Citizens' Perception Toward Civil Society:
A Public Opinion Poll in Ethiopia

The environment for civil society in Ethiopia is among the most restrictive in the world. The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has overseen a continuous crackdown on opposition, independent media, and civil society. As the EPRDF marks 25 years in power, civil society groups struggle to maintain operations and keep their doors open. The 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSP) was particularly crippling for civil society organizations, especially human rights NGOs. The CSP places severe restrictions on foreign funding and operational autonomy of civil society organizations. Its enactment caused many groups to abandon democracy and human rights work or scale back operations.

From April 16 to May 5, 2016, Freedom House, in partnership with Real-Time Interactive Worldwide Intelligence (RIWI), conducted an online poll using RIWI’s random domain targeting methodology. The poll reached over 18,600 internet users in Ethiopia. Of these, over 1,400 people responded to all 10 survey questions. The average response rate for substantive (non-demographic) questions was more than 2,700 individuals.

Key Findings

  • Civil society in Ethiopia has strong citizen support despite the government’s longstanding attacks and citizen demand for civil society’s work is high.
  • Citizens overwhelmingly believe that civil society should be involved in human rights and democracy work.
  • Citizens are not aware of the significant challenges facing civil society or the crippling effect of the CSP. This demonstrates that civil society does not have the space or capacity to reach out to citizens and advocate for themselves.
  • There is a strong indication from citizens that civil society has an important role in promoting peace which may be indicative of growing concerns of unrest in the country.


  • While citizens support civil society engagement in human rights and democracy promotion, they are not aware of the challenges and risks civil society faces for engaging in these activities. There is a need for comprehensive support to civil society, through capacity building, advocacy, and resource mobilization, to enable them to advocate for their work and mobilize citizen support.
  • Youth are a key demographic in Ethiopia and civil society needs to systematically tap into the reservoir of positive attitudes from this group.
  • There is a need to conduct more comprehensive research and studies on the important role civil society has in promoting human rights and democracy in Ethiopia and ensure that the findings reach local communities.