Everyone knows…

To our readers: The Strathink Editorial Team is pleased to announce a new weekly feature called “Everybody knows…” . The objective of this feature is to bring facts to a political discourse often held hostage to rumors, gossip and innuendo. “Every knows…” will look at what people say and think to be true–despite facts to the contrary. Additionally, we will give context to the perceptions in order to understand why people are asserting facts to the contrary. Our second–“Everyone knows that Ethiopia’s Society and Charities Organization (CSO) law has significantly reduced the number of NGOs in Ethiopia.”

Let’s look at the numbers.

In 2009, when the CSO law was enacted, there were 2,275 national NGOs, which included 2,000 NGOs across sectors, 150 professional organizations and 125 civic advocacy organizations.

In 2011, following the enactment of the CSO law, there were 1,701 NGOs across sectors, 110 Ethiopian charities (including human rights organizations), 261 Ethiopian societies, 1,270 resident charities (including human rights and civic society organizations), and 60 Ethiopian resident societies.

In 2014, there were 3,181. in 2014, 174 new CSOs were registered, 158 CSOs were closed, including 133 involuntarily for failing project implementation due to lack of funds.

In 2017 there were 3183 charities and societies. Of these, 430 are foreign charities, 340 are Ethiopian societies, 2252 are Ethiopian resident charities and societies, 109 are Ethiopian charities, and 52 are consortiums.

The numbers don’t lie. The CSO law has NOT reduced the number of NGOs in Ethiopia.

Now let’s look at some of the criticisms.

The fact that CSOs are required to register led some to make the argument that the government’s intentions were a sinister plot to repress NGOs in Ethiopia. It is a fact, however, that all countries require NGOs to register and all countries reserve the right to deny an NGO’s registration. The more appropriate questions are: 1) Are the requirements for registration clearly articulated; 2) Are the requirements for registration reasonable; and, 3) Are the requirements for registration enforced equally across the board.

The CSO law states that any NGO receiving more than 10% of its funds from foreign sources is denied Ethiopian corporate citizenship. The significance of this regulation is wrapped around the requirement that an NGO must have Ethiopian corporate citizenship to engage in human rights or governance issues. Those in favor of this requirement argue that foreign funding means serving a foreign agenda, which may not necessarily serve the interests of the Ethiopian people. Those who oppose this requirement argue that this restricts the number of NGOs working on human rights and governance issues.

Should money from foreign sources drive the agenda of Ethiopian governance or human rights? Is there an inherent danger in allowing external actors to chart the course of Ethiopia’s democratization process or the protection of citizens’ rights? For example, what about Ethiopia’s secular state? Could foreign actors with a jihadist agenda get a foothold in Ethiopia using their limitless funds?

You get the picture.

The mass hysteria over the CSO law by groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch created a false narrative of a standard governance practice in all Western democracies. The international community has not ever raised questions about the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) process of requiring registration and regulating NGOs operating in the U.S.

If there are questions about components of the CSO law that are unconstitutional or contrary to international human rights norms, then they should be raised within that context.

The Strathink Editorial will be pleased to publish any reasonable response to this article.

Let’s have a conversation.

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