28 January 2016

Africa: How Ethiopia Exploits AU Role to Suppress International Criticism

50th anniversary African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (file photo).
analysis

Media and civil society at the African Union's headquarters in Addis Ababa face a stark choice: avoid criticising Ethiopia, or risk being denied access to the continental body. SIMON ALLISON reports on how the Ethiopian government uses its role as gatekeeper to the AU to keep journalists, researchers and activists in check.

ADDIS ABABA - The African Union headquarters, 24-storeys of clean lines and soaring glass, is Addis Ababa's tallest building. It looks all wrong in the context of its dusty, low-rise surroundings (although increasingly less so, as the city develops furiously around it). It's almost like it was accidentally transplanted from Shanghai or Beijing, which, in a way, it was - China paid for and built it. But there's no question that it belongs. The building is Africa's diplomatic centre, and Addis is the continent's diplomatic capital. There's nowhere else it could be.

The city's starring role in continental politics began in 1963, when Ethiopia brokered a truce between two rival African blocs with different ideas of what a continental body should look like. The breakthrough conference in 1963, where the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was declared, took place in Addis Ababa, and it was only natural that...

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