The Coalition of Ethiopian Civil Society Organizations for Elections (CECOE), in collaboration with Dialogue Ethiopia, conducted a series of intellectual dialogues themed “Role of Intellectuals on National Issues” on October 14, 21, and 28 in Dire Dawa, Hawassa, and Addis Ababa, respectively. These dialogues brought together 134 intellectuals from 12 universities to engage in inspiring discussions and explore the critical role of intellectuals in determining Ethiopia’s future.
Welcoming speech: CECOE’s Enduring Commitment to Ethiopia’s Democratic Processes
The dialogues commenced with opening remarks by Abera Haile Mariam, the Executive Director of CECOE. In his remarks, he highlighted CECOE’s unwavering commitment to contribute to strengthening democracy in the Ethiopia, process and featured its active involvement in various electoral cycles, including the 6th general election, Sidama, Southwest, South Ethiopia referendum, Wolayita referendum rerun, and other crucial electoral related engagements.
Keynote Speeches: Intellectuals as Agents of Change
Ayalew Zegeye, the Board chairperson of Dialogue Ethiopia, set the stage for the dialogues by emphasizing the paramount importance of intellectuals in addressing national issues. This was followed by insightful keynote speeches delivered by renowned scholars Dr. Yeacob Arsano and Dr. Yonas Ashine from Addis Ababa University. The speakers delved into the journey of Ethiopian intellectuals, their contributions and the challenges they faced during various regimes.
The keynote speakers also underscored the pressing need for intellectuals to make practical commitments that foster sustainable development, uphold constitutionalism, promote modernity, and preserve continuity. The speakers also stated the current intellectuals category falls by two i.e. some are passionate about power and others focus on academics and research. The latter, most of them think that they are mandated solely to do research and laboratory work targeting only being a professor, these are prisoners of their intellectual desires. Due to this, they became monastic intellectuals. The keynote speakers also challenged the intellectual community to actively seek solutions that bring peace, reconciliation, and end to conflicts.
Group Discussions and Presentations: Intellectuals as Problem-Solvers
Following the keynote speeches, participants were divided into groups and tasked with addressing the critical question: “What can and should Ethiopian intellectuals do to change the status quo and positively influence the future of the country?” The groups engaged in lively discussions and presented their findings, covering considerable areas:
Intellectuals as Problem Solvers:Participants underlined the expectation for intellectuals to actively contribute to finding solutions to Ethiopia’s challenges, recognizing their potential to provide insightful analyses and propose effective solutions.
Individual and Collective Initiatives:Intellectuals are encouraged to take proactive steps, both as individuals and groups, to address national issues. This included initiating grassroots movements, engaging in community outreach, and advocating for social change.
Genuine, Neutral, and Creative Engagement: Participants stressed the importance of discharging their responsibilities with authenticity, neutrality, and creativity. Intellectuality was seen as a platform for fostering open dialogue, promoting critical thinking, and embracing diverse perspectives.
Engaging with Government Bodies: Intellectuals were called upon to bridge the gap between academia and government, seeking to alter perspectives about their roles and collaboratively address problems. This involves engaging in constructive dialogue with policymakers, providing expert advice, and participating in policy formulation processes.
Strategic Foresight: Participants recognized the significance of strategic thinking and planning for intellectuals to effectively shape Ethiopia’s future. This encompasses anticipating emerging trends, developing long-term visions, and formulating actionable strategies for sustainable development.
Trust in the Process: Intellectuals are urged to trust the process of change and actively engage in dialogue sessions, recognizing that progress often requires sustained effort and collective action.
Research findings to inform policy decisions: Engaging in research that tackles real-world problems was identified as a crucial task for intellectuals. This includes conducting empirical research, generating data-driven insights, and applying research findings to inform policy decisions.
Reality-Based Suggestions: Participants highlighted the importance of providing suggestions grounded in Ethiopian reality. This comprises understanding the historical, cultural, and socioeconomic factors shaping the country’s challenges.
Developing Empathy: Intellectuals were encouraged to cultivate empathy and consider the needs and perspectives of all Ethiopians. This involves listening to diverse voices, accepting the root causes of societal issues, and advocating for marginalized communities.
Breaking the Silence: Participants emphasized the need for intellectuals to be courageous, risk-takers and break the silence on critical issues. This consists of speaking out against injustice, challenging harmful narratives, and promoting responsible citizenship.
Conclusion and Key Takeaways:
In conclusion, the intellectual dialogues emphasized the importance of making an influence to positively change things by sharing knowledge and experience. It was also recommended that intellectuals engage in discussion forums on national and other related issues on a large scale and with a wide range of issues. Moreover, advocacy, setting agendas, and networking among intellectuals were raised as the essential ways forward.
The key takeaways from these dialogues include:
Intellectuals possess the power to positively influence Ethiopia’s political and development trajectory.
Proactive and constructive engagement with the government and other stakeholders are crucial for real change.
Intellectuals should establish means of networking and communication channels to advocate for solutions to the challenges Ethiopia has faced.
Call to Action:
CECOE and Dialogue Ethiopia will continue organizing similar forums and call on all Ethiopian intellectuals to join the discussions and actively contribute their fair share to shape a better future for the country.
The Coalition of Ethiopian Civil Society Organizations for Elections (CECOE) hosted a National Dialogue Agenda Collection Forum on September 5, 2023, at the Magnolia Hotel in Addis Ababa. The forum was attended by leaders and representatives from over 65 civil society organizations (CSOs) that operate in all regions and city administrations.
The forum was opened by Abera Hailemariam, the Executive Director of CECOE. He welcomed the participants and thanked them for their commitment. He also highlighted the importance of CSOs’ involvement in the identification of the agenda to be submitted to the National Dialogue Commission.
An opening remark was made by Dr. Moges Demisse, a representative from the Ethiopian Civil Society Organizations Council (ECSOC). Dr. Moges called on CSO representatives to actively set their agenda in the dialogue process. He said that “Ethiopian civil society organizations should move from receiving to setting agenda”.
participants were broken into seven groups to identify the root causes of the difference in fundamental national issues and the topics for the national dialogue as well as current issues stemming from the past that can be solved in a sustainable manner and ensure lasting peace. Having identified what it thinks are fundamental national issues, each group presented its list of agenda to the plenary session. Some of the issues identified include.
Issues related to history and nation-building
Issues of self-administration, identity, and governance
Good governance problems
Problems related to the implementation of the provisions of the constitution
Upon the mandate given by the participants, the CECOE Secretariate organized issues forwarded by the groups into one document and submitted it to the ECSOC.
A delegation of Ethiopian civil society leaders visited Nigeria from February 22 – February 28, 2022, to observe and familiarize themselves with how Nigerian election observation networks and groups organize to promote and facilitate citizen engagement and participation in elections.. The delegation consisted of representatives from the Coalition of Ethiopian Civil Society Organizations for Elections (CECOE), the Consortium of Ethiopia Human Rights Organizations (CEHRO), the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA), and the Federation of Ethiopian Association of Persons with Disabilities (FEAPD). The delegation met with the heads and experts of election observation groups, attend a Political Peace Accord, visited election situation rooms and public lectures in the Democracy, observed the voting process observed in some polling units in Abuja,
The delegation focused on several key issues that are relevant to Ethiopia’s upcoming election, such as:
Introduce methods, programs, and activities that can be implemented in Ethiopia’s context
Disability Inclusion in the electoral process
Youth participation in the electoral process
Gender Inclusion and violence against women in the electoral process
The relationship between civil society, citizens, and electoral management bodies
Electoral violence and the use of technology in election processes
The delegation shared their observations and insights in a webinar hosted by NDI on November 4, 2021. Here are some of the highlights from the speakers:
Ato Abera gave an overview of Nigeria’s political history and its journey to democracy. He noted that Nigeria has a strong civil society sector that played a vital role in ensuring a peaceful and credible election. He also highlighted some of the takeaways and challenges and innovations that Nigeria faced in its election, such as:
The introduction of a new currency note caused logistical problems and cash shortages
Biometric Voter Verification (BVA) has helped prevent some types of electoral fraud. However, it has been observed that the system is not a solution for all kinds of fraud, and there have been instances of BVA failure.
Nigerian CSOs deployed a large number of observers in the elections, and Ethiopian CSOs should aim to increase the number and quality of observers in future elections.
The use of an electronic transmission system called INEC Results Viewing allowed for real-time viewing of results, but also experienced delays and malfunctions
The reliance on manual counting and collation in most polling stations due to system failures
Ato Abera concluded that technology can be both an enabler and a hindrance for elections and that it should be carefully planned and tested before implementation. He also stressed the importance of having a robust legal framework and a transparent dispute resolution mechanism for elections.
Mesud Gebeyehu Reta, Executive Director, CEHRO
Ato Mesud focused on the trust and cooperation between civil society and the electoral management body in Nigeria. He praised INEC for being responsive and inclusive towards civil society groups, and for providing them with access to information and accreditation. He also commended the civil society groups for being well-organized and coordinated in their observation and advocacy efforts. He noted that civil society groups used various platforms, such as social media, radio, television, and press conferences, to disseminate their findings and recommendations.
Ato Mesud recommended that the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) should work closely with civil society groups to enhance their capacity and credibility. He also urged donors to provide more than just technical support to civil society groups, but also financial and moral support.
Lensa Biyena Geleta, Executive Director, EWLA
Lensa spoke about the gender dimension of the election in Nigeria. She observed that women’s participation was low both as candidates and as voters. She attributed this to various factors, such as cultural norms, patriarchal attitudes, lack of resources, intimidation, violence, and discrimination. She also noted that Nigeria has a comprehensive database that captures demographic information, including gender-disaggregated data.
Lensa asked why women’s participation was so low despite the vibrant civil society sector in Nigeria. She suggested that more efforts should be made to empower women politically and economically, to create a conducive environment for their participation, and to address the root causes of gender inequality.
Semret Zenebe Gena, FEAPD
Semret shared her experience as a person with a disability observing the election in Nigeria. She said that she found many similarities between Ethiopia and Nigeria in terms of the challenges faced by persons with disabilities in the electoral process. She mentioned some of these challenges, such as:
Lack of accessibility to polling stations and voting materials
Lack of awareness and sensitivity among election officials and security personnel
Lack of representation and inclusion in decision-making bodies
Lack of disaggregated data on persons with disabilities
Semret also noted that Nigeria has a government institution dedicated to addressing the needs and rights of persons with disabilities. She said that this institution was helpful in facilitating their observation mission and providing them with information.
Semret recommended that Ethiopia should establish a similar institution to promote disability inclusion in all aspects of life, including elections. She also urged NEBE to consult with persons with disabilities and their organizations to ensure their meaningful participation in the electoral process.
On June 14, 2023, the Coalition of Ethiopia Civil Society Organisations for Elections (CECOE) conducted a comprehensive short-term observer training in Hawassa City. CECOE has been one of the key actors in the bid to promote a free, fair, and transparent election in Ethiopia, and the training was part of this ongoing effort to promote democratic values and uphold the sanctity of the election process.
The training spanned a period of one and a half days and was divided into four training groups. The primary objective of this training was to equip observers with the necessary skills and knowledge to observe the referendum re-run in the Wolaita zone that was conducted on 19th June 2023.
CECOE members carefully recruited 189 observers in accordance with NEBE and CECOE requirements. Accredited observers received training in various aspects of the referendum rerun process, such as opening, setup, voter registration, voting, counting, and reporting of irregularities. The training also covered the code of conduct for observers as well as the country’s legal framework governing elections.
The training was a resounding success, with all participants expressing their satisfaction with the training’s quality. It is a significant step towards promoting democratic values and preserving the integrity of the country’s electoral process. The observers, both short-term and long-term, are expected to carry out their duties with diligence and impartiality.
The Coalition of Ethiopian Civil Society Organizations for Elections (CECOE) successfully observed the referendum that was held on 6 February 2023 in the six zones and five special woredas of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR). In a bid to systematically observe the referendum, the CECOE recruited, trained and deployed 434 stationary and 76 mobile observers. The stationary observers were present to observe all the election processes at their assigned polling stations until the results were announced while the mobile observers were visiting a number of polling stations to observe the processes.
As part of its efforts to set an exemplary referendum observation system in Ethiopia, CECOE established a Referendum Situation Room (RSR) in which it received and analyzed referendum observation data sent via text from observers. On the voting day, the observers, who went through meticulous training on referendum observation and reporting, were sending observation data to the RSR since 5 A.M. Data clerks working at the data center in Addis Ababa were also receiving, organizing and analyzing the received data..The received observation data was analyzed using Apollo software and the findings were communicated to media outlets, members and partners as the voting process was underway.
Apollo is an application for collecting, organizing, and analyzing a large number of responses to a given set of questions, and provides the tools to do all these things. It allows users to upload information, organize and label responses, such as details about who will be sending in the data and where they will be located. Each person sending in data will do so by using SMS, directly into a web interface, or through one of several smartphone apps. The software identifies senders using a unique ID that has been assigned to them. It also aggregates all of the data to provide analysis and summaries of data received such as averages and other statistics related information..
It is to be recalled that in August 2022 the House of Federation had given green light for 6 zones and 5 woredas that were under the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region (SNNPR) to hold a referendum and establish a new region, if supported by the inhabitants. The other zones and special woredas, namely Hadiya Zone, Hallaba Zone, Kenbata Tenbaro Zone, Gurage Zone, Silte Zone and Yem Special Woreda, would remain in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region, it further decided. Reports from the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) show that a total of 2, 934,143 people have registered to vote in this referendum.