Over the past decade, the Government of Ethiopia has taken steps to combat poverty and promote economic growth so as to reach the level of a middle-income economy as of 2020. Notably, the second phase of the Government’s five-year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP-II) aims to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and double the country’s GDP by 2020. However, the myriad of crisis that had been shaking the country for some time over the past couple of years was forcing the economy to be in a downward spiral and was almost pushing the country to the brink of collapse.
Fortunately, the top brass of the ruling coalition prompted the “do-or-die” Executive Committee meeting deliberated at length and acknowledged that its problems were exacerbated by a lack of inclusive development, weak internal party democracy and lack of good governance, among others. The output of the meeting brought a new leadership that surely gives citizens a bright hope that ensures the country is returning from recess and heralds the opening of new horizons to widen democratic space and building a national consensus among all stakeholders.
The prospects of a new political landscape became visible during the newly elected Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed’s powerful and historically afresh Inaugural Address. His Excellency emphasized the need to fully realize the freedoms and rights enshrined in the Constitution, noting “democracy is unthinkable without freedom. … We need to respect all human and democratic rights, especially to free expression, assembly and organization, by upholding the constitution that emerged from this understanding of freedom. …democracy needs to be fully realized.”
The new prime minister’s call for a fresh approach to leadership already provided hope to citizens and stakeholders across the country and beyond. Acting swiftly in keeping his promises and to make good on his pledges of widening the democratic space, interestingly he was sitting down with the opposition, CSOs, various regional representatives and engaged in good-faith negotiations on the country’s future. It was with great appreciation stakeholders, including the CSO sector welcomes the leadership initiative. We recognize that such moves are vital in solving the deadlocks that have been on the surface over the past nine years in creating adequate space for CSOs to play their crucial development role, poverty reduction and advancement of good governance, in line with the government’s policies and strategies and in particular in accordance with the GTP-II that clearly recognizes the contribution of the civil society sector as crucial development partner.
As the new Premier put it “… we need not forget while trying to ensure the supremacy of the law is that our people are not looking simply for the presence laws but also the realization of justice. The enforcement of the law need not be divorced from justice. What our people are striving for isn’t a dry law but rather a system of laws conceived within justice that stands for justice.”
The Premier added that “the law must rule us all equitably. When it does, the law protects for all of us the dignity that emanates from our humanity. By comprehending this truth, we shall fill the gap in the administration of justice by making the necessary reforms so that democracy will flourish in our country; so that freedom and justice shall reign; so that the supremacy of the law becomes a reality.” It is believed that supremacy of the law also means, among many other reforms dismantling repressive laws instituted since 2008, including the Charities and Societies Proclamation. The CSO sector recognizes the vital role of the enactment of the Charities and Societies Proclamation 621/2009 law to promote accountability within the sector. Yet, articles, regulations, and procedures in the CSP make the law inhibiting justice and at certain extent seem contradictory against the Constitution.
On his inaugural address, PM Dr Abiy Ahmed also recognized that “what we all need to understand is that building democratic system demands listening to each other. The people have the full right to criticize its servants, to elect them, and to interrogate them. Government is a servant of the people. This is because our governing principle is popular sovereignty. In a democratic system, the first and last principle ought to be that of entertaining differences of opinion by listening to each other. By realizing that Ethiopia belongs to us all, that it is our common property, we will strongly and steadfastly continue with our efforts to build a democratic system in which the voice of all Ethiopians is heard and everyone is allowed equal participation.”
It is very interesting to see that the current leadership seems to gaining wide support and reputations among all groups and stakeholders in the country. However, all should assess the promises with cautious optimism as such approaches would benefit the leadership. Thus, all CSO, Private sector, government and other stake holders should take advantage of the new political landscape and render their respective duties accordingly to support the initiatives of the leadership to become a reality. This kind of efforts will ensure that the diversity and plurality of views of different stakeholders will be respected and boost the new initiative in inclusive socio-economic development. CSOs, on their parts, should work on capitalizing on the opportunities; exert more efforts to gain greater recognition and support for their development as well as to freely operating to serve their purpose so as to help deliver the overarching goal of Ethiopia’s economic and social growth.
Marking the promises as well as understanding the urge to expand the CSO space, the sector should also advocate more vigorously for enabling environment that will be based on mutual trust, respect, equal participation and solidarity of all stakeholders. Moreover, by doing so, the Sector would help the Premier and the Government to act upon the promises.