Cablegate: Prime Minister Meles Set On New Cso/Ngo Law in Autumn

Published: Thu 31 Jul 2008 01:17 PM
DE RUEHDS #2105/01 2131317
P 311317Z JUL 08
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Prime Minister Meles set on new CSO/NGO law in autumn
1. (SBU) Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told Ambassadors from
the UK, France and US on July 30 during the third of a series of
meetings that the proposed Charities and Societies Organizations Law
(CSO) has become so politicized that it has exacerbated animosities
within the Central Committee of the ruling EPRDF party towards the
very CSOs and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) which help
Ethiopia. Further, the emotional debate raised unnecessary
misunderstandings among the donor community. It is time to pass the
law and work cooperatively together to implement the law, the Prime
Minister stressed. He underscored that democratic institution
building and the defense of basic human and civil rights must be the
sole responsibility of the people of Ethiopia and not imposed from
outside. Foreign money and outside assistance will not enhance, but
could undermine, the development and sense of "ownership" of the
democratic process in Ethiopia. The Prime Minister stressed that
few NGOs/CSOs would be affected and urged continued cooperation on
development issues. He said he would review the concerns and the
reports prepared by the Ambassadors and donor group and that some
revisions would be forthcoming but the general text of the law would
be enacted in the autumn. There is an exception, the Prime Minister
noted, in which foreign CSOs/NGOs -- like the National Democratic
Institute or similar organizations -- may be invited by the
government to help advise it on democratic issues. Post assesses
that the Prime Minister's tough line was more intended to influence
than inform the assembled ambassadors and there remains an
opportunity for the U.S. and other donors to continue to engage the
Ethiopian government to avoid passage of a damaging law, or at least
moderate the excesses. End Summary.
2. (SBU) For over two and-a-half hours on July 30, Prime Minister
Meles told French Ambassador Stephane Gompertz, UK Ambassador Norman
Ling and the U.S. Ambassador that discussion over the CSO law has
become so politicized that it has created unnecessary animosities
between Ethiopia and the donor community and misunderstandings. To
overcome the bitter and "poisonous" discussion, it would be best to
pass the law quickly once the Parliament reconvenes in October. The
Ethiopian Government can then work cooperatively with the CSO/NGO
groups and donor community to make the new legislation work. Once
time has passed the law can be viewed in a more pragmatic and
professional manner with less emotion.
3. (SBU) The Prime Minister said the debate over the proposed law
had embittered the Central Committee of the ruling EPRDF party whose
members viewed the criticism and emotional statements from the CSO
and NGO communities as having little to do with the proposed law and
everything to do with attacks on the GOE. For this reason, the
Prime Minister said he stopped seeing the CSO/NGO communities, but
continued seeing the three ambassadors because the discussion was a
rational and calm debate over the law.
4. (SBU) The British Ambassador passed over an analysis of the law
prepared by the donors group. The Prime Minister said he would
review the text and make changes to the proposed law, if necessary.
Concerning the letter handed to him by the three ambassadors (a copy
of which was e-mailed to AF/E on July 29), the Prime Minister
responded that he appreciated the analysis and issues raised by the
Ambassadors. Concerning the distinction made between domestic and
foreign CSOs/NGOs, the Prime Minister said the distinction would
remain. The Ambassadors' concerns over restrictions in helping
women, children and handicap, the Prime Minister said these are
advocacy issues and it could not be accepted because these are
distinctly Ethiopian issues for Ethiopians to address.
5. (SBU) The Prime Minister said he would review and consult his
advisors on the Ambassadors' concerns over the proposed agency that
would oversee CSOs/NGOs, as well as the criminalization of
activities and administrative errors. He would also review again
the lack of an appeal process for those CSOs/NGOs objecting to
administrative decisions of the agency.
6. (SBU) The Prime Minister articulated that democratic institution
building, the advancement of democratic values and the protection
and promotion of human rights and civil rights must be born and
developed by Ethiopians themselves. It cannot, and must not, be
imposed by outsiders or through money distributed to advance these
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issues because such measures are not sustainable. If Ethiopians
must rely on foreign aid, on outside help, and on money from foreign
groups to advocate for women's rights or the plight of children,
then it may never become fully embraced or protected or advanced by
the Ethiopians themselves. To have a vibrant democracy, to have
true protection and advancement of rights, the Ethiopian people must
want it, advocate for it and defend it. Without such "ownership"
Ethiopia will not have a strong and sustainable democratic
tradition. For this, the Prime Minister argued, you do not need
money, you need political will. He emphasized that he is dedicated
to democracy and that it must be a uniquely Ethiopian sponsored
7. (SBU) The French Ambassador argued that Ethiopia is on the
democratic path so it is Ethiopian in nature. Providing assistance
will help the process move faster, why deny groups assistance and
retard such development? The Ambassador said Ethiopia opposes early
marriage and protects the rights of the disabled. It is best to
allow the CSOs/NGOs and donor community to help this process. The
Prime Minister said this is logical, but the consequences could be
very different than what the assistance intends to accomplish.
Forcing people to oppose early marriage, or spending money in
communities to observe it, may yield some positive results, Meles
conceded, but will it be ingrained in the psyche and soul of the
people, will it continue after the money runs out, will the people
have truly embraced these values or just observe them so long as the
money is coming in. To truly test the will of the people, the
people themselves must want it, must advocate for it, must sustain
it. In this context, the government and Ethiopian CSOs/NGOs will
advocate for these issues and work with the communities to advance
these values.
8. (SBU) The Prime Minister gave the example of Congressman Chris
Smith of New Jersey, who adamantly opposes abortion. When
Ethiopia's parliament passed a clause allowing abortion in instances
when the mother's life was in danger, Congressman Smith severely
criticized the Prime Minister and his government and is now a vocal
critic of Ethiopia. If Ethiopia accepted funding from anti-abortion
groups and overturned the Parliamentary law to be in compliance with
Congressman Smith, it would not be a law truly embraced by the
people of Ethiopia. The Prime Minister said he was sympathetic to
both the abortion and anti-abortion arguments but in the final
analysis this must be a debate by the people of Ethiopia, a
discussion with Ethiopia's religious leaders and community
advocates. It must be a uniquely and distinctly an Ethiopian
9. (SBU) The Prime Minister conceded that the government will call
on foreign CSOs/NGOs to help with democratic issues, but it will be
at the request of the government not imposed from the outside. NDI,
for instance, offers sound advice and unique qualities in helping
the government on democratic issues. Working with government
entities, NDI can advise the government on how best to promote a
transparent electoral process.
10. (SBU) Democracy can be illusory in Africa, Meles argued.
CSOs/NGOs and donors can pour money into election processes and
perhaps there may be good elections according to Western standards,
but would they be truly democratic elections. The Prime Minister
said that donors give money to good local groups to advance worthy
causes. But the plague of money also allows many groups to focus
their work on definitions established by the donors in order to
secure funding. In the end, when money is no long available, he
argued, these local groups would go to another area to attract
outside funding. It is a business, when it should be a national
priority, an innate desire and will to advance democracy and human
11. (SBU) The Prime Minister praised Japan in its modernization
efforts as an example of a country which itself sought out new ideas
and practices, made mistakes, learned from them and established
uniquely Japanese institutions which supported democratic and human
rights issues. This is what Ethiopia strives to achieve.
12. (SBU) Finally, the Prime Minister gave the example of Germany
prior to World War II. Communists and Nazis fought over control and
using elections to resolve differences was not practical because
neither group believed in democracy or democratic practices but used
democratic practices to subvert those values and ideals. Thus,
democracy must be advocated by the Ethiopians themselves in the
context of protecting and defending democratic values by the
Ethiopians themselves.
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13. (SBU) Despite Meles's strong argument that the CSO law will
become law in October, Embassy Addis Ababa assesses that the Prime
Minister's tough stance was more intended to influence the assembled
ambassadors than to inform us of pending GoE action. Clearly the
heavy international criticism of the proposed law has led to delays
in its submission to the Parliament and revisions to parts of the
drafts. As parliament does not reconvene until October 10, there
remains time for the international community to continue to engage
GoE interlocutors about the damaging effects of the law on
Ethiopia's development, and economy. Post will continue to engage
the GoE, in concert with international partners, to prevent the
passage of the law or continued revisions of the draft proposal.
Prime Minister will travel to UNGA in New York in September and we
plan to arrange a trade and investment program for him afterwards.
We can raise with him again at that time the need to rethink the
effects of the proposed law. A majority of the Central Committee of
the ruling party, support passage of the law and should it pass we
will need to work carefully with our CSO/NGO community to determine
what effect the law will have on our operations. Currently over 80
percent of our over US$ 700 million assistance is implemented by
NGOs. End Comment.
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