Ethiopian civil society giving him plenty of opportunity to discuss freedom and individual liberty, a topic which the former Protestant pastor often raises at home.
Ethiopian and German human rights groups, including PEN Center Germany, have sent open letters to President Gauck calling on him to press for the release of political prisoners and journalists in Ethiopia.
Speech to the African Union
On Monday afternoon President Gauck was to address the African Union’s Council of Permanent Representatives.
According to his speech, details of which were released in advance, Gauck praised the progress that was being made towards democracy in Africa. “It fills me with enthusiasm that democracy in Africa is growing like this,” he said.
But he also said there was a darker side to the continent. Africa suffered from terrible wars and civil wars, the president said. “To deliberately abuse children by forcing them to kill is a particularly gruesome violation of human rights,” he added.
The president also reaffirmed that Germany and African Union would continue to work together on issues of mutual benefit in order to spearhead development and good governance in Africa.
Germany has been supporting for the AU for some time. Since 2006 Berlin has supplied 170 million euros ($220 million) in funding for AU development projects. They include support for the development of African peace and security architecture, for the planned AU Pan-African University and for the Pan-African agricultural program.
What Africa expects from the German president
The AU has sharpened its profile in recent years. Political crises are now handled better than they were by its predecessor, the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Nevertheless, German president and those accompanying him will want to know how the well-worn saying “African solutions for African problems” is going to be given a new lease of life.
During his visit the German leader is also expected to meet representatives of Ethiopia’s religious communities. Ethiopian Muslims have recently been complaining of government interference in religious matters.
Little appears to have changed in Ethiopia since the death of authoritarian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in 2012. Civil society and political opposition find that their freedom is still curtailed. Demonstrations are rarely permitted, and opposition parties are often denied access to meeting rooms.
At the height of the “Arabellion” in May 2012, a students and social media activists movement protested against the continued violation of human rights and the arrest of Muslims in Ethiopia.
From partnership to cold ties
In the mid-1990s, donor countries were very willing to give Ethiopia aid and the country was regarded then as a beacon of African renaissance.
But since the bloodshed that accompanied the 2005 elections, Ethiopia’s relations with Germany and other western countries have cooled and direct budget support has been cancelled.
Other reasons why Ethiopia is now shunned by the West are its rigid anti-terrorism laws, legal restrictions on the funding of non-governmental organisations and their activities and curbs on media freedom.