British International Development minister, Gareth Thomas is expected in Ethiopia for a two day visit Monday November 16, 2009. The minister is expected to hold discussions with Ethiopian Primier, Meles Zenawi regarding the devastating effect of the drought that has hit the eastern African country. He will also talk about the country’s new controversial and restrictive NGO legislation.
Gareth Thomas’ discussion with PM Meles is expected to open a room for NGO’s to freely intervene in averting the current humanitarian crisis in the country. The British minister will also go on a field visit to the Amahar Regional State, one of the areas affected by drought, according to a British Embassy’s press advisory note. He is also expected to talk with NGOs and other development agencies of the UN.
In January this year, a Bill on Registration and Regulation of Charities and Societies, designed to curb excessive foreign engagement in the NGO work across most of the sensitive areas, including democracy and justice, was passed into law.
The new law limits foreign funding for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to less than 10 per cent of their budgets and bans lobby groups from campaigns against civil liberties. Before the law was passed, the opposition said Ethiopians do not have enough money to contribute to local charities and that limiting their source of funding would cripple the economy.
The new law restricts local and foreign NGOs from engaging in campaigns to monitor the government’s progress in improving governance, child welfare, conflict resolution and the equality of tribes and religious groups.
Ethiopia recently appealed for foreign food aid to feed some 6.2 million famine struck people. Prior to the appeal, the UK’s International Development Ministry had given 30 million pounds to Ethiopia through its Department for International Development (DFID) to help fight the crisis on the 7th of October 2009.