Building blocks for the formation of a national Independent Advisory Group for successful police reform in Ethiopia

Transforming the police service is the ultimate goal of the Ethiopian Police Doctrine. Established under the Ministry of Peace, the doctrine is founded on the principles of democratization, demilitarisation, decentralisation, and depoliticisation. Through the four pillars, the doctrine aims to establish service-oriented police institutions where police officers are devoted to upholding the public’s trust and protecting the rights enshrined in the constitution.

For successful implementation of community policing programmes across the country, the police doctrine noted that creating Independent Advisory Groups (IAGs) at various levels was vital. Accordingly, all regional states, except Tigray and the Southwest, established IAGs ranging from Ketena to region-level. However, the formation of a national IAG has been slow to materialize due to various challenges encountered in bringing together all stakeholders.

In order to facilitate the establishment of the national IAG as part of the trustbuilding project between the police and communities in Ethiopia, supported by the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Interpeace held a joint workshop with the Justice for All-Prison Fellowship in Ethiopia. This workshop brought together the Speaker of the House of People’s Representatives of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, federal and regional police commissioners, IAG members at regional levels, and religious and community leaders. The workshop provided a platform for sharing learnings and empirical evidence, shedding light on the performance, opportunities, and challenges IAGs face at different levels.

In the past, Ethiopia’s regional and federal security architecture was marred by political interference. Despite the country’s constitution protecting the police from any form of political intrusions, police departments were organised in a way that allowed interference from the political elite. However, following major political changes in the country through the police doctrine programme, the government pledged to reform the security sector, including the police. More specifically, the doctrine explicitly outlined the indispensable role of IAGs in freeing the police from political interference. Furthermore, the IAG structure is also mandated to promote the active engagement of citizens in implementing community policing programmes at various levels.

Sharing knowledge of a similar IAG programme currently underway in the Somali Regional State, Ahmed Sultan, a religious leader and member of the IAG, noted that the lack of sufficient funding and support for a national IAG hinders the promotion of interregional cooperation across regional borders. He strongly believes that the establishment of a national IAG will help regional IAGs become more effective.

"The IAG structure is playing a critical role in encouraging citizens' active participation in ensuring regional peace and stability. As you all know, the Somali region is vulnerable to various internal and external security threats, and hence it is impossible for the police to handle all these threats. As a result, the IAG structure is collaborating closely with the police and other structures such as the Neighbourhood Watch Program (NWP) to promote peace in the region," Sultan emphasised.

IAGs are known to provide the valuable role of "critical friend" to the police service as a forum where independent advisors come together to look for solutions for common problems within the community. Amid political interference from the political elite, and hence mistrust by the public, police reforms through the IAGs could best provide the much-needed trust between communities and the police. The establishment of IAG at the national level is likely to have a positive outcome by facilitating communication among police departments across the country.

The workshop ended with the establishment and appointment of representatives to the IAG at the national level, a move that Interpeace will continue to support in a bid to democratise the police service in Ethiopia.

*Names have been changed to protect the subjects' identities. 


Strengthening Ethiopia’s crime response plan

The relationship between the police and the citizens in Addis Ababa has been characterised by mutual mistrust and hostility.

Building on efforts from the ratification of the country’s first ever Police Doctrine in 2021 to improve police-community trust and professionalising the police, Interpeace’s trust-building programme is enhancing the trust between communities and the police by promoting collaborative problem-solving skills. The programme employs the four-stage SARA (scan, analyse, respond, and assess) problem-solving methodology to promote the active and genuine participation of people, community groups, and police officers in detecting, prioritising, and addressing community-level problems. Currently, the programme is in the response phase, in which communities and the police department have formulated a response plan to address the primary causes of crime and disorder in the four woredas (district-level administrative units).

In early November, Interpeace convened a consultative meeting to brief and receive feedback on the response plan from all key stakeholders, including senior commanding officers from Addis Ababa Police Commission (AAPC), Ethiopian Police University (EPU) utility companies, municipality authorities, members of the Inter Africa Group (IAG), NWP, and community representatives. The consultative meeting had three major objectives. First, by engaging all relevant stakeholders, the meeting aimed to promote enabling conditions for the successful execution of the response plans across the four woredas. Second, collecting feedback on the response plan. And finally, the meeting served as a major learning and experience-sharing platform, where EPU and Interpeace communicated findings and progress of the trust-building project to key stakeholders.

The forum was also used to gain invaluable feedback from participants, which will be used to improve the programme.

One of the participants of the meeting, Misrak , a member of the IAG in woreda 10, said.

"I have been living in the Kolfe neighbourhood for many years. I have seen the police service across different governments, and this is the first time I have ever sat at the same table with the Addis Ababa Police Commissioners to talk about peace. This is simply amazing," she said.

She said the local police used to invite them to attend meetings at the community level to discuss community problems. However, in many instances, community members had a limited voice to decide on matters that affected their wellbeing. It was the police who decide everything, including setting the agenda, defining problems, and addressing problems.

The Interpeace trust-building programme, funded by the Government of the Netherlands, has developed crucial activities to help the police employ innovative approaches to community engagement and problem solving. The communities are now sitting down and having a genuine discussion with the police in the course of identifying and prioritizing problems at the neighbourhood level.

Another resident, Henok Tesema, said: "I am now feeling that the police, at least at the Ketena level, can listen to my concerns. Although there are still many problems in the police service in our woreda, I would like to acknowledge the initial progress brought by the programme, and I am hopeful that this will be expanded to other woredas and sub-cities so that the police will be more democratic, inclusive, and responsive to communities."

Largely, the consultative meeting was successful on all three fronts, gaining the commitment of the senior police officers present. The commanding officers, utility companies, and municipality all expressed their commitment to the successful implementation of the response plan.

Building trust between communities and the police in Ethiopia

Imagine a community that collaborates closely with the police to ensure public security and efficient policing. Now imagine this happening in a society where violent conflicts are common. This is a type of trust building approach between communities and the police currently happening in Ethiopia. The police and the general public collaborate to identify community problems and then devise and implement solutions to those issues. The resolution approach considers home-grown knowledge of the area and the cultural, social, and psychological conditions of the society. Creating a strong relationship based on trust between the police and society is the basis for providing security to people and guaranteeing an effective policing service. This approach in Ethiopia is helping to break away from a reactive style of policing towards a more trusting, proactive and preventive approach.

Ethiopia is a paradoxical country in flux. Since Abiy Ahmed's ascent to power in 2018, Ethiopia has been on a path of significant social, economic, and political transformation. Simultaneously, the country has experienced a devastating civil war that displaced millions, cost countless lives, and caused a significant rift in Ethiopia's federal structure and ethnic fabric.

While the ongoing conflicts in Ethiopia and alleged war crimes have damaged national and international reputations around its reform agenda, there are numerous ongoing government and non-government initiatives to improve community and state relations, address community needs, and reform institutions to deepen democracy, broaden citizen participation, and promote peace. For instance, around the end of 2020, Ethiopia's Ministry of Peace presented a progressive new policing doctrine, pledging the federal and regional police to submit to stronger public oversight, improve respect for diversity and uphold international human rights standards. Interpeace, in partnership with the Ethiopia Police University, is working on a trust building program between citizens and the police to provide a method to make the progressive philosophy captured in the Ethiopia Police Doctrine a reality of on the ground.

In 2021, Ethiopia's Ministry of Peace and Interpeace conducted a baseline review and surveyed a total of 1,786 people from four Woredas (District-level administrative units) to assess the difficulties encountered in interactions between the community and the police. The review revealed that trust has long been the missing link in the police service across the Woredas surveyed. Notably, the youth were skeptical of the police, and there was a lack of consistency in local community police support for public safety programs in neighbourhoods. Little was said about the support provided to women and people with disabilities, leading to the conclusion that the existing platforms to ensure active public engagement were superficial, as community residents had little influence over identifying, prioritizing, and resolving pressing community issues.

To address these issues, this community policing program emphasizes the importance of police and public collaboration in identifying and prioritizing community safety concerns. The police and the community get to choose the highest priority concerns and work together to better understand safety issues. To that end, Geographic Information System (GIS) software is used to electronically map out the locations of community safety events discovered in the Woredas. The software has paved the way for police and the public to visualize and comprehend problems in novel ways. It promotes discussion about the facts displayed on the GIS screen rather than individual perceptions of the issues. For example, people in a Woreda may complain to the police about a rise in street crime, such as muggings. The police input the data from the street crime incident into the GIS mapping programme. They share the maps produced by the GIS programme with the community and together analyze the data to better understand what is causing the increase in incidents and devise a response to prevent the crimes from occurring again. The software can only be used for preventive policing together with communities and not to support any criminal investigations that could compromise the trust in the police.

Matters that are important to the public are not always important to the police, and vice versa. The community GIS allows everyone involved to gain a common understanding, promotes trust and open dialogue, and leads to the implementation of longer-term problem-solving actions.

One of the primary goals of this joint approach between police and citizens is the reduction of insecurity and improvement of safety in a community. Citizens, on the other hand, will only be willing to work with the police if they see an improvement in public safety and security and have trust in the police and other law enforcement agencies. It is worth noting that this police-community trust-building initiative has achieved remarkable results by having community members collaborate with Woreda-level community policing officers to identify and prioritize community safety issue. Ultimately, this project is providing Ethiopian police services with a method that can be instrumental in transforming the Ethiopian Police Doctrine from a philosophy into a reality on the ground. This can have far reaching consequences in terms of improving community safety across the country and establishing strong foundations of trust between Ethiopian citizens and police services.