A Week in the Horn

       16.1.2009

 

·         The Security Council gives Eritrea five weeks to withdraw from Djibouti territory

·         A farewell ceremony for the Ethiopian National Defense Forces in Mogadishu

·         A flawed Strategy Paper for the US President-elect.

·         Ethiopia’s first national conference on Climate Change

·         The Ethio-Turkish Joint Economic Commission meets in Addis Ababa

·         Government encouragement for Diaspora investment.

·         The Proclamation on Charities and Societies: fact and fiction.

·         On Wednesday, the UN Security Council demanded Eritrea withdraw its forces from Djibouti within five weeks. In an unusually vigorous (and unanimous) resolution, the Security Council recalled the Council’s Presidential statement of June 2008 which had condemned Eritrea’s military action against Djibouti and called on both sides to withdraw to the status quo ante. Djibouti complied. Eritrea did not, nor did it make any effort to co-operate with the fact-finding missions sent to the region by the UN, the Arab League, and African Union, though the AU Chairperson, Dr. Ping, did manage to visit Asmara in October last year shortly after the Security Council, which heard evidence from both Djibouti and Eritrea, rebuked Eritrea for refusing to co-operate in the UN investigation of the June clashes. This Resolution (1862(2009)), passed on Wednesday, urges Djibouti and Eritrea to resolve their dispute peacefully as a matter of priority and in a manner consistent with international law. It expresses the Security Council’s deep concern over the continuing tense border dispute. It also gives Eritrea an ultimatum, making a series of demands: that Eritrea withdraws its forces and ensures no military activity is being carried out in the areas where fighting occurred in June; that Eritrea acknowledges that it is involved in a border dispute; that it engages in dialogue to defuse the tension and in diplomatic efforts to produce a mutually acceptable settlement; that it abides by its UN obligations, respecting the principles laid down in article 2 and 33 of the UN Charter, and co-operates fully with the Secretary-General who has offered his good offices. The Resolution demands that Eritrea complies with these demands immediately and in any case no later than within five weeks. It requests the Secretary-General to report on compliance within six weeks. The Security Council says it will meet in six weeks to review the situation with a view to taking further action as appropriate. Already there are clear indications that Eritrea is going to reject the Security Council’s ultimatum. An official statement from the Foreign Ministry in Asmara yesterday said the U.N. Security Council had “adopted an ill-considered, unbalanced and unnecessary resolution against Eritrea” under strong pressure from “self-interested powers”.

Even before the Resolution passed on Wednesday, Ambassador Araya Desta, the Permanent Representative of Eritrea to the United Nations, had expressed his “deep concern and disappointment” over what he called an “ongoing attempt by certain members of the Council to adopt a resolution [in reference to Djibouti and Eritrea] on the basis of unfounded accusations against Eritrea.” Following the line taken by President Issayas in his New Year address to the nation a week or two earlier,  Ambassador Araya launched into an attack on UN activities going back over 50 years and against Ethiopia, neither of which would appear to have any relevance to Eritrea’s invasion of Djibouti and the Security Council Resolution. Ambassador Araya claimed that Eritrea was falling victim for the fourth time to the intrigues of “major powers”. He insisted Eritrea had not occupied any Djibouti territory because all the territory it occupied was its own, therefore it could not accept any resolution that demanded withdrawal from its own territory.  For those who have been following the Ethiopia Eritrea border issue all this has a wearisomely familiar ring. This was exactly the excuse Eritrea made for invading Ethiopia in May 1998 and for refusing to withdraw in face of international condemnation. Similarly, Eritrea’s consistent refusal in the last few months to engage in dialogue with Djibouti to defuse tension, to engage in diplomatic efforts to produce a mutually acceptable settlement, to respect its formal UN obligations, to use the good offices of the Secretary-General, to even admit that there is a problem at all, and its deliberate refusal to accept fact-finding missions, are all positions that Eritrea took over the Ethiopia Eritrea border in 1998 and subsequently. In that case its willful stubbornness led to the enforced withdrawal of a UN peacekeeping force, deliberate violation of the Temporary Security Zone and a consistent refusal to accept normalization of relations, amounting to the negation of the central elements of the Algiers peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia signed in 2000. As always, armored in its own certainty whatever the rest of the world might think, and Eritrea, knowing of course that it is always right, has not been prepared to listen to alternatives. Sure of its “visionary leadership” and policies, and of a political importance no one else would grant it, Eritrea appears to believe it is being targeted because it is considered a threat to Western forces. This, it claims, is why there is “a covert and overt smear campaign against Eritrea’s leaders by Western forces and their ‘puppets’”.  

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·         A farewell party for the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) was held at the offices of the TFG Prime Minister in Mogadishu on Wednesday, 14th January. The ceremony was attended by all stakeholders in Somalia, including AMISOM, officials of the TFG and the opposition ARS, elders and community representatives as well as the local and international press. Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein underlined his satisfaction at this witness to the implementation of the Djibouti agreement. He congratulated the ENDF for the excellent work and discipline they had displayed during their mission, and for the successful accomplishment of their responsibility. He said the sacrifices paid would be a milestone in the relationship between the Ethiopian and Somali peoples. Stressing it was now up to Somalis to take the opportunities created for peace and stability, he also called on the international community to redouble its efforts to assist Somalia. For the ENDF, Col. Gebre Yohannes noted that Ethiopian forces had gone to Somalia to address the threat to its own national interests posed by terrorists as well as to help the TFG. It was not to impose anyone on Somalia but to assist Somalia stand on its own feet. He called on the Somali people to fully cooperate with AMISOM forces, and, on behalf of the Ethiopian Defense Forces wished the people of Somalia farewell. Colonel Hussein Siyad Qorgab of ARS thanked the ENDF for upholding the Djibouti peace process. Like the AMISOM deputy force commander, Colonel Hussein took the opportunity to call on all fighters to lay their arms and work for the realization of peace in Somalia. The AMISOM deputy commander also congratulated the Ethiopian forces for their excellent job and for the opportunity they had created in Somalia in terms of peace-making and the deployment of AMISOM.

As the Ethiopian forces leave Mogadishu, the Djibouti Agreement allows for joint security forces from the TFG and those of the ARS to take over various areas. On Tuesday as the ENDF withdrew from the strategic areas of the Pasta Factory and Hayle Barise, the ARS and related militias were due to take over. TFG forces in collaboration with AMISOM were to cover the areas of the Stadium and the remaining places in the town. At the same time as part of the process under the Transitional Charter and the Djibouti Agreement, following the resignation of President Abdullahi Yusuf, the effort to elect a new leadership has begun. There is now general agreement that maintaining the legitimacy of the TFG would be necessary. Some of the candidates, and some of the members of the existing TF Parliament, wanted the present parliament alone to have the responsibility of selecting a new leadership before the expansion of the parliament as agreed under the Djibouti Agreement. They have raised questions over the reality of the ARS presence on the ground, claiming the ARS is insufficiently cohesive or its leaders lack sufficient support to implement the doubling of the numbers of parliament to 550 members allowed for in the Djibouti Agreement. Some presidential hopefuls believe they can be strong candidates provided the election is confined to the MPs now in Baidoa – that is no more than about 130 or so. Others, who support enlargement, argue that the ARS should be accommodated through this current opportunity in accordance with the Djibouti peace agreement. The enlargement plan allows for the amendment of the Charter, and the expansion of parliament with the ARS’s MPs. This will be followed by the election of a new Speaker and deputy-speaker, and finally the election of a new President for Somalia. This has been endorsed by a sub committee of the high level political committee established under the Djibouti agreement at an UNPOS organized meeting in Nairobi last week. It was noted that if Parliament can amend the Charter as envisaged, it can also consider amending the article that enforces the election of the President within thirty days. This would allow for a possible failure by the ARS to keep the deadline, though there is now a lot of pressure on the ARS to complete its MP list as soon as possible. The question of whether the ARS will stick to the 4.5 formula of the Baidoa parliament has also been raised. There have already been suggestions that the current Speaker may be asked, as a compromise proposal, to finish his term of office in accordance with the TFG Charter. 

Both UNPOS and AMISOM are concerned that the process for electing the President should not exclusively be that of the current Parliament. AMISOM is particularly sensitive to anything that might precipitate conflict in Mogadishu, in which AMISOM could be an easy target. AMISOM force commanders would like to see the political process bring everybody on board to avoid any conflict. Indeed the need for handling political matters carefully, to ensure that all clans are on board, and that no one clan is marginalized, remains critical.  

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·         The new administration in the US is not going to be short of advice on Somalia, or on Ethiopia and Eritrea. It has indeed been deluged with it from all sorts of people ranging serious minded scholars, to cranks and to former officials looking for preferment once again. One such body, which has never been short of advice to give to President Bush, has already started to proffer it to the next administration, is Enough, a project of the NGO the Centre for American Progress whose aims are an end of genocide and crimes against humanity. It focuses on crises in Africa, originally in Sudan, and then on Chad, eastern Congo, northern Uganda, Somalia and Zimbabwe. We cannot comment here on all of the issues covered by the authors (John Prendergast and John Norris), but their  misleading assumptions and biased conclusions over Somalia, and the role the authors claim for the Ethiopia-Eritrea dispute certainly need correction if the paper is to be of any use to the next president. Any suggestion that “the standoff between [Eritrea and Ethiopia] has helped fuel conflict … further destabilizing Somalia” is seriously mistaken. It is Eritrea’s proven track record of being a regional ‘spoiler’ attempting to destabilize our whole region. It is an established fact that since its independence in 1993, Eritrea has managed to launch wars against virtually all of its neighbors including Yemen, Ethiopia and Djibouti, and also threatened to use force to bring about regime change in Sudan. In addition to waging open wars of aggression, Eritrea harbors, finances, trains and arms almost every insurgent and terrorist outfit from the region and from beyond with the aim of destabilizing its neighbors and the region as a whole. For example it is no secret it even trains and arms Al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group. The Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict has nothing to do with any of this. Eritrea has simply used its dispute with Ethiopia as the excuse for its aggressive acts in the region including Somalia. It even, as noted above, has used this as a claimed excuse for its invasion of Djibouti.  Surprisingly, the authors of this paper seem to have swallowed the Eritrean argument. John Prendergast, in particular, ought to know better. There is no plausible excuse for Eritrea’s destabilizing role in the region, and there no need to look for one. It is the nature of the Eritrean regime.

Arising out of their mistaken assumptions, the authors conclude that in order to address the conflict in Somalia, “a parallel diplomatic effort should be launched” to deal with the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict. It prescribes a “conclusive border demarcation followed by internationally backed bilateral talks on issues of mutual concern”. The authors appear unaware that it is on record that Ethiopia firmly accepted the delimitation decision of the now-defunct Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission, and has consistently called for dialogue with Eritrea in order to proceed to a successful demarcation leading to sustainable peace. Eritrea has continually refused to accept. Ethiopia believes a successful demarcation leading to sustainable peace can only happen when the two conflicting parties build mutual trust in the context of normalized relations between them. For that to happen at this point, dialogue between the parties to normalize their relations is needed.  It is impossible to carry out successful border demarcation between two parties who are not on speaking terms. Enough’s prescription is putting the cart before the horse. 

This is not the first time that Enough has taken this line, a line enthusiastically endorsed by Eritrea’s Ministry of Information. On December 10, 2008 Enough issued a “Policy Statement on the Bush Administration’s “Transition Land Mines” in Somalia”. This claimed that Bush Administration’s alleged plans to place Eritrea on the U.S. State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism would “spoil U.S. peacemaking efforts” and “could deepen the crisis in the Horn of Africa”. The next day, the Eritrean regime issued its own press release claiming some US State Department Officials were making “a last-ditch attempt to tie the hands of the incoming administration in the strategic Horn of Africa region”. The Eritrean regime’s statement, not surprisingly, also argued that placing Eritrea on the State Sponsor of Terrorism list would be “counter-productive and detrimental to the cause of peace and stability in the Horn of Africa as well as U.S interests”. A case of coincidence or something more?  

Enough’s strategy paper clearly has serious shortcomings and lacks objectivity. At the same time it should be noted that the basic idea of helping resolve the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict peacefully is welcome. Ethiopia remains committed to just this. It maintains its call for dialogue to normalize relations with Eritrea so that the two countries can achieve sustainable peace. Indeed, Prime Minister Meles repeated only yesterday that Ethiopia was always ready to discuss peace proposals with Eritrea but would not rush into such discussions unless the Eritrean government expressed its wish to discuss peace. It has not done so. 

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·         Ethiopia’s first ever national conference on climate change was held yesterday at the UNECA conference center. Organized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in collaboration with Oxfam America, and opened by Prime Minister Meles, ministers, academicians, members of the diplomatic community, representatives of civil society and the private sector attended. In his opening remarks the Prime Minister pointed out that although Ethiopia’s contribution to global warning was negligible, it was necessary to respond in an intelligent manner to the enormous challenges of climate change: “we can only succeed to adapt to climate change if we fight poverty effectively and generate the resources needed for the purpose. Climate change is an additional reason why sustained and fast economic growth is a matter of life and death for our country”. The Prime Minister detailed important aspects of Ethiopia’s development strategy that were following an essentially carbon-neutral path: “The extensive re-afforestation and environmental rehabilitation programs we are carrying out means, among other things, our capacity to sequester significant amounts of carbon is being enhanced.” The Prime Minister mentioned Ethiopia’s effort to substitute bio-fuels for fossil fuels. He applauded the establishment of the National Climate Change Forum bringing all stakeholders together to chart Ethiopia’s course to mitigate and adapt to climate change. He welcomed the objective of building institutional capacity to continue to monitor developments, to collect necessary data and to continuously refine predictions. The Prime Minister promised the government’s support for such efforts.   

In his remarks, Dr. Abera Deresa, State Minister of Rural Development and Agriculture and the Chairman of the National Climate Change Forum, appealed to all interested parties to join the Forum and contribute financial and intellectual resources. Dr Abera outlined the adverse effects of climate change, including temperature changes, drought, a rise in sea levels, floods and the greater frequency of extreme weather. In particular, he emphasized the challenges to the farming community. He spoke of the various initiatives taken by several institutions in relation to climate change in Ethiopia, but pointed out these were not always well-coordinated with the national climate change adaptation and mitigation policy.  In his keynote speech, Dr. Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, Director-General of the Environment Protection Authority, stressed the profound challenge of climate change to Ethiopia’s environment, suggesting ways to help future generations survive the intensification of these changes. A number of presentations were made on climate change and Ethiopian agriculture and climate change in relation to water resources, as well as on biodiversity, and the energy sector and gender. Discussions were lively, and the conference concluded its deliberations by highlighting the way forward to mitigate and adapt to climate change in Ethiopia and identifying what the respective contributions of the Ethiopian Government, of donors, of the international community and of the general public should be.  

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·         The 5th Ethio-Turkey Joint Economic Commission (JEC) was held in Addis Ababa, January 9-10. The Ethiopian Delegation was headed by Mr. Girma Birru, Minister of Trade and Industry; and the Turkish Delegation by Mr. Binali Yildrim, Minister of Transport. Turkey is a strategic partner and among the top 20 trading partners of Ethiopia. The strong relationship between the two states has been underlined by the visits of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to Turkey in 2004 and to the Turkey Africa Forum last year. High level Ethiopian official and business delegations attended the 2nd and 3rd Turkey Africa Foreign Trade Bridge and recently, the Ethio-Turkey Parliamentary Friendship Team members, led by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, paid an official visit to Turkey.  The strength of the relationship has also been demonstrated by the growth in trade. Prior to the establishment of the Joint Commission average total trade turnover was around US$23.5 million. In 2003 the value of trade reached US$71 million, and by 2007 it had more than doubled, exceeding US$180 million. Ethiopia's main exports to Turkey are sesame seed and leather; its main imports are industrial products mainly construction materials. The balance is still firmly in favor of Turkey, and, as the Joint Commission underlined, there is plenty of room for expansion. In his opening remarks, Minister Girma noted the need to identify specific areas of cooperation aimed to reduce the trade imbalance, thanking the Government of Turkey for the measures it had taken to extend the Generalized System of Market Preference to all LDCs. In order to fully utilize this market preference, the Minister requested the expansion of Turkish private investment in the manufacturing of textile and leather goods and underscored the importance of technical cooperation in these areas as well as agriculture, agro-processing, mining and mineral exploration. Mr. Yildrim for his part emphasized that Turkey has launched its present strategy for enhancing its economic and commercial relations with African countries in 2003. In accordance with this strategy, Turkey aims to contribute to the eradication of poverty in Africa, helping to place African countries, both individually and collectively, on the path of sustainable development. This should halt the marginalization of Africa in the globalization process and enhance its full and beneficial integration into the global economy. In this context, he said, Ethiopia is of utmost importance because of its strategic location in East Africa and its unique political stability among African countries.

During the two-day meeting there were detailed discussions and exchanges of views on possible further expansion of existing commercial, economic and financial relations, as well as on cooperation in the fields of industry, transportation, agriculture, construction and consultancy services, standardization, water resources, and technical cooperation.  The two parties agreed on the areas of intervention over the next two years. The establishment of a joint business council was discussed and an agreement was signed between the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Association and the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey (DEIK) to establish the Ethio-Turkish Business Council. This is expected to play a positive role in enhancing economic and commercial relations. During his visit to Addis Ababa, Mr. Binali Yildrim was received by Prime Minister Meles and held separate meetings to discuss areas of cooperation with Mr. Alemayehu Tegenu, Minister of Mines and Energy, Mr. Diriba Kumma, Minister of Transport and Communication and Mr. Girma Birru, Minister of Trade and Industry.   

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·         Government delegations have been touring the Middle East, the Gulf and Southern Africa to promote the establishment and operation of foreign currency accounts for non-resident Ethiopians and non-resident nationals of Ethiopian origin in recent weeks. They have also been explaining the provisions for international remittance which were issued in 2006, and introducing the new Diaspora Corporate Bond issued by the National Bank of Ethiopia in collaboration with the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCO).One of the delegations was headed by Ato Nega Tsegaye, State Minister for Foreign Affairs, and visited Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon. The second, led by the Director-General of the Ethiopian Expatriates Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, W/ro Mebrat Beyene, visited South Africa and Botswana. Included in both delegations were officials of the EEPCO and the National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE). The delegations were able to underline the rapid economic growth registered by Ethiopia over the past few years. During their meetings with members of the Ethiopian Diaspora, they urged participants to maximize their support to help keep up the impetus towards growth and to ensure its sustainability. The Government is doing its best to implement the policies and strategies put in place to ensure sustainable economic development. This, however, does require the active engagement of citizens both at home and abroad.  Members of the delegations also called upon Ethiopians from all walks of life to make contributions in the fight against poverty, noting that development is crucial for the survival of the nation.  

A central theme of the discussions was the need for support for the energy sector. The delegations emphasized that this is one of the driving forces behind Ethiopia’s robust economic activity. Demand is rising at a faster rate as a result of the boom in construction and the developments in agriculture and the service sector, and the energy sector is an area in which citizens can mobilize resources to propel the current economic growth. There was, however, a need for foreign currency to generate more power in a sustainable manner that could lead to the future export of power. This is the purpose of the issuance by the EEPCO/NBE of corporate bonds for sale to the Diaspora to generate foreign currency for power sector development. The scheme envisages encouraging Ethiopians in the Diaspora to open foreign currency accounts and to remit money as per the existing directives as part of efforts to generate hard currency. Members of the delegations took the opportunity to elaborate on the relevant directives with members of the Diaspora and the benefits that can accrue to those who buy the bonds. Participants of the discussions were urged to open accounts in hard currency and send remittances through formal channels. Many Ethiopians, and foreign nationals of Ethiopian origin, have already displayed keen interest in buying the bonds and opening foreign currency accounts. In discussions, a number of valuable suggestions on how to boost the sales of corporate bonds alongside existing commitments to support Ethiopia’s development efforts were also made.  

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·         There has been much speculation and misrepresentation about the recently promulgated legislation governing registration and operation of charities and societies in Ethiopia. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, which seem to have made it their business to deliberately misunderstand the democratization process in the country, are once again leading the charge, characterizing the legislation as another attempt by the Ethiopian Government to repress civil society and further narrow political space. Opposition sources are equally prepared to join in the litany of allegations with equally little reason.

In fact, despite the noise none of this could be further from the truth. It seems clear that most of these allegations are made deliberately to misinform and misinterpret. They are invariably based on faulty assumptions and the facts twisted to fit these. In addition to fabricating supposed events, these claims also include equally faulty predictions about what are claimed will be negative consequences, of which there can be no evidence. Indeed, it has reached a point where HRW and AI seem to have taken it upon themselves to engage in an endless game of name calling with the Ethiopian Government. As so often, they have included all kinds of irrelevancies to try to build up their argument. While the legislation has its own obvious and legitimate rationale, HRW and AI claim it is part of a pattern by the government to stifle dissent. There is no pattern and looking back over several years to bring in entirely irrelevant and separate instances, as of the imprisonment of a legally convicted opposition politician, hardly proves the point. Frankly, these somewhat desperate attempts appear to have the aim of imposing their objectives on Ethiopia’s legislative processes. Prior to the proclamation, there was a series of frank discussions, held in good faith, between Government officials, national stakeholders, and international partners. This does not appear to have been fully appreciated. Some seem to have dismissed this participatory legislative process because it failed to advance their own narrow agenda; others would clearly not be satisfied unless their own version of the proclamation was passed. Obviously this cannot be acceptable to a Government accountable to its own people. 

In previous weeks, A Week in the Horn, has included some detailed explanations of the main tenets of the new legislation. Sufficient explanations and detailed briefings have been given by relevant officials of the Government who have also held a series of discussions with partners. It has not prevented critics of the legislation from continuing to air their allegations, however unjustified to try to distort the legitimate, clear and straightforward motivations of the Government in providing a workable and transparent system for the work of non-governmental organizations in Ethiopia. The law should, in fact, be welcome to human rights organizations in Ethiopia or to international human rights organizations which have a genuine interest to advance human rights and democracy in Ethiopia, and which do not mind regular evaluations of their activities.  

Civil Societies with the current magnitude of involvement were unknown in Ethiopia before 1991. One of the major achievements of progress in human rights under this government has been the right to association in the Constitution, and the appearance of numerous civil societies, local and international. According to recent statistics, there are more than 4000 civil society organizations in Ethiopia and this growth has been attended by significant contributions ranging from basic advocacy services to poverty-reduction programs. As the legislation covering their activities dates back some five decades, stakeholders, specifically civil societies themselves, have repeatedly requested more up-to-date regulations to cover formation and operation. The outcome is issuance of the Proclamation on Charities and Societies which incorporates consideration of the experience of various countries and reality on the ground, consultation with stakeholders, and public debates on various drafts. The objectives of the legislation have been clear. The ‘system’ under which civil society organizations have been operating has not enabled Ethiopia to enjoy fully the benefits of their contribution in the country’s multi-faceted development efforts. The new proclamation is specifically aimed at enhancing participation in developmental efforts of the country. Only by deliberate distortion of the intentions of the Government can a proclamation of comprehensive legislation that clearly defines and regulates charities and societies be seen as anything except a positive step in the country’s democratization process. The new law’s preamble makes the point clearly enough: ‘it [has been] found necessary to enact a law in order to ensure the realization of citizens’ right to association enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia,…and to aid and facilitate the role of Charities and Societies in the overall development of Ethiopian peoples;’ These objectives cannot reasonably be characterized as ‘repressive or narrowing of the political space’ by any stretch of the imagination.   

The legislation distinguishes between Ethiopian and foreign charities. The issue that seems to have concerned most critics has been the requirement that to be considered an Ethiopian charity, an organization should raise 90% of funds from local sources. This does not imply the prohibition of foreign charities from charitable works or Ethiopian charities from advocacy work. It should, at the outset, be clear that all forms of charity can carry out any of the developmental, relief, and other activities provided for in the Proclamation. The only areas of activity prohibited to foreign charities are political. As should be obvious, political activities which are responsible for a state’s true sovereignty and independence, must be jealously guarded from foreign interference and from the influence which can all too easily be imposed through financial assistance to political activities. Almost all countries impose similar limitations. As for Ethiopian charities, the truth of the matter is that local advocacy groups can continue to undertake their advocacy work unimpeded. This is not a favor from the Government. It is a right guaranteed under the Constitution. The only limitation is that they have to raise 90 % of their funds from local sources. This, in addition to preventing undue political influence by foreigners, will ensure ownership of advocacy work by Ethiopians themselves.  Equally, it should be recognized that the Proclamation does not exclude the possibility of international organizations or foreign governmental organizations operating in Ethiopia, but this must be under an agreement with the Government of Ethiopia and allow for regular evaluations.   

Another important development in the Proclamation is the establishment of an independent Charities and Societies Agency to ensure the implementation of the words and spirit of the legislation. Its structure is adapted from the experience of other countries and from the organization of the executive organs of the government, and other realities. Its objectives include: enabling and encouraging the purposes of charities and societies, creating a situation in which charities and societies are accountable and transparent, and making sure they operate legally. It is mandated to operate under the decisions of the Proclamation and other relevant laws. In addition to administrative remedies, any charity, Ethiopian or foreign, can appeal Agency decisions to a Board of Charities and Societies, on which the charities and societies themselves are represented. It is worth noting that one critical aspect of the new law that has come under almost relentless attack is the provision of ensuring the accountability of societies and charities. It has been alleged that the law introduces over-severe penalties for transgressions. In fact, the Proclamation embraces fundamental principles of penalty as prevention and education; almost all violations, such as a failure to keep accounts satisfactorily, are subject only to fines. For grave violations such as falsification of accounts and the failure to obey the Agency’s lawful orders, suspension until the charity has complied with the legal requirements, can be ordered. It is only with exceptionally grave violations including deliberate fraud and misrepresentation, or involvement in unlawful purpose or purpose prejudicial to public peace, welfare and security, that a cancellation of a CSO’s registration may be imposed. These are perfectly normal consequences for such violations and are not in any way exceptional whatever HRW or AI may say. Another aspect of the law that has given rise to debate has been the requirement of transparency. Some have claimed this as a way of controlling or suppressing activities of particular charities and societies. It is true that CSOs are now required to be transparent and make annual activity reports to the Civil Societies Agency. These requirements include preparation of a statement of accounts according to acceptable standards, notification of bank accounts and the keeping of accounting records. These requirements are simply, and obviously, to ensure the efficiency of CSOs and ensure the funds are fully deployed for their intended purposes.  

In addition to raising numerous misleading or inaccurate, even invented, criticisms of the Proclamation, critics have also carefully ignored almost all the factors that were designed to have a positive impact on the efficient performance of charities and societies. The Proclamation allows CSOs to create a sustainable source of income by engaging in profitable activities related to the achievement of their purpose. It also provides for incentives to CSOs that minimize administrative costs and make maximum use of their resources for their intended purposes. CSOs, for example, that use 80% of their funds for intended purposes, are entitled to incentives. These main tenets of the legislation amply demonstrate that the Proclamation is a significant development that will contribute to entrenching democracy in Ethiopia further. There is nothing in its provisions that merits the kind of virulent attacks that have been witnessed except, perhaps, the increased supervision of certain charities and societies and the requirements of greater transparency. The law, in fact, deserves full support from all local and international charities and societies that have genuine concern for the advancement of human rights, democracy and increased socio-economic development of countries like Ethiopia.