By: Sadik A. Hirsi
Ever being in human history, mankind has been making trial and error on how to organize and discharge common responsibility and goals collectively. It had been emanated from the household-level structure as it has been where an organization history emerges. Today, civil society organizations are the backbone of any given nation for its development and civilization. Its role is the indispensable bridge that links people to/from government locally as well as globally.
Usually in sub-Saharan countries, most of the ruling governments exercise a fragile democracy in which Ethiopia is not an exception.
As result, civil society organizations working for the purpose of bridging people to/from government became also a fragile. It has been observed from many African countries in conflict with their citizens. This is because off the absence or weakness of this bridge. Civil society organizations are not encouraged by their governments as often viewed them with problem preachers.
For instance, during Ethiopian national election period in 2005, incumbent political party at that time, EPRDF (Ethiopian peoples’ revolutionary democracy) viewed the roles of civil society organizations towards voter education at campaigns were responsible for the major loss of its parliament seats it encountered from major cities of the country included capital city of Addis Ababa. This was because of the government accused the civil society organizations as complicit of misguiding public opinion as though contending opposition party, CDU (coalition for democracy and unity) ‘s manifesto was favored by CSOs. But in reality, it was a preference momentum coming from people at large
Subsequently, the incumbent EPRDF waged a legal battle to CSOs by dismantling its capabilities. In 2009, a new charter was introduced entitled “Charity and CSOs law” and passed by parliament. It banned civil society organizations to engage with good governance and civil rights. Issued charter has further restricted all regulations related with access to registration licenses, implementation arrangement and fund access by any civil society organization willing to work in the country.
Consistently, the move brought immediate feedback to country with a total cut off communication channels existing between people and government. With absence of proper mechanism of relationship, people look for other alternative means to demand their right and grievance. Finally, they resorted to convey their massages through violence appraisal and poplar demonstrations which derailed achieved development targets and slowed down double-digit economic growth of one of the fastest economic growing country in sub-Saharan countries.
Fortunately, when PM Abiy Ahmed came to power, he immediately changed the whole political ideology of his party towards civil society organizations. In 2019, he revoked the notorious law, “Charity and CSOs charter” which had imposed by his party to CSOs. He reformed the party’s policy while removed any restrictions and controls which paralized proper functioning of civil society organizations to perform their civic engagement. This policy change has brought immediate result towards the relationship between CSOs and government in countrywide. In return, civil society organizations aftermath began working with government involving with good governance and corporation of delivering basic services and rights collectively.
Today, in Ethiopian-2021 Election, there are four coalition forums with more than 500 members of civil society organizations assisting National Election Board towards voter education, monitoring and supervision activities of the election throughout the country.
What a lesson we learned from a given policy change in one of the fragile democratic country in Africa! To sustain such a best practice in the future would also look for another answer.
Sadik A. Hirsi
Department of Agricultural Economics