Historical evidences indicate that charities and societies first started to appear in Ethiopia in the 1950's and these were mostly of European origin. In the 1970's more NGOs emerged especially in response first to the 1973/74 famine and later on to the 1983/84 famine. The number of NGOs continued to grow after the overthrow of the military regime (Derg) in 1991. Charities and Societies, and national and international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have been operating in Ethiopia for almost half a century. The laws governing their registration and operations were first drawn up in the early 1950s and were based on the 1952 Ethiopian Civil Code and Regulation 321/1959. According to the government, by the turn of the Millennium, this no longer provided a workable environment due to the many legislative and other changes that had taken place in Ethiopia and elsewhere. The legislation that had existed for more than five decades had become ineffective.
The government therefore issued a new Proclamation of Charities and Societies in 2009 in order to facilitate and strengthen the effective contributions of NGOs to the socio-economic development of the country. The Proclamation made the necessary amendments to reflect new realities and incorporate the best practices from the similar regulations of other nations. There were also extensive public discussions during the drafting process with all NGOs operating in the country and with other stakeholders.
The newly enacted Proclamation No.621/2009 for the registration of Charities and Societies came into force on February 13th 2009, and on November 9th 2009, the Council of Ministers also issued Regulation No.168/2009 to ensure its implementation in a transparent manner.
During more than half a century from the 1950s to 2009 some 3822 Non-Governmental Organizations were registered to operate in Ethiopia in various areas. The new Charities and Societies Agency, since its establishment in 2009, has re-registered 739 national and international Non-governmental organizations.
Charity organizations have been operating in various parts of Ethiopia in various thematic areas including development. Ideally the organizations are licensed to fill gaps in development and democratization process. The government is under no illusion that development and democracy can be built by the sole efforts of the government and the private sector alone. In this context the operation of charities and associations is considered to be complementary of the nation building efforts in various sectors.
The government, however, believes that not all charity organizations taking licenses are committed to the ideals they are set for. The new law sparked debates and criticisms by those who felt that the new law was paramount to debilitate the operation of the charity organizations.
Although the debates and fears over the new law seem to have settled now suspicions remained in no few charity organizations and associations that the government intends to decimate them.
While some organizations which felt threatened of being targeted either reduced their scope of intervention or closed their operation, others decided to move forward with more strength to make meaningful impacts in various areas that require intervention. These organizations also intended to move ahead to clearly understand the essence of the new law and stepped forward to make more impact as a charity organizations. Of course, for such moves to be strong and make a meaningful impact there is no better tool other than forming groups and networks.
It was with this understanding the Ethiopian Charities and Societies Forum was established in May last year. The Forum was given recognition by the Federal Charities and Societies Agency, which entitles it to operate as a federal representative of charities and societies in the country.
The establishment of a forum for cooperation, coordination and collaborative engagement consisting of charities and societies is found to be instrumental towards the efforts to create a more enabling environment for charities and societies affairs, explains Negash Teklu, President of the Forum.
The Forum which was established by networks of societies and societies legally registered and operating both at federal and regional levels also ensures representation of individual organizations through their networks. Accordingly members shall not only be committed to the objectives of the Forum and make priorities of the forum match their own interest; but also be ready to make contributions in the efforts to coordinate and facilitate best practices with regard to the representation, promotion and recognition of the charities and societies sector, as stipulated in the terms of reference (TOR) of the Forum.
The Forum is set to serve as a formal non-statutory institutional arrangement whereby charities and societies participate in coordinating , cooperating, collaborating, facilitating and supervision a range of initiatives aimed at creating a more enabling environment for their effective engagement in national development endeavors. This was a message that reverberated at the Forum's Second General Assembly meeting which was held on 25 February 2014. In line with this the Assembly evaluated the activities of the forum over the past eight months since its establishment.
According to the President, Negash Teklu, the Forum has accomplished several activities over the relatively short period of time which have paved a platform whereby it will be able to effectively mobilize the charities and societies in the country for meaningful contribution in the country’s development. Some of the significant accomplishments include getting recognition from the Federal Charities and Societies Affairs Agency, endorsement of the Forum's logo, opening of bank account, and developing its term of reference. Moreover, the Forum not only held consultations with donor groups but also developed annual plan and mobilized support for its implementation.
Speaking on the occasion of the General Assembly meeting through his representative, Minister of Federal Affairs, Dr. Shiferaw Tekle Mariam alluded that for the country to sustain its fast development role of development partners including the civil societies is vital. In line with this the Minister lauded the efforts of the Forum to realize its purpose of establishment.
The Minister called on the forum to revamp its contribution toward making the poor beneficiary of development and helping realize the country’s Growth and Transformation Plan by being abide by the country’s laws. He also underscored that side by side with contributing to development, the forum need to tackle any pervert intentions that stand in contradiction with the country’s development goals.