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.
On the 13th of December 2022, the Coalition of Ethiopian Civil Society Organizations for Elections (CECOE) conducted organized a one day training of for trainers (ToT) for trainers who will train referendum observers. The training is part of CECOE’s preparation to observe the referendum in the South Nation, Nationalities and People’s Regional State (SNNPR) slated for February 2022. The 15 trainees drawn from different zones of the SNNPR regional state and CECOE’s staff will cascade the knowledge they acquired to more than 1,300 observers through training scheduled to be held in Wolaita Sodo, Araba minch, Jinka and Dila towns.
The topics of the ToT covered the three phases of the referendum: pre-referendum, voting day and post referendum phases. To acquaint the trainers very well with the referendum concepts they were provided with practical examples and video materials.
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.
Previously CECOE observed the Sidama, the South West Ethiopia Peoples’ Region referendums and the 6th Ethiopian general elections that were held in 2019 and 2021 respectively. During these electoral processes, CECOE trained and deployed different types of election observers — namely: Long Term Observers (LTOs), Election Day Observers (Mobile and stationary), mobile and post-election observers. In order to observe the election with a high-level of professionalism, all CECOE’s observers had taken several training sessions in different rounds. During the training sessions, the observers took part in different simulation exercises which were based on real-case scenarios.
As part of its efforts to set an exemplary election and referendum observation system in Ethiopia, CECOE established an Election Situation Room (ESR) in which it received and analyzed election observation data sent via text from observers. On the voting days, the observers, who went through meticulous training on election and referendum observation and reporting, were sending observation data to the ESR in real-time. Data – clerks working in two shifts were also receiving, organizing and analyzing the received data. The data was analyzed using Apollo software and the findings were communicated to media outlets, members and partners as the voting process was underway.
It is with the same zeal CECOE is making preparations to systematically observe the upcoming referendum. Furthermore, CECOE has planned to organize consultation forums whereby key stakeholders deliberate on the role of CSOs and higher education in the referendum.