Following mass protests and historic democratic reforms, IRI is working with Ethiopian citizens, civil society, and media to promote the meaningful participation of all citizens in the country’s elections, political transitions, and democratic reforms, as well as to advance inclusive dialogue and conflict mitigation.

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Promoting Ethiopians’ understanding and interest in democracy is a key part of IRI’s work. As part of a USAID-funded program to strengthen democratic institutions and processes, advance reform, and safeguard democratic principles in Ethiopia, IRI is working closely with civil society organizations (CSOs) to promote democratic governance—the meaningful participation of all citizens in politics. In the last few years, Ethiopia has opened the door for civil society engagement in governance, including citizen oversight of politics and elections. This, combined with current  political reforms, have the potential to lead to a more democratic Ethiopia. IRI provides mentoring and training to CSOs, helping them educate, mobilize and advocate on behalf of citizens. IRI is complementing this support by bringing together CSOs informally, thereby building trust and relationships among like-minded groups.  

IRI has partnered with more than 30 CSOs on voter and civic education initiatives. In the lead up to the 2021 general elections, IRI-supported CSOs held voter education events, disseminated educational materials, and conducted radio and SMS campaigns. IRI also supported a new group, the Coalition of Ethiopian Civil Society Organization for Elections, which launched a nationwide get-out-the-vote campaign in four local languages called “I VOTE.” The campaign ran on national TV, radio, and social media, informing citizens about their democratic rights, discussing why Ethiopians should vote, explaining the mechanics of voter registration and voting, and highlighting relevant COVID-19 protocols. Following the elections, IRI is working with its CSO partners on human rights, peacebuilding, conflict mitigation, and inclusive dialogue.

IRI is also working to build independent media in Ethiopia. Years of legal restrictions and government crackdowns decimated civil society and independent media up until Ethiopia’s recent democratic opening. With support from the U.S. State Department and U.S. Embassy, IRI is working to strengthen the media’s relationship with civil society and support it in showcasing public debate about important issues. IRI is working to train journalists in issue-focused reporting, with an emphasis on reporting outside of Addis Ababa. In partnership with KANA TV, a nation-wide satellite TV service, IRI produced and broadcast a series of youth discussions featuring recent university graduates debating economic, political, social, environmental, and youth-related issues.

To strengthen collaboration between media and civil society, IRI is coordinating working group meetings and supporting journalists’ reporting on civil society engagement in local issues of concern. Similarly, IRI partnered with six civil society organizations to facilitate dialogue on youth conflict mitigation, women’s political participation, and environmental policy, encouraging them to share their progress with their media partners. As a result of the working group, journalists have expanded their reporting to cover civil society activities, including those of IRI’s partners.

With support from USAID and in partnership with the National Democratic Institute (NDI), IRI worked with the Limited Election Observation Mission for Ethiopia (LEOME) to do a remote and limited in-country analysis of election integrity during the 2021 election cycle, bringing transparency to the process. By combining knowledge and information gained on the ground as well as virtually, leveraging expertise within and outside the country, the limited election observation team published impartial analysis and engaged with Ethiopian stakeholders in offering findings and recommendations on the electoral process.

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