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Obama Visit Puts Ethiopia’s Record in Spotlight

July 30, 2015 by Janelle P in Africa

U.S. President Barak Obama’s visit to Ethiopia on July 27 and 28, provided an opportunity for America to question its ally on the nation’s human-rights record, which has been criticized by global human rights watch groups.

While sharing the stage with Ethiopia Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Obama alluded to the country’s record: “[W]hen people know that they’re included in the political process, that makes a country stronger and more successful and more innovative. So we discussed steps that Ethiopia can take to show progress on promoting good governance, protecting human rights, fundamental freedoms and strengthening democracy,” Obama told reporters during a joint news conference in Addis Ababa, the nation’s capital and the seat of the African Union.

It had been hoped that the two leaders would have included a discussion on religious rights as Ethiopia ranks 22nd on the 2015 Open Doors World Watch List: an annual list of the countries where life as a Christian is most difficult. Neither Obama nor Desalegn took the opportunity to address the case of three Christians convicted of arson for a fire on May 26, 2014 that left an Ethiopian Orthodox Church building in the rural community of Gulema Iyesus (approx. 150 miles north of Addis Ababa) in ashes. A month after the fire, officials arrested two youth Protestant evangelists, Tibebu Mekuria and Dawit Jemberu, and charged them with starting the fire. They also arrested another Protestant Christian and small kiosk owner, Belete Tilahun, and accused him of funding the attack.

Although witnesses testified that the men were not near the building at the time of the fire and the single prosecution witness gave inconsistent testimony, the judge found all three guilty on October 28, 2014, and delivered sentences of up to nine years in prison to each of the men. After several rejected appeals, the case reached the Ethiopian Supreme Court on July 8, but their trial has been postponed until October 2015, apparently due to a lack of judges.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) is among the oldest churches in Africa, dating back to the fourth century. Throughout the history of Ethiopia, the EOC is the only church to have state religion status, but at the start of Ethiopia’s Communist era in 1974, church and state were separated and the EOC lost its state religion status.

However, the church continues to unofficially enjoy this standing and it retains a powerful voice in all state and religious affairs. Mahibere Kidusan, a conservative movement within the church, poses a growing threat to non-traditional Protestants. The group allegedly seeks to influence government policies to restrict the activities of other religions.

Prime Minister Desalegn belongs to the Apostolic Church of Ethiopia, an “Oneness Pentecostal” denomination. Because he does not belong to the unofficial “state” Ethiopian Orthodox Church, he has been accused of being biased in favor of evangelicals, which in turn has led to increasing pressure on them.

President Obama ended his 5-day visit to Africa by warning that the continent will not advance if its elected leaders refuse to step down when their terms end. “Nobody should be president for life,” President Obama said. According to the BBC News, he also condemned the repression of women, saying the, “single best indicator of whether a nation will succeed is how it treats its women.” His remarks came during a speech at the African Union’s headquarters in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa; this was the first time a sitting US president has addressed the body.

Source: World Watch Monitor

Father God, we come before you today praying for the leadership in all the nations in Africa, as well as for President Obama and America; “You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe… Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deut. 16:18-20). And, Father, we pray for Tibebu Mekuria, Dawit Jemberu and Belete Tilahun, who are now in prison. Lord Jesus, be with these men today, sustaining every need and providing comfort in times of distress. Also, we ask for opportunities to share Your love among fellow inmates. May this time in prison not be in vain; instead, we pray for a harvest of souls to enter Your kingdom. Praying in Jesus’ Name, Amen

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