Reforming civil society organizations in Ethiopia

The government seems to feel the urgency for reforming the CSOs. It was a known fact that the enactment of the Charities and Societies Proclamation brought a lot of controversy in the country. The Proclamation had raised alarm among CSOs working in the country and has been highly criticized by the international community. A number of international human rights-monitoring bodies have also expressed concerns about the impact of the Proclamation on the freedom of association in Ethiopia.

Despite the government insistence that the law aims at improving the status of CSOs, many believe that what drove the law is the political calculation of the ruling coalition mainly triggered by the 2005 election. It is argued that the Proclamation is a result of the hostile attitude that the Government of Ethiopia developed towards CSOs after the 2005 national elections. Among other things, the Ethiopian government accused the CSOs and NGOs in particular of political interference, lack of accountability, lack of constituency and dependence on foreign funding, and abuse and corruption.

After widespread protests, the government has admitted that corruption, maladministration, and discrimination are not resolved substantially. “These may create different kinds of contradictions. However, they can be resolved in a democratic way. When we resolve them without resorting to violence and conflict, they will serve as a springboard for a better growth and transformation.” Prime Minister HailemariamDessalegn said, on the media briefing he delivered on August 5, 2016. And following this many commentators argue for fundamental reform in today’s Ethiopia if the country’s emerging democracy and the extraordinary gains made during the past 25 years are to be maintained and that the government should conduct a reform.

The status and role of civil society is cited as one major reform area. In order to move forward in a democracy, commentators contend, civil society must be front and center in the process. According to different studies, civil societies are not only subjects of reform but also a driving force to bring overall changes in the country. SisayAlemahuYeshanew (PhD), in his research paper entitled ‘CSO Law in Ethiopia: “It is not only citizens but also the government, which lose when the space for civil society participation unreasonably constricts. The value in the work of CSOs, including in the identification of gaps and problems, advocacy for a conducive environment for human rights and sustainable development, and supportive interventions in crisis situations, should not be underestimated. The government of Ethiopia would, therefore, find it worthwhile excluding the restrictive elements of the Proclamation or replacing them with more reasonable requirements of accountability and transparency,”

 The government seems to feel this urgency for reforming the CSOs and has also admitted that the role of the CSOs should be broadened. This is very good news for CSOs in Ethiopia, including Transparency Ethiopia. Because the government’s willingness to amend the laws by itself shows that it now longer sees CSOs as the cause but as the solution. And working together with them can bring a significant change to the problems the country is facing currently. Also CSOs will no longer be shorthanded. They will have large amount of resources and can engage in different sectors which desperately need assistance and guidance of the CSOs.

Source; the reporter magazine, 24 Jun, 2017 edition.