In Ethiopia and Djibouti, Tillerson stresses democracy, security efforts

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, visiting the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, March 8, recognized the country’s “first-ever voluntary transfer of power.”

The ongoing transition of power in Ethiopia is “a very positive symbol of the strength of this very young democracy,” Tillerson said in a joint press conference with Ethiopian Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu.

Tillerson said the U.S had concerns with the Ethiopian government’s decision to impose another state of emergency, which he said puts restrictions on fundamental rights such as freedom of assembly and expression.

“We firmly believe that democratic reform, economic growth and lasting stability are best addressed through an inclusive political process, rather than through the imposition of restrictions,” the secretary said. “And we encourage the Ethiopian people as well to maintain patience, maintain support for your government through this change, through this transition, but also in pursuing this journey of democracy.”

The secretary also praised Ethiopia’s role in promoting regional security. Ethiopia is the seat of the African Union and is the largest contributor to U.N. peacekeeping operations in Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan.

He said Ethiopia’s influence in supporting the security of Somalia and Djibouti is particularly important at this time to keep global commerce routes open. “These routes through the Red Sea affect billions of people around the world in terms of their economic stability,” the secretary said.

Tillerson — traveling to Africa for the first time as secretary of state — also met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn before flying to Djibouti on March 9.

Warm welcome in Djibouti

In Djibouti City, Tillerson thanked the country for hosting thousands of U.S. troops, which he said facilitates “a very quick response to terrorism and violent extremism that threatens both our countries.”

“Wherever that threat may come from — whether it be ISIS finding its way to this continent or from al-Qaida, al-Shabaab or other terrorist organizations — we are here in partnership with the people of Djibouti to protect the citizens of both our countries, as well as countries in the region,” the secretary said in a press briefing with Djiboutian Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali Youssouf.

Tillerson noted Djibouti’s important role in hosting refugees and delivering humanitarian aid throughout the region. Moreover, he said, Djibouti safeguards the free flow of global commerce by keeping sea lanes free and open.

The secretary is visiting five countries — Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria — to meet with leaders to discuss ongoing efforts to combat terrorism and boost economic ties.