Addis Fortune (Addis Ababa)

24 February 2013

Ethiopia: Nick Clegg's Rare Visit to Addis Abeba

Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom, had a rare visit to Addis Abeba two weeks ago.

The Deputy Prime Minister was requested to launch girls' education programs in Afar and Somali regional states, financed by British taxpayers, at a preparatory school in Addis Abeba, located a few metres from the UK Embassy, on Comoros St, now known as Kokebe Tsebah.

He visited the school, escorted by Demeke Mekonnen, education minister, who is also deputy prime minister. Clegg was little surprised to hear many of the students telling him that they wanted to study engineering in college, according to gossip. They told him that they want to be part of the reconstruction of their country, says gossip. Yet, Clegg found only one student, who stated that her father raised her as a single parent, who wanted to be a lawyer when she grows up, for she has a sense of the justice, or lack thereof, in Ethiopia, gossip said.

Little was he prepared to get quizzed by these girls when asked how he treats his wife and daughters. Explaining to them that he only has three boys. He added that his wife is a lawyer and a firm advocate of his political career.

Would any of them be interested in joining politics when they grow up? He wondered out loud. To his shock the answer he got was a categorical "no!"

It was after such a revealing conversation with students in the morning that Clegg went to visit Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who he said was "assertive and with a good grasp of issues". Later in the evening, he met with half a dozen journalists inside the Ambassador, Greg Dorey's, residence where he said much of the discussion with Hailemariam was centred around concerns in relation to the enforcement of the anti-terrorism law, and the manner in which the charities and civil societies law is applied. In connection to the first, Clegg mentioned the arrest and conviction of Eskinder Nega, dissident blogger, and Andualem Sisay, an opposition politician.

Men of the Prime Minister's inner circle fiercely contest that this was the case, claims gossip.

Granted, they admit the Deputy Prime Minister, whose primary visit to Addis is to promote his country's chair at the G8 to members of the Africa Union (AU), has asked Hailemariam to open his administration's doors to the Human Rights Watch, and other global activists, for investigation of alleged gross human rights abuses, gossip disclosed.

Hailemariam reportedly rebuffed this demand, arguing that there is no point in inviting such organisations, who have already made up their mind and pass guilty verdicts before checking their facts, gossip disclosed.

The Prime Minister strongly feels that "some of the well intentioned" donors have difficulties in understanding Ethiopians, claims gossip. He told Clegg that Ethiopians may have been poor, but are people of dignity, says gossip.

Despite Ambassador Dorey's desire to see his Deputy Prime Minister push the issue of alleged human rights breaches by government forces, Hailemariam reportedly cut the latter short, before raising any particular case, gossip disclosed.

"Please don't try to squeeze our hands," Hailemariam was quoted as telling the UK's Deputy Prime Minister.

He echoed the trademark statement of his predecessor, in arguing that democracy is not a choice Ethiopia's government wants to make, but an issue of "existential matter" that is indispensable to the nation's survival, gossip disclosed. And, Hailemariam said, Ethiopia "feels the pain" inflicted on it by acts of terrorism, thus should be left alone to draw the "fine line" between what constitutes terrorism and "everything else," gossip disclosed.

If Clegg got any concessions from the Prime Minister, it only came in the form of a nod to review the manner in which his administration enforces the charities and civil societies law that requires resident NGOs to spend 70pc of their grants on projects, according to gossip. For years now, heads of resident NGOs are angry that the agency in charge of enforcing this law interprets many of their expenditures within the 30pc administrative cost, thus rejecting what they want to carry out in the form of training, workshops, seminars, symposiums and numerous other such activities.

It is a kind of anger channelled to the administration through briefings of western embassies whenever high profile western dignitaries come to see the Prime Minister, gossip observed. The Americans are known to spearhead this, lobbying through the visits of their senior diplomats arriving from Washington DC, gossip disclosed. Perhaps fatigued with the endless demand from his administration's "well intentioned development partners," Hailemariam told Clegg he would indeed look into it and respond accordingly, gossip claims.

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