Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir touched down in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia yesterday and was greeted warmly at the airport by Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi, a large Ethiopian crowd, and a number of African ambassadors. President Meles has planned several public events to honor President Bashir, and the two leaders plan to discuss a variety of political, security, and economic issues during Bashir’s two-day state visit.
At first glance, or to a casual observer, the above paragraph seems rather ordinary; presidents travel to meet fellow leaders all the time and are welcomed with receptions held in their honor. If they are particularly well respected or well known internationally, crowds may greet them.
Bashir is certainly well known, but this is nowadays mostly due to his status as a wanted war criminal, accused of orchestrating horrific crimes in Sudan’s Darfur region. Despite a warrant issued for his arrest by the International Criminal Court, Bashir has made a spectacle by defying the warrant and traveling to countries friendly to his regime.
What is striking about this most recent get-together is that Ethiopia is a close ally of the United States and Europe, which have both recently strengthened commitments to finding a comprehensive strategy for solving Sudan’s ills. Of course, Meles has an interest in maintaining friendly ties with Bashir because their countries share a 3,000-kilometer border. But given the controversy that Bashir’s travel itinerary has provoked, it’s curious that Ethiopia would want to jump into the fray.
Laura Heaton contributed to this post.