Nigeria felt slighted when President Obama overlooked the vast nation on his first African trip as head of state in 2009, instead visiting its shrimp-sized neighbor, Ghana, where he lauded the smaller country’s democratic achievements.
Obama left Nigeria out again in his 2013 visit to Africa. Now, as he prepares for his third and likely final trip to the continent as president, Nigeria is once more being bypassed in favor of Kenya and Ethiopia.
If democratic achievements play a role in the president’s itinerary, Nigerians may be wondering: Why?
In March, the vast and divided country of 170 million staged one of the continent’s most significant elections — the country’s first democratic change of power since the end of military rule in 1999.
In contrast, Ethiopia’s election in May saw the ruling party, criticized by human rights organizations for its oppression of opposition members, journalists, critics and bloggers, win every seat in the parliament.
An independent democracy watchdog, Freedom House, described the Ethiopia vote as “far from free and fair.” Yet Obama, who has placed great emphasis on human rights and democracy in Africa, will become the first sitting U.S. president to visit Ethiopia, this month, in a move criticized by rights groups.
Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, is sub-Saharan Africa’s largest economy and an important source of oil for the United States. Its hurt pride at being left off Obama’s itinerary comes at a time of damaged relations between the two countries.
Attempts at military cooperation in the fight against the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram crumbled toward the end of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s term. Jonathan was defeated in the March election by former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari.
There is a consolation prize for Nigeria: On Monday, Obama hosts the new Nigerian president in Washington for talks on increased U.S. assistance in the war against Boko Haram, an Islamic State-linked group with a horrific human rights record.
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