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Analysis: Ahead of elections, voter education outreach needs a closer look as voters remain unaware of civil societies’ role

Voter Registration in Afar Regional State. Photo: Ethiopia News Agency

By  Getahun Tsegaye @GetahunTsegay11

Addis Ababa June 10, 2021– The role of civic society organizations (CSOs)in elections often takes the form of support for institutional processes and creates awareness in a given community to substantiate democratic and peaceful electoral environments. While Ethiopia is on the eve of conducting its 6th national election on June 21, 2021, such civil society organizations are presumed to play pivotal roles in ensuring and strengthening the quality of democracy in general. 

Alexander Meles who is the founder and Executive Director of Digital Rogue Society Experiment Group told Addis Standard that Digital Rogue Society Experiment Group is a legally registered CSO established in December 2019, based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It uses technology to inform and advocate civic engagements aiming at finding fake news and misinformation; and works to ensure accountability and transparency of government, businesses, and civil society organization. 

According to Alexander, this civic organization got a license from National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) on February 18th, 2021 to run a program called “Mercha Ethiopia,” whose main objective is to educate voters impartially about the upcoming election mainly targeting the youth, women and communities with disabilities- assisted by animation videos to help fill the communication gap, especially the deaf, to understand the importance of taking part in the election. The Executive Director narrated that Mercha Ethiopia, through its website, provides information about the competing political parties with their scanned manifesto that can easily be accessed online.

Mercha Ethiopia, according to Alexander employs social media, including facebook, twitter, and instagram, to reach the youth out, whose trend seems to have changed to the digital world instead of watching the usual TV sets to access information,  focusing on how and why to vote rather than who to vote for. He explained that other than providing basic information about the approaching election, Mercha Ethiopia will not advocate any political party-it is politically non-partisan. 

Addis Standard asked Alexander if Mercha Ethiopia has employed flyers, brochures or such methods to address their ideas. Explaining this particular question, Alexander said “We have not used any print forms so far and our outlets are websites and social media targeting part of the society that have access to the internet and smartphones and such devices.”

Its commencement lately, according to Alexander Meles, holds Mercha Ethiopia back from using multiple Ethiopian languages to cover a wider population in the country. Hence, they chose Afaan Oromo, and Amharic languages, taking the large number of speakers into account, to disseminate the information regarding the forthcoming election. He stated that they used English subtly focusing on the gist of what Mercha Ethiopia does to address the international society.

Addis Standard asked quite a few randomly selected individuals that Mercha Ethiopia targeted to gauge if they had any idea of what this civic society organization was doing. While replying, an interviewee who asked his name to remain anonymous said that he had no any information about that organization. Another interviewee who also wanted to remain unidentified by name stated that she knew about Mercha Ethiopia from social media. Some other interviewees said that they heard about it from one of the national broadcasting media. 

Civil society organizations, in the realm of the political sphere dynamisms, do have irrefutable contributions in creating tranquil hubs where people can identify their freedom, spontaneity and activeness, especially in circumstances when they need to designate their leaders like the national election Ethiopia is about to conduct in the coming June, 2021. AS

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