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Cablegate: Ethiopia's Cso/Ngo Law Ready for Parliament

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OO RUEHROV
DE RUEHDS #2846/01 2891417
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O 151417Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2384
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
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RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
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RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ADDIS ABABA 002846

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KDEM PGOV EAID PHUM ET
SUBJECT: ETHIOPIA'S CSO/NGO LAW READY FOR PARLIAMENT
APPROVAL

REF: ADDIS 2482

SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told
Ambassadors from the U.K., France and U.S. during the fourth
in a series of meetings that the proposed Charities and
Societies Proclamation (CSO law) will be sent, after further
minor modifications, to the Council of Ministers this Friday,
October 17, and then to the Parliament for deliberation and
final approval. The Prime Minister was clear that the
proposed law will not be withdrawn. While the Ambassadors
expressed their fundamental opposition to the bill, they
advocated for a discrete set of technical alterations that
would make the bill less prohibitive to civil society
operations in Ethiopia. The Prime Minister expressed deep
frustration with the recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report
criticizing the proposed law and the concerted efforts by
NGOs in Washington and European capitals to apply
international pressure on Ethiopia to suspend legislation on
the law. He reiterated that over 90 percent of NGOs will not
be affected, only those NGOs/CSOs involved in domestic
political activities -- which the Prime Minister noted should
be free from outside interference or unfair influence through
the use of foreign money to sway political views. The
Ambassadors are considering what next steps to take with the
anticipated passage of the law from serving as watchdogs to
continued efforts to modify the implementation of the
legislation. End Summary.

THERE WILL BE A CSO/NGO LAW
---------------------------

2. (SBU) Prime Minister Meles told the group of three
Ambassadors from the U.K., France, and the U.S.,
representatives of the entire diplomatic corps, on October 14
that the proposed CSO law will be discussed by the Council of
Ministers this Friday and then forwarded to the Parliament
for approval. The Prime Minister expressed frustration at
the vocal opposition to the law by the NGO/CSO communities
which has distracted discussions on more pressing issues of
concern in the areas of development, economic prosperity,
regional security and the 2010 electoral process. Meles
called the focus by the international community as a problem
of "perspective" which has fostered misinformation and
misinterpretation about what the proposed law is or is not.

3. (SBU) The Prime Minister reiterated that domestic
political space must be defined, and carefully guarded, by
uniquely and distinctly Ethiopian NGOs/CSOs. Just as in the
U.K., France and the U.S., where citizens determine the
political issues for debate and develop goals and objectives
which meet the countries, respective strategic interests,
Ethiopia must also protect its political space. Ethiopian
groups seeking foreign aid to develop their plans based on
the definitions laid out by foreign NGOs or donors may not
meet the interests of Ethiopia but of the foreign entity.
Even in cases where interests match, Ethiopia's political
development must be fostered by Ethiopian NGOs/CSOs, Meles
argued.

4. (SBU) Meles noted that the government is drafting a fourth
version of the bill to be considered by the Council of
Ministers on October 17, which will take into consideration
the Ambassadors' suggestions. In response to specific
suggestions for alterations, Meles was adamant that the 10
percent funding threshold for definition of an organization
as "foreign" would not be altered. The Prime Minister did
agree to again review the powers of the proposed Civil
Society Agency, noting that the aim was not to dictate how
CSOs run themselves as much as to ensure that basic
principles are observed. Meles similarly agreed to review
again the penalties that the bill imposes, particularly for
administrative mistakes. He argued that the aim was to
ensure that penalties are proportionate to the severity of
offenses, but not to criminalize minor mistakes. Meles did
not agree to remove minimum penalties as proposed by the
Ambassadors. Finally, Meles agreed to consider being more
flexible on the right to appeal, but only for "Ethiopian"
CSOs, but not for "Foreign" CSOs.

HOW FOREIGN NGOS CAN PLAY A ROLE IN POLITICS

ADDIS ABAB 00002846 002 OF 003


--------------------------------------------

5. (SBU) Meles said that maintaining a 10 percent limit on
foreign funding to domestic NGOs/CSOs involved in political
advocacy should be sufficient to meet their basic expenses
and travel without fundamentally altering their agendas.
Further, the Ethiopian government can enter into contracts
and agreements with foreign nations, foundations, NGOs and
groups on political advocacy issues if the program is limited
in duration, clearly focused and helps in areas where
Ethiopia needs assistance, primarily in capacity and
institution building.

6. (SBU) Meles suggested that foreign assistance should be
"demand driven" or address the needs of the developing
country and not "supply driven" implementing programs which
are the specialty or interest of the NGO or foreign donor.
For example, much of the family planning programs by foreign
NGOs are focused in urban areas. These should really be
focused more in rural areas where there is a larger
population. This is a case in which the Ethiopian government
can help define the needs and the scope of programs.

PERCEPTION GAP OR DEEPER PROBLEMS?
----------------------------------

7. (SBU) The Prime Minister called the efforts by NGOs in
Washington and European capitals as misinformation and
misinterpretation of the true intent of the Ethiopian
government. The core issue for Ethiopia is the process of
democratization developed and implemented in a uniquely
Ethiopian approach which would help instill "ownership" and
"commitment" by the Ethiopian people. These efforts will
make Ethiopian CSOs more vibrant and an Ethiopian driven
process.

8. (SBU) The Prime Minister bemoaned that he regrets any
potential loss of support from the U.S. and Europe which
could transcend beyond the mere debate over the CSO law to
other areas. This not what Ethiopia wants. He added that,
in the defense of Ethiopia's "identity" and efforts to
develop "Ethiopian approaches," he hoped that the
international community would understand but Ethiopia would
stick to its present course and push the CSO law forward as
well as continue to advocate for other laws and practices if
they meet Ethiopia's national interests. He committed to
continue discussing this law with foreign interlocutors
because it was important to get Ethiopia's position better
understood.

COMMENT
-------

9. (SBU) Despite the Prime Minister's claims, the CSO law has
hit a raw nerve among donors because it reflects far more
than a difference of perception. Since the May 2005
elections, the Ethiopian government has systematically
blocked the ability of voices from outside the ruling party
and government from "detracting" from the ruling party's
"revolutionary democracy" vision. While the Ethiopian
Government has legitimate concerns over the operations of
some organizations, and NGOs certainly would benefit from a
clearer regulatory regime from which to guide their
operations, donors and civil society alike view the current
law as an effort to stifle the development of civil society
organizations and the watchdog role of civil society over
government. While government interlocutors continue to
assure donor partners that their interpretation of how the
law might be implemented is draconian, the government's track
record in stifling dissent and alternate voices over the past
three years renders such concerns valid. Even if the
government initially implements the law liberally, the
current draft will establish the legal grounds for a very
strict implementation in the future which most Ethiopia
watchers in Addis Ababa expect will have a chilling effect on
civil society operations. The Ambassadors will continue to
press the Council of Ministers and Parliament, directly and
through visitors from capitals, to modify the bill as it
progresses toward ratification. Ultimately, however, it will
become law. We strongly encourage Washington to consider how
the USG will react to its passage and continue to recommend
the language proposed in reftel as a public statement or for
use in responding to press inquiries upon its passage. End

ADDIS ABAB 00002846 003 OF 003


Comment.
YAMAMOTO

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