ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- Three Ethiopian journalists were released from prison three weeks ago, ahead of President Obama's visit to the African nation. They are just some of victims who dared to criticize their government and went to prison for it.
Now, the three are speaking about that repression and one is willing to risk everything to have her voice heard, reports CBS News chief White House correspondent Major Garrett.
"I was in prison for four years and 17 days," Reeyot Alemu said.
"For one year, two months and 14 days," Zelalem Kibret said.
"One year, two months and 15 days," Edom Kassaye said.
Obama Takes on Entrenched African Power Structures in Speech
By PETER BAKERJULY 28, 2015
The New York Times
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — President Obama confronted the power structures of Africa on Tuesday and called for long-entrenched leaders to step down, using his stature as the first American president with African roots to try to reshape the continent’s politics.
As he wrapped up what may be his final trip to Africa while in office, Mr. Obama took on one of the region’s most enduring obstacles to democratic progress: its history of one-man rule by presidents and potentates who enrich themselves and hang onto power for years, if not decades, in calcified regimes.
“Nobody should be president for life,” Mr. Obama declared in a speech at the African Union, the continent’s umbrella organization. “Your country is better off if you have new blood and new ideas. I’m still a pretty young man, but I know that somebody with new energy and new insights will be good for my country. It will be good for yours, too, in some cases.”
Just 18 months from mandatory retirement under the Constitution’s two-term limit, Mr. Obama used himself as a model for giving up power. “I actually think I’m a pretty good president,” he said, departing from his prepared text. “I think if I ran, I could win.”
“There’s a lot that I’d like to do to keep America moving,” he added. “But the law is the law and no person is above the law, not even the president.”
The comments reflect a bitter issue in Africa: the attempts by some leaders to hold onto power well after their terms expire. Just this month, the president of Burundi pushed ahead with elections that gave him a third term in office, throwing his nation into upheaval in a move widely regarded as violating the country’s Constitution and the peace agreement that ended a devastating civil war there.
It is a theme that Mr. Obama struck forcefully during his visit to Ghana in 2009, when he declared that “Africa doesn’t need strongmen. It needs strong institutions.” Since then, the debate over inveterate rulers has continued to reverberate across the continent, with startlingly different outcomes.
The government of Burkina Faso collapsed last fall when protesters surged through the streets, denouncing President Blaise Compaoré’s plans to extend his 27-year rule. In Rwanda, lawmakers voted this month to support a constitutional change allowing President Paul Kagame a third term. And in the Democratic Republic of Congo, there are concerns that President Joseph Kabila will try to circumvent the two-term limit outlined in the Constitution by delaying the 2016 presidential elections.
Indeed, about half of the more than 50 countries in the African Union have presidents, prime ministers or monarchs who have been in power longer than Mr. Obama, some of them for decades. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has ruled Equatorial Guinea since 1979. Robert Mugabe has been in power in Zimbabwe since 1980. Paul Biya has governed Cameroon since 1982. Yoweri Museveni has governed Uganda since 1986. Omar Hassan al-Bashir has governed Sudan since 1989.
On the other hand, there have been transformative moments lately. In Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation, Africans celebrated in the spring when the party that had governed since the end of military rule peacefully stepped down after losing elections, a successful transfer of power in one of the world’s largest democracies. Unable to travel to Nigeria because of security concerns, Mr. Obama decided to mark that transition by hosting the new Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, in the Oval Office last week before departing for his trip here.
None of the long-ruling leaders Mr. Obama seemed to have in mind were on hand to hear his speech in person on Tuesday, but representatives of governments from around Africa attended, and it was broadcast live across the continent. The audience interrupted Mr. Obama with applause nearly 75 times, but it cheered and whooped the most enthusiastically when he talked about leaders who overstay their welcome.
“When a leader tries to change the rules in the middle of the game just to stay in office, it risks instability and strife, as we’ve seen in Burundi,” Mr. Obama said. “And this is often just a first step down a perilous path. And sometimes you’ll hear leaders say, ‘Well, I’m the only person who can hold the nation together.’ If that’s true, then that leader has failed to truly build their nation.”
The crowd cheered even louder when he said that he did not understand why leaders do not step down “especially when they’ve got a lot of money,” again going beyond his prepared text in a knowing reference to African officials who have accumulated great fortunes while in office, often through corruption.
Joseph Atta-Mensah, a Ghanaian who is a policy adviser at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, said Mr. Obama’s message was critically important. “One of the most important things was, in terms of good governance and institutions, the need for people to leave when their term is up,” he said. “They should leave and allow for new blood. I think that was good.”
Still, some analysts were skeptical about the potential impact of Mr. Obama’s remarks.
Obama Sows Seeds of Nutrition in Ethiopia
During his visit to Ethiopia, U.S. President Barack Obama took the time Tuesday to meet with Ethiopians who have benefited from U.S. development initiatives.
During a visit to a food factory, Ethiopian farmer Gifty Jemal Hussein beamed as she looked into the face of Obama and told him how he changed her life.
Through a U.S. development project started by Obama, she had access to better seeds, which vastly improved her corn harvest. That success allowed her to send her children to school, buy a cow and build a better house.
While Obama’s visit to this East African regional power has focused on the key issues of security and development, Ethiopia is perhaps best known for famine and poverty and has tried hard to shed that past.
Obama said the project, called Feed the Future, is trying to help Ethiopia do that. The United States has historically been the largest donor to Ethiopia, but Obama said the project’s goal is to work more intelligently, not just to pour in more money.
“With just a few smart interventions, a little bit of help, they can make huge improvements in their overall yields,” Obama said.
Obama visited a factory on Addis Ababa’s outskirts that, with help from American companies, manufactures fortified foods such as bread and baby cereals.
Faffa Foods manager Zeco Ebro said his factory represents a new model for Africa that allows the continent to improve its destiny from within.
Because Faffa Foods is a local manufacturer, it creates jobs and adds to the economy while providing a necessary product.
"Our factory’s special mission is producing nutritious food with affordable price to the whole population," Zeco said. "And that is what makes us special of being visited by the president of the United States of America."
For farmers like Gifty, however, these big ideas have very real consequences.
When asked about her reaction to meeting Obama, she grinned and offered a one-word response in Amharic: "amasegenalo," which means "thank you."
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