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Interview with Foreign Minister of Ethiopia; Ethiopian Film Tells Story of Kidnapped Girl; Imagine a World. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 28, 2015 - 14:00:00   ET




CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight: spotlight on Ethiopia as President Obama makes history as the first sitting U.S.

president to visit the country.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I stand before you as a proud American. I also stand before you as the son of an African.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): And later, my exclusive interview with Ethiopia's foreign minister, his frank response to human rights critics.


TEDROS ADHANOM, ETHIOPIAN FOREIGN MINISTER OF AFFAIRS: This is a democracy which is really being built. So we need to see if there is

anything that we are screwing up.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Plus an inspiring story: how one young Ethiopian girl won a major battle against a violent tradition.


AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

President Obama has now wrapped up his tour of Africa with a two-day visit to Ethiopia, the first-ever by a U.S. president. And who would have

thought that in only three decades this East African nation could have gone from dire poverty and the worst famine in living memory, which left a

million of its people dead, to one of the fastest growing economies in the world and a key partner in the fight as Islamic militants in the area.

But all of this growth and security comes at the expense of freedom in civil society. Critics call the government repressive. And addressing the

African Union for the very first time at its Addis Ababa headquarters, the American president encouraged all its African counterparts to keep marching

towards democracy.


OBAMA: . democratic progress is also at risk when leaders refuse to step aside when their terms end.



Now, let me be honest with you -- I do not understand this. I actually think I'm a pretty good president -- I think if I ran I could win.

But I can't.



AMANPOUR: And after that speech, Ethiopia's foreign minister, Tedros Adhanom joined me exclusively from the capital with some surprising

assessments of his own.


AMANPOUR: Foreign Minister Tedros, welcome to the program.

ADHANOM: Thank you. Thank you, Christiane, for having me.

AMANPOUR: Tell me what it means to you, to the government, to all Ethiopians that this is the first time a sitting American president has

visited your country.

ADHANOM: Yes, as you know, our relationship with the U.S. is a very historic and strong one. We're very, very happy that President Obama is

the first president to visit us and we believe -- and you know, our people believe -- that this visit will further strengthen the relationship in our

already existing strong relationship between the U.S. and Ethiopia.

AMANPOUR: Foreign Minister, the president praised your very fast growing economy. He praised Ethiopia's very strong fight against

terrorism, along with the United States. He also talked about moving closer and further towards democracy.

He said that in private he doesn't pull his punches. He doesn't bite his tongue when he's mentioning these things.

Did you hear that message? Was the government, was the prime minister, you, able to talk to him about when you might speed up civil

society, more freedoms for journalists and other such activists?

ADHANOM: He said that I will do some things as a friend and as a partner. So of course, there could be advice from a friend and a partner,

just additions. And as you know, on democracy and human rights, our democracy is a nascent one and there are many areas that we need to


So the suggestions or some comments you get from friends and partners is taken positively.

For us, democracy is a must because we're a very diverse country and to keep the unity of our country we believe that --


ADHANOM: -- democracy is a must. And we build it over time. As you know, for democracy, you need institutions, you need tradition, changes in

tradition and culture. You need education, literacy. It's all these -- we really might choose taking its own course that really bring mature


And we're committed and we're doing that. We know the challenges we have. We know the setbacks we have. And we have identified them

ourselves. And we're working on that. And the suggestions as a friend and partner that came from President Obama, we take it seriously.

AMANPOUR: Well, Mr. Foreign Minister, that is a very full answer. And you have said a lot of the right things. So let me ask you this, in

the last elections, just in May, your party won every single seat, more than 500 seats in the parliament. In other words, you won 100 percent of

the vote.

Even the U.S. national security adviser, your close ally, didn't take that seriously. Explain how you will work on your democracy to enable

opposition, legitimate opposition, to have a fighting chance in civil society.

ADHANOM: No, from the polling stations that we have competed, we didn't lose. But we haven't won all the 547 seats. Some of them were won

by other parties, although they're friendly to us but they're not the same party. The opposition is divided.

For instance, when one polling station, 11 opposition parties compete against one party. But when I say this, it doesn't mean that there are no

challenges, especially in terms of what you said. There's something that we need to improve and we can assess the situation and see there is

something that we can fix and we will be happy to listen to the opposition.

As I said earlier, it's a nascent democracy and we're in the making. So there are many things that we can improve.

AMANPOUR: Foreign Minister, as you know, many people in the democratic world look also at the treatment of journalists. And your

record has not been good. And President Obama said Ethiopia cannot unleash the full potential of its people if it jails journalists and restrictions

legitimate opposition groups.

So, yes, you have released about five or so bloggers before the president arrived.

Can you assure us and the other journalists that they will be released?

ADHANOM: First of all, what I would like to say is we haven't jailed any journalists because he or she is a journalist. We follow our rules.

The rule of law is important for everything, for democracy, for development and so on.

So nobody can be above the law, whether he or she is a journalist, a politician, a lawyer or whatever. So when they trespass the rule of the

country, they will be in trouble. Otherwise, if they respect the rules of the country, nobody can touch them.

But as I said earlier --


ADHANOM: -- our institutions, especially democratic institutions are still young and there could be areas that need improvement and during the

discussion between President Obama and our prime minister, what we have acknowledged is that there are weaknesses that we need to solve in the


AMANPOUR: Most democratic societies would agree with you. But the problem is the journalists say and so do human rights agree that in fact

you use this idea of collaborating with terrorists or violating the laws when, in fact, they're just trying to maybe criticize the government or

root out corruption, as has happened with one young journalist, who explained to us why they were arrested. Just listen for a moment.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most of the journalists in jail are critical, they write stories about what is going on in the country and most of them are

clamoring for rule of law, transparency, accountability.

I'm not a terrorist. I write stories.


AMANPOUR: So Foreign Minister, you would agree, as you said, that you need to go further in protecting these kinds of activities, as the

president asked for, and in bolstering Ethiopia's respect for basic human rights in this regard.

ADHANOM: On being critical in jail, no. That's -- you know, as we speak, there -- I can give you many examples, newspapers and so on, who are

very critical of the government. That cannot be a problem. And that should not be a problem.

The problem is when they trespass a law. As I said earlier, I cannot go into details. But there were evidences that they were not respecting

the rules and the laws of the country.


ADHANOM: So that's the only thing that can land them into jail. Otherwise, being critical, we need it because it's feedback even for us.

And we can learn from what they are saying, you know, the concerns, what they say is -- could be the concern of our people.

You know, media is the eyes and ears of the people if it's, you know, ethical and also follows the rules. As I said earlier, you know, democracy

which is really being built. So we need to see if there is anything that we are screwing up in what is said.

AMANPOUR: Did you ask Mr. Obama whether the United States would step up its investment? I mean, obviously China is vastly outspending and

outinvesting the United States, not only in your country but across Africa.

ADHANOM: As I said earlier, Ethiopia and the United States have a very long and historic relationship, more than 100 years ago. And we have

good partnership on development finance, on development issues, on peace and security and so on.

But if you see the trade and investment, it's not as really good as one would expect. And considering the long partnership we have. And that

was where our focus of discussion was.

And the visit of the president also will be very important in motivating the U.S. investors to come and invest in Ethiopia.

But he has promised to do his best. And he even said that was the reason why he's in Ethiopia, especially to, you know, boost trade and


By the way, this is not just opportunity for Ethiopia alone. It's opportunity for the U.S. also.

AMANPOUR: Foreign Minister Tedros, thank you so much for joining us from Addis Ababa.

ADHANOM: Thank you, thank you, Christiane. Thank you for having me. Thank you so much indeed.


AMANPOUR: The foreign minister also said that Ethiopia remains on target to become a middle income country by the year 2025.

And there is another important war being won across Africa and that is the war against disease. This week, Nigeria marked a year since its last

reported case of polio.

And how about this? In two weeks, the same milestone could be celebrated across the entire continent.

And when we come back, fighting a battle slightly slower on other fronts.


OBAMA: . when girls cannot go to school and grow up not knowing how to read or write, that denies the world future women engineers, future

women doctors, future women business owners, future women presidents. That sets us all back. That's a bad tradition.


AMANPOUR: Yet again, President Obama throwing his weight behind trying to change traditions that target women and girls. And I speak to a

lawyer who's waging a lonely battle against child brides in Ethiopia, a story that's come to light on film. That's next.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

During his speech to the African Union --


AMANPOUR: -- in Addis Ababa today, President Barack Obama repeated the importance of empowering women and ending outdated traditions, like

child marriage.

A rare Ethiopian film, called "Difret," about one girl's fight, is packing a powerful punch. It depicts the horrifying practice of kidnap

marriage. The victim, a 14-year old called Hirut.


AMANPOUR: So she's kidnapped, taken away, then raped. But she manages to escape and to kill her abductor. And that's when two worlds

collide. The producer, Mehret Mandefro, and the real-life lawyer, Meaza Ashenafi, who inspired the film, tell me that the real villain is



AMANPOUR: Welcome, both of you, to the program.

Let me go straight to you, Meaza Ashenafi, in Addis Ababa.

President Obama clearly said in Ethiopia and also in Kenya before him, that some of these bad practices, if you like, these traditions that hold

back women, have to stop.

How influential do you think that will be in your cause?

MEAZA ASHENAFI, ETHIOPIAN LAWYER AND ACTIVIST: Yes. I think his speech especially today at the A.U. was quite inspiring. And he said that

the issue of girls' empowerment and the women's equality, gender equality should be in the same (INAUDIBLE) global development agenda. And I think -

- I thought that was very powerful.

AMANPOUR: Mehret, you are the producer of this film.

When you were thinking about putting this out there, what were you hoping to achieve?

MEHRET MANDEFRO, PRODUCER, "DIFRET": Well, we were very much hoping to put the issue of child marriage and harmful practices like telefa on the

map for the world to know. So you know, this is what every artist hopes for, to create something and have an impact and get attention to this


So it's wonderful that President Obama has drawn attention to this issue.

AMANPOUR: Let's just drill down on the name, because I have seen many different translations of "difret."

What is it? Why did you choose that word as the title of your film?

MANDEFRO: Sure. Amharic is a complicated language filled with double meanings and in its widest use, "difret" means "courage," "to dare." But

it's also the same word has been used to mean a violation or rape. So the same word means both things.

And in our -- we think the story exemplifies both, really, the courage it takes to bring change as well; obviously, the young woman at the center

of this story, Aberash Bekele, was raped.

AMANPOUR: In the film, she's called Hirut Mias (sic).

Tell me what it was like when you first met her and what caused you to almost put aside all your other cases and take this case and see it through

to the end.

ASHENAFI: I learned about this case over the radio. We wanted to save her life. And secondly, also we wanted to use the case for advocacy

and to (INAUDIBLE) legal reform and to mobilize the society again as (INAUDIBLE) practices.

AMANPOUR: But how hard was it? Because the film does a really good job of showing you as a sophisticated lawyer in the capital, going right

out to the villages and trying to persuade her really good but really very simple farmer parents that they have to fight the system, that it went

right against their tradition.

How difficult was that in real life?

ASHENAFI: Yes. It was difficult. My colleagues and I managed to mobilize the community around the area so that there was a common

understanding and a shared understanding that abduction is a crime.

We were also lucky (INAUDIBLE) the judge, who handled the case, was sensitive and was responsive and they have made a decision in favor of

Aberash and finally it was (INAUDIBLE).

AMANPOUR: I want to play a clip, where there's a very poignant conversation between you, as played by the actress, and your client, about




AMANPOUR: That must have been a strange story to tell this young girl from the village.

ASHENAFI: Absolutely. That's true. But also I myself, I come from the rulaza (ph) area and I have to say I'm one of the lucky ones, to escape

early marriage, child marriage and go to school and join the university and so on.

Yes, most girls, especially in the rural areas, they believe that marriage is the only alternative that they have in life.

However, things have changed now. Things have changed over the past 20 years. More girls are going to school. Primary enrollment has

dramatically increased in Ethiopia. There's a lot of awareness on harmful (INAUDIBLE) practices and things have changed in years.

On the other hand, marriage is still considered as the only option for women to succeed in life.

AMANPOUR: And Mehret, obviously this film and the successful prosecution of this case by Meaza led to a change in the law. And

abduction and rape and forced marriage is now a crime that carries with it a prison and a fine -- a prison sentence and a fine.

Is that it? Have you won? Is this tradition cast to the dustbin of history?

MANDEFRO: If only it were that easy. No, unfortunately, telefa is still very much alive and well. There's still a great deal of work to do

because culture changes very slowly.

And I think that's the most important part right now, is to really trying to wage that battle about changing norms and relieving the pressure,

making sure families don't feel the pressure to marry their girls off too early.

AMANPOUR: And Meaza, this obviously got a lot of acclaim when it was shown internationally.

What was the reaction when it was shown in Ethiopia, the film?

ASHENAFI: Well, some people know about the story. But as especially the young generation are not familiar with the story. So there is a mixed


But overall, I think this film will be a great educational tool and not only in Ethiopia, but in Africa as well, because it talks about the

conflicts, the contradiction between modern law and traditional laws. It talks about the importance of institutions, including the courts, the

police and so on.

It also talks about women's organizing and the importance of women's associations.

AMANPOUR: Any more in line? Any more in the production line, Mehret? Any more Ethiopian issues that you're going to take on?

MANDEFRO: Oh, absolutely. I don't think I'll stop making films about Ethiopia or women, for that matter.

AMANPOUR: Well, it was a first and it was very well received and, as you say, it's done exactly what you hoped, changed the dynamic and

protected many more girls that wouldn't have been protected had that film not been made.

And had you, Meaza, not been such a fearless lawyer.

So Meaza Ashenafi in Addis and Mehret Mandefro in D.C., thank you both so much for joining me.

MANDEFRO: Thank you for having us.


AMANPOUR: Next, Obama loves Lucy. Imagine feeling the bones of one of our oldest ancestors.

But first, as we said, what a difference three decades makes. In 1985, pop stars from around the world came to Ethiopia's rescue,

galvanizing public support to end a terrible famine with Live Aid and this world famous anthem against poverty.





AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, Americans have loved Lucy ever since Lucille Ball's iconic '50s sitcom. But imagine a world where their

president gets acquainted with a Lucy who's been around for a whole lot longer, 3.2 million years longer, to be precise.

While in Ethiopia, the cradle of civilization, President Obama was shown the ancient bones of one of humanity's oldest relatives, Lucy. He

was even allowed the rare privilege of touching those bones.

Known as the grandmother of humanity, Lucy was proof positive of our links to our ape ancestors and there's life in Ethiopia's old bones yet.

Earlier this year, an Ethiopian excavation found the oldest ever human fossil. Now the country claims a lot that is special, such as these

Abyssinian lions with their huge and distinctive black manes.

And perhaps while sipping a cup of coffee in the land that, after all, first discovered it, Mr. Obama joked that like some -- he'd like some of

those lions to prowl the White House lawn. But in the end, he really only had eyes for Lucy, so captivated by her that he went back for a second

visit. He is, after all, only human.

That's it for our program tonight. And remember you can always see the whole show online at, and follow me on Facebook and

Twitter. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.