The apex of his visit to Kenya and Ethiopia was President Obama’s remarks to the African Union, here in Addis Ababa. Having spent five days on a two-country tour, Mr. Obama was able to address the Continent as a whole on Tuesday, sharing both his hopes and his concerns to a packed audience of 2,500 attendees inside Mandela Hall. As a witness myself, I can attest to both the positive politically and socially charged atmosphere which was felt throughout those in attendance, waiting to hear from the Leader of the Free World what he and his administration view as the paths which have gotten Africa to where it is, along with the direction he hopes it will continue to follow.
The Press Center staff met this morning to review and go over the procedures beginning even prior to Wheels-Down tomorrow. On the lead team are myself, one White House contact, a member from the U.S. Embassy in Rome, and two representatives from the Embassy here. Within the general pool working with us are probably about 20 different local (read: Ethiopian) staff who will assist in a variety of different functions, including many of whom work in the Public Affairs Section, and with whom I am already familiar. Their roles will be as tape couriers, press escorts, and technical support, working in revolving shifts over 24-hour periods for about three days starting tomorrow.
After the morning meetings, I made my way to the Embassy to pick up the Official Invitations for President Obama’s Speech at the African Union. From my end, I have secured places for two different groups: The Ambo University Women’s English Club as well as the Ambo Access Micro-Scholarship Program. From the Women’s Club, there are a total of 10 invitees, while from the Access Program, we are hoping to get 100 students to attend, plus six teachers. Another difference between the two groups is that the women are all living in the capital of Addis for the Summer while all the Access students are still out in Ambo. I have plans to meet the local student tomorrow (Sunday) to deliver the tickets, but am still in the process of arranging transportation for the Ambo students who are about three hours away.
For the speech itself, there will be two sections of attendees: those who will be in Nelson Mandela Hall and those who will have to view it via a parallel transmission in an “overflow” room. This is the first time a sitting United States President has addressed the African Union, so it is understandable that there will be more people than seats, but our friends at the AU are certainly doing everything they can to accommodate everyone as best they can. For the Access Students though, this means that about half will have a “real time” view of the President while half will watch via a live feed. Such is a small price to pay, I imagine, for participation in a historic event.
As part of the Press group, I hope to have credentials which should allow me in via a (somewhat) VIP entrance, seated a bit closer than the average attendee, but still by no means next to Mr. Mugabe or Dr. Zuma. However this may pose a problem with access to my students, all of whom will most likely be seated in the nosebleed seats, but still there nonetheless. The effort I have put into this particular project is for them, so I do everything I can to see it though, hoping to be able to visit with them at some point within the AU Headquarters.
After processing Tuesday’s future plans with regards to the speech, I headed back to the Press Center where I am writing this from. CNN has completed setting up their equipment and the Press Room looks like nothing I have ever seen before anywhere in Ethiopia. There are hundreds of working telephones, computers, televisions, and other electronics which, after having spent the past nine months at Ambo University, look like something from the future 2050. While the Revolution will certainly NOT be televised, the POTUS visit to Ethiopia certainly will be!
This is all a whirlwind experience for me, and this time next week I will be on a flight over the Atlantic via Frankfurt to Los Angeles. Yet the reason I agreed to take this on was because of the lasting memories it will go to create, regardless of how hectic it all seems right now. Sleep is not of the essence, rather production is, and over the course of the next week I aim to take as much of this in as possible. From Obama’s short visit to what at times seemed like an eternity living and teaching in Ethiopia, I am grateful for these opportunities, and am happy to share a snapshot of them with you here…