Participant pointing to sign saying 'Chewing khat is prohibitied'. ©

Civil Society Support Programme

The Civil Society Support Programme (CSSP) is a capacity development programme designed to support Ethiopia’s civil society and its contribution to the country’s national development, poverty reduction and advancement of good governance. 

Running from 2012 to 2017, through our innovative programme of support, we aimed to empower the people and organisations that are often the hardest to reach in society. 

During the programme’s final year, CSSP hosted a series of learning seminars focusing around the themes that emerged through the work of civil society in collaboration with the government. 

Over 80 representatives from government, civil society, academia and development partners participated along with community members who represented the hard to reach issues that were being addressed. During the seminars, participants engaged in lively and challenging debates, touching on issues that have been overlooked historically or relate to sensitive aspects of Ethiopian society. 

Through the unique combination of participants, careful moderation from key stakeholders, and generous sharing of knowledge and ideas, key recommendations and action points were identified and will be followed up in the coming months. 

Two of the priority challenges and areas of focus are identified below:

Khat Addiction: the need for awareness and regulation

'Khat' is a plant in which the leaves are chewed as a stimulant. It is now classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a 'drug of abuse' and is banned or considered a controlled substance in many countries, but not Ethiopia).  

In Ethiopia, khat cultivation has expanded in recent years. Regions that were formerly known for the production of coffee and grains have become major khat producing areas. In equal proportion, the habit of khat chewing is expanding at an alarming rate among different social groups irrespective of gender, age, religion and ethnic background, and it is estimated that 16% of Ethiopians between the ages of 15 and 69 are consumers. 

Alongside this, the crop has become one of the leading export commodities earning significant amount of foreign currency for the country. The khat marketing system has evolved at all levels of the value chain thus becoming a means of livelihood and employment for many people. School-age children, as young as 8 years old, are engaged in khattrading and marketing activities and make up 50-70% of the workforce. Despite this, the government does not yet have laws or policies to regulate production, marketing or consumption of the substance. 

At the onset of CSSP, many believed that this was too difficult an issue to address. However, the programme encouraged over 20 civil society organisations (CSOs) to experiment with approaches to tackling khat use and abuse to combat the issue. Three organisations from across Ethiopia took up the challenge and developed a range of approaches that felt most relevant to them. 

For example, one CSO researched the role of children in khat trading activities in the two well-known khat marketing centres. Based on empirical data from the two areas, the research explored the impact of children’s involvement on their schooling. It also investigated why young people engage in khat marketing activities and probed the nature and magnitude of other possible adverse effects on young people, such as developing a regular khat chewing habit.  

CSSP then invited a fourth CSO with a research background to track the experience of these organisations. And for the first time, a much deeper analysis of the phenomenon of growing khat supply and demand and its impact on different parts of Ethiopian society has emerged. As such, the issue is now firmly on the agenda of many more actors than was the case in 2011. 

Activities through CSSP have also directly supported ex-khat addicts like Nuredin (pictured pointing to an advocacy poster) who has gone on to reform his life and can now support himself through his small vegetable shop business. He actively participates in local advocacy efforts with the aim of positively influencing other young men in his community:

‘Frankly speaking, my friends and I volunteered to participate in a three-day training course (against khat) simply to collect the per diem (Birr 300/USD 15) and buy khat with it. We went to snatch their money but they ‘stole’ our minds, which was a big surprise. We returned home having found ourselves.’ 

Although progress has been made – the government has begun to draft legislation on khat regulation - and there are success stories to be told, the challenges remain deep. The government and civil society will continue to need to draw on experiences of drug management strategies in other parts of the world to identify the right strategies for Ethiopia. 

Mental Health: the hidden disease

WHO predicts that, globally, one in four people are impacted by mental health issues at some point in their lives. Despite the government’s Mental Health Strategy,  mental health is a significantly over-looked and misunderstood issue in Ethiopia and is largely associated with witchcraft, curses or evil spirits. Combating mental health issues usually involves seeking a remedy within the spiritual realm which has led to neglect, stigma and discrimination. 

People with a mental illness are not treated equally and can be viewed by others as a burden, insane, or even dangerous.

CSSP therefore encouraged CSOs to consider mental-ill health as a hard to reach issue and, as a result, a number of CSOs secured grants for work in this area. It is believed that the work performed by CSO partners has encouraged some regional governments to dedicate more resources for mental health support services in local clinics. As such, the links between mental ill-heath and khat addiction are now becoming better understood. One CSO applied learning from its pioneering work on safe fostering and adoption of children to the issue of mental health. 

Participants agreed that mental ill-health is not only a medical matter. It has psychological, social and economic dimensions. The need for a multi-disciplinary approach to address the problem has gained the support of the participants, which includes creating extensive public awareness on the matter to address stigma, ensuring accessible health facilities and medication, providing psychosocial services, and providing economic opportunities.

‘We understand that government alone cannot address the problem of mental-ill health. But the challenges can be addressed together with CSOs and communities’, said a senior government official from Tigray State.

Go here to read more about the CSSP learning series.