Spotlight on Ethiopia: The New Charities and Societies Law and Trends

This month it is our privilege to feature a guest post by Noah Degu, a distinguished Ethiopian professional with a multidisciplinary background currently at the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), a Regional Hub embracing five African countries. Degu’s experience in civil society includes a post as Program Director at the Office of the First Lady (within the Prime Minister’s office), coordinating major initiatives of the former and current First Ladies of Ethiopia. Degu was also a Government Relations Manager at World Vision International (WVI), and held various legal positions before joining the philanthropic sector, including teaching law courses. Degu holds a Bachelor degree in Law and a Master of Public Administration. Most recently, Degu has played a role in the drafting process of the new civil society law in Ethiopia, which he describes in greater detail in this guest post.





The evolution of charities in Ethiopia emanates from relief interventions such as food aid and rehabilitation programs during the drought in 1984. It was not a quick shift for charities to expand their role to engage in other developmental agendas for the decades thereof. The status of charity organizations has been shaped in tonation with the political ideology and systems of governance during those times[1].

Ethiopia has long experience in self-help associations called “Idir” and “equb” offering socio-economic support to their members[2]. These most effective and enduring informal institutions have been a great instrument for solving common challenges with consorted effort. Charities and societies platforms have been thought to emerge to serve wider purposes in a relatively organized fashion. The legal framework for both charities and societies has been entertained separately with strict limitations (especially during the Military Rule Period 1974-1991) until the introduction of the new Charities and Societies Proclamation Number 621/2009.

Following the current political reformation taking place in the country, the status of a new civil societies law is yet to card another form. It has been one of the laws that many disparage for its inflexibility, hampering civil societies from copiously discharging their legitimate role in the country.  

The rescinded Charities and Societies Proclamation No. 621 (enacted in 2009 and repealed in 2019) has been panned for its inadequacies such as:  the overstretched authority vested on the monitoring government agency, non-practicability of allowed cost categories for operational expenses and restriction on promotion of right-based activities not to be performed by resident societies.  Strict interpretation of the laws and lack of clarity on interpretation of certain provisions were also among major challenges faced by NGOs over the last decade.  

One has to frequently appear to the agency[3] to process every trivial approval including bank signatory change, vehicle plate number and property disposal among others. It is also evident that officers get overwhelmed by 2500+ organizations visiting to seek services.

According to the new law initiated by the Justice and Law Reform Advisory Council, major critical issues are addressed to ease the way of doing business for CSOs.    

The new Civil Society Organizations Agency Proclamation No. 1113/2019 was approved on March 7, 2019 in the House of Peoples’ Representatives with the main objectives of creating an enabling environment to enhance the role of civil society organizations in the development and democratization of the country. Areas that were off-limit for resident/foreign CSOs, such as promotion of human and democratic rights, conflict resolutions, promotion of efficiency of the justice system and advocacy for equality among nations and nationalities, are now expected to be open to be undertaken by CSOs. The source of funding was one of the major factors for categorizing CSOs into local and foreign/resident. With the new law both foreign and local CSOs are anticipated to raise funds from any legitimate source. Administrative cost percentage is going to be pulled to be 20% from its former 30% while operational costs have been raised to 80% under the new law. The new law through its following detail directives is projected to lift the restriction on ownership and disposition rights of CSOs. However, the law seems to be on-hold as the Council of Ministers did not issue an accompanying detailed guide through a regulation. In the meantime, civil society organizations apart from their new re-registration might have to wait for the Federal Charities and Societies Agency, currently renamed as the Civil Society Organizations Agency, to undertake its restructure. The directives[4] that are implicitly repealed by the new proclamation will also have to be revised by the Agency. Currently it has been observed that the Agency is facing some strain to fit the existing directives with the expectation of the new proclamation during this provisional period.  

Degu and NGOsource will continue to track the progress of the new law, and will provide additional updates as appropriate. If you have questions about equivalency determinations and NGOs in Ethiopia, please contact NGOsource.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of TechSoup Global.

[1] See NGO Law Monitor, Ethiopia, the International Center for Not-for profit Law.

[2] Iquib and Idir: Socio-Economic Traditions of the Ethiopians, by Ayele Bekerie, PhD (Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University)

[3] Federal Charities and Societies Agency, renamed as Civil Society Organizations Agency under the new Proclamation no. 113/2019.

[4] Eight directives set by the Federal Charities and Societies Agency to execute detail matters envisaged in the proclamation no. 621/09.

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