Hey, maybe they’re just really popular

President Obama is in Ethiopia, and yesterday he decided to say something nice about his hosts:

The US president was speaking at a joint press conference with Hailemariam Desalegn, the Ethiopian prime minister, after the two leaders held talks in the capital, Addis Ababa.

Although Obama said he had raised issues of good governance – “I don’t bite my tongue too much when it comes to these issues” – he also insisted: “We are opposed to any group that is promoting the violent overthrow of a government, including the government of Ethiopia, that has been democratically elected.”

Answering questions from journalists later, Obama repeated the phrase: “We are very mindful of Ethiopia’s history – the hardships that this country has gone through. It has been relatively recently in which the constitution that was formed and the elections put forward a democratically elected government.”

And, hey, not only is Ethiopia’s government democratically elected, it’s like super “democratically elected“:

Ethiopia’s ruling party and its allies achieved a clean sweep in last month’s general election, winning all 546 parliamentary seats, the final results showed.

Prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) scored a landslide victory, stripping the opposition of the one seat it had held in the outgoing chamber, said Merga Bekana, chairman of the electoral board on Monday.

Wow! That sure is a “democratic” “election” that happened there! I’m sorry, what’s that?

Opposition activists have accused the authorities of irregularities and squeezing them out of politics in this latest and previous votes, a charge government officials dismiss.

No — irregularities? Look, I don’t know about you, but there were 546 seats up for grabs and one party won all 546 of them, and that all seems pretty regular to me! The election happened, people voted, and the ruling party won every seat in parliament; it was all very simple and believable.

OK, kidding aside, Ethiopia’s May 24 election was a “sham,” as The New York Times put it, for plenty of reasons that go beyond just looking at the impossible results. So why was President Obama, who “[doesn’t] bite [his] tongue too much when it comes to these issues,” practically chewing his tongue off in public yesterday? Did he not know the circumstances of Ethiopia’s last election? Doubtful, especially considering that his National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, said the day before Obama left for Africa that, with respect to Ethiopia’s elections, she had “some concern for the integrity of the electoral process — at least if not in the outcomes, then in some of the mechanisms that supported the process, the freedom for the opposition to campaign.” So what’s the deal? I’m sorry, The Guardian, you had your hand up?

But Ethiopia remains a key security ally for the US in the fight against the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab. It has also become an economic battleground with China, which has delivered huge infrastructure projects in Africa’s second most populous nation.

Ah, gotcha. Dog bites man, or in this case geopolitical expedience trumps principle.

Obama says that he had a “frank discussion,” presumably in private, with Desalegn about free speech and political opposition and all that fun stuff:

Obama said he was not shy in urging Desalegn to expand space for political opponents and the media to speak freely.

“I think the prime minister will indicate I do not bite my tongue when it comes to these issues,” Obama said, adding that “there’s still more work to do.”

Desalegn said he is committed to adopting democratic reforms. “We’re on the right track,” he said.

They’re committed…they’re on the right track! Although to be fair, it’s a lot easier to be “on the right track” toward accommodating political opposition when you’ve already made sure that said opposition has absolutely no voice inside the government. Not so hard to be magnanimous in those circumstances, I would think.

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