Why do Arabs call Ethiopia Habasha


Historically, there is no strong civil society in Ethiopia. First, Ethiopia was ruled for centuries in a feudal system by a monarchy that was replaced by the totalitarian military dictatorship in 1974. Only since the beginning of the 1990s has civil society been able to slowly develop.

The consistently dominant form of social organization is the family in the broadest sense. In addition, there are traditional institutions such as councils of elders, which often act as conflict resolution bodies. Other traditional forms of civil society organization are also known. One example is the Idir: It is a kind of “death fund” into which the members pay. If a death occurs in the member's family, the funeral will be financed from the shared Idir credit. The other Idir members also take on the social obligations associated with the funeral ceremonies (presence, meals for the mourners, etc.). Today, these not-for-profit, voluntary associations also take on many other tasks within the community.

Civil society engagement in the western sense, for example in the form of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that participate in political decision-making processes, is not a deeply rooted phenomenon in Ethiopia. The influence - and also the number - of such NGOs have increased significantly over the past 30 years. The largest NGO umbrella organization is the Consortium of Christian Relief and Development Association (CCRDA), which has over 330 member organizations.

With the Law on Charities and Societies, the non-governmental organizations were given a new legal framework. In the run-up to this, there were violent protests against this legislative proposal together with the international donor community. The main criticism was that NGOs are considered "foreign organizations" if they receive more than 10% of their income from foreign sources. As a result, these organizations are excluded from working in sensitive areas such as democratization, the rule of law or human rights. After minor changes, the law nevertheless came into force at the beginning of 2009 and resulted in some organizations having to stop their work or realign their content.

The Heinrich Böll Foundation decided to withdraw from Ethiopia at the end of 2012 because the new law and the implementing ordinances that came into force in 2011 reached a new high point in the restriction of civil society work.

In view of the escalating anti-government protests in the course of 2016, the Ethiopian government intensified the surveillance of civil society movements and organizations and in some cases made their work considerably more difficult. In addition to waves of arrests in the context of the state of emergency, there were also tightening of the law (e.g. a new law on Internet crime). Under Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed seems to be improving the situation for civil society organizations. As part of his dialogue and reconciliation-oriented policy, he has also invited NGOs to discussions and participation in reform processes and in 2019 created a new framework for civil society action in Ethiopia with the new Organization of Civil Societies Proclamation.