How a holistic approach to accountability could help reposition civil society in the renewal of the civic space in Ethiopia

By December 16, 2019 Events, News

In contrast to other countries in the East Africa region, a window of opportunity for the renewal of the civic space has recently emerged in Ethiopia with a new set of Proclamation Laws adopted by the Federal Government. Published in the Federal Gazzette in March 2019, the CSO Proclamation No 1113/2019 creates an opportunity for civil society to reposition itself and develop tools and mechanisms that not only fosters trust with the government but also with the people with whom they work. Thus, the existing Code of Conduct should be amended and CSOs should take a leading role in this process, so it becomes a useful tool for their day-to-day operations, for involving unheard voices, for enhancing their capacity to improve people ́s lives and, lastly, for achieving sustainable and positive change.

In this context, the Global Standard for CSO Accountability provides a framework that can be used to guide the development or implementation of different tools: revise the old National Code of Conduct for Charities and Societies in Ethiopia, and/or guide the implementation of the national civic engagement policy. Furthermore, it could serve as an instrument to enhance the capacities of Ethiopia’s civil society and, in turn, prove the importance of the CSO sector in the country.  In addition, it has the potential to contribute to further opening the space in which organizations operate while strengthening their relationship with various stakeholders.

On October 29, a workshop was held by the Global Standard for CSO Accountability Secretariat and the Ethiopian Civil Society Organization Forum (ECSF) to reflect on the different characteristics associated to the concept of accountability, by grouping them in actions, results and values. A diverse group of 40 Ethiopian CSOs gathered in Addis Ababa to discuss how their organizations understood and practiced accountability in their own context, as well as how a more dynamic approach on it could help them to set a framework to co-create a new national code of conduct.

Recognizing the key role that civil society plays in a democracy, participants discussed how CSOs could provide checks and balances, and how CSOs could create an enabling environment for citizens to raise their voices and participate in the decision-making process. Leveraging on this new opportunity for civil society to freely operate in the country, participants became aware that with the new rights also come new responsibilities, especially those relating to the people they want to serve and work alongside.

During the workshop, and through a role play exercise, participants were able to examine how different ways to engage with all stakeholders could lead to different results. This activity served to show the importance of embedding a holistic and dynamic approach to accountability in the practices and culture of an organization in order to be effective and increase impact and trust.  Participants agreed that due diligence, financial management systems, results frameworks, data and information, preparation of annual reports, codes of conduct are necessary but insufficient to become accountable. Thus, an organisation could embrace an accountability-centric organisational culture by putting people at the core of its decision-making process.

Reflecting on the presentation of the 12 commitments of the Global Standard for CSO Accountability, participants were invited to find the most useful ways to incorporate Dynamic Accountability and the Global Standard according to their own needs and contexts. Among the various ways, participants could use the Global Standard as a framework to revise the National Code of Conduct, to implement accountability and to strengthen the capacity of Ethiopian civil society. Through the practice of these commitments, CSOs will be able to self-regulate and show to the country their commitment to the people.

Furthermore, in light of the exercises undertaken in the workshop, participants will also need to consider the challenges that they may encounter; identify successful self-regulated mechanisms to put the code of conduct into practice, and come together to reflect on these mechanisms and practices periodically. An open door has been left for participants to reach out to the Global Standard for further support and for the use of the available Global Standard tools.

With the aim that the newly elicited Code of Conduct is developed for and by CSOs and becomes ready in March 2020 for approval by the government, joint efforts by the Ethiopian Civil Society Organization Forum (ECSF) and other organisations are being made. A code that is self-developed will ensure that it is not compliance-oriented, but it is a tool that helps CSOs to adjust their work to an evolving environment.

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