Monday, December 28, 2015

Sisters Aim to Build Ethiopia's Reading Culture

Sisters Aim to Build Ethiopia's Reading Culture

FILE - A women and her children stand next to their house on the outskirts of Moyale, Ethiopia, a nation where not many books are written in local languages, and few Ethiopians read for pleasure.
FILE - A women and her children stand next to their house on the outskirts of Moyale, Ethiopia, a nation where not many books are written in local languages, and few Ethiopians read for pleasure.
Marthe van der Wolf

Despite having a population of almost 100 million, demand for books is low in Ethiopia. There are not many books written in the local languages, and few Ethiopians read for pleasure. Two sisters hope to buck the trend by publishing children's books that Ethiopian kids can easily grasp and enjoy.
Wanting to read stories to her young children, Tsion Kiros had to rely on books written in English, as there are few Amharic-language children's books available.
But the story of the tooth fairy, for example, is very different in Ethiopia than it is in the West:

“When a girl pulls a tooth, or boy, we throw it on top of the roof. And then a bird takes it, or a mouse takes it. We have this whole other culture. And this is important. Our children have to know how we do things and see our lives.”
Tsion has started a publishing house with her sister. They have published the Ethiopian version of the tooth fairy, and other stories that reflect the country's culture and environment.

Of Ethiopia's nearly 100 million people, only 49 percent are literate.
Fourteen-year-old Lidya Biset loves to read books, but said most parents do not encourage kids to read.

She said she reads on her own initiative, as most parents think going to school is more important than reading for pleasure.

That makes it difficult for Lidya to convince her mother to buy her books that are not needed for school. Her school does have a library, but there are not many books there.
The price of a newly printed book in local stores is about $1.50 — affordable for middle-class Ethiopians and less expensive than children books that previously were available.
Children's book writer Azeb Worku Sibane remembers there also was a lack of books during her childhood. Azeb wrote a book about a red fox that goes on an adventure and simultaneously teaches kids about different modes of transportation.
She said a lot needs to be done to establish a reading culture in Ethiopia:

“We need books written in Amharic and other Ethiopian languages. We need writers, who can write story for children, you need specific way of writing. And we have to encourage the cultural minister, the education minister, or the government, or parents, we have to encourage that,” said Azeb.
Tsion said her company printed 30,000 children's books in 2015 in the two most common languages in Ethiopia, Amharic and Afaan Oromifa.

She said the next step is to write and publish books in tandem with the government.

“They’ve given us a training on how to write level training books and what to include, what the theme should be, what subject we should focus on," said Tsion. "Our next step would be to use that guideline and develop storybooks.”
The publishing sisters hope to establish a reading culture by focusing on young kids first, as almost half of the Ethiopian population is under the age of 15.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

King of Kings: The Triumph and Tragedy of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia by Asfa-Wossen Asserate – review | Books | The Guardian

Haile Selassie
 Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia, in Geneva in 1935. Photograph: Lucien Aigner/Corbis

Haile Selassie is one of the most bizarre and misunderstood figures in 20th-century history, alternately worshipped and mocked, idolised and marginalised. This magnificent biography by the German-Ethiopian historian Asfa-Wossen Asserate (a distant relation of Selassie), and translated by Peter Lewis, is diligently researched and fair-minded; he is at last accorded a proper dignity. The book is manifestly a riposte to Ryszard Kapuscinski’s The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat, which portrayed the emperor, and indeed Addis Ababa’s entire Amharic elite, as a comic-opera laughing stock.
Selassie came to power as regent of Abyssinia, later Ethiopia, in 1916, but many of the myths around him originated with Mussolini’s invasion of the country in 1935. Selassie and his armies resisted, but he was eventually forced into exile. In 1941, after six years of brutal occupation, the Italians were defeated by British and South African forces and Selassie was allowed to return to his throne in Addis Ababa, where he remained in power until 1974.
One unexpected side-effect of the plunder of Selassie’s sub-Saharan state by a fascist power was to give Jamaica’s fledgling Rastafari movement impetus and a cause. The invasion became a dominant event in the Rastafarian narrative of black martyrdom. Selassie was seen as a manifestation of the one true God and a bulwark against “Babylon” (oppressive colonial society). The movement took its name from Selassie’s pre-coronation title, Ras Tafari Makonnen.

The Rastafarian movement was not the only radical current in Jamaica to co-opt Selassie. Marcus Garvey, the Jamaican apostle of black liberation, had condemned the ruler as a “great coward” for fleeing Mussolini’s troops in 1935, yet went on to dub him the “black Christ” of his Back to Africa movement. Inspired by Garvey, and believing in Ethiopia as the one true “Zion”, during the 50s and 60s some 2,500 West Indians and African Americans went to live in the vicinity of Addis Ababa, in what is now Shashamane village. Only 300 of their number are believed to remain today.
There is a wonderful chapter on Jamaica here, in which Asserate recreates Selassie’s historic visit to Kingston in April 1966. A large crowd of Rastafarians swarmed the airport and banners showing the Ethiopian Lion of Judah rippled amid clouds of ganja smoke. Converging around the Ethiopian plane even as the propellers were turning, they sang praise to their god in human form, who they believed had come to redeem his Jamaican brethren. The impact of Selassie’s four-day state visit endured for many years, inspiring poems and songs – one of which, “Rasta Shook Them Up”, by Peter Tosh, contained introductory words in Amharic, the Ethiopian language. Bob Marley, like Tosh, his fellow Wailer, believed that Selassie was a reborn messiah. The irony was that the emphasis placed by Rastafari on dietary laws and ganja-inspired “reasoning” of Old Testament scriptures was quite alien to the conservative Selassie, who was at pains to deny his status as the Rastafari Pope Almighty.
Meanwhile, the Ethiopian royal family promoted myths of its own, particularly its vaunted descent from King Solomon, the legendary third king of Israel. Selassie proclaimed himself a collateral descendent of Solomon’s wife, the Queen of Sheba (who may or may not have come from present day Yemen). Yet for all the dizzying Semitic connections, Asserate reminds us, Ethiopia converted to Christianity in the fourth century AD, when the Ark of the Covenant was allegedly transferred there from southern Egypt. The Old Testament casket, lined with gold to accommodate the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, is said to reside today in the church of St Mary of Zion, near the Eritrean border. The evidence for Ethiopia’s Semitic past is far from watertight (Rider Haggard made much of it in his schoolboy hokum, King Solomon’s Mines). But some believed that Selassie was the saviour whose coming had been foretold in the Old Testament. The belief was aided, Asserate notes, by the emperor’s “pure Semitic” features and “sphinx-like dignity”.
Selassie projected an image of himself as a paternalistic ruler. His ambition was to found a dynasty and “modernise” his country’s feudal system through a forward-looking (if paradoxially absolute) monarchy. His coronation in 1930 – attended by Evelyn Waugh, who Asserate describes as a “notorious sneerer” – drew ridicule for its display of sumptuously plumed and gold-braided uniforms and other regalia. Yet in lampooning Selassie as a tinpot Caesar, Waugh and other critics rather missed the point. The Napoleonic hats and gowns were part of Selassie’s vision of a parallel world equal to that of the white man. Why should the European powers have all the pomp and ceremony?
More contentious was Selassie’s tolerance of slavery. Most people-traffickers under his regime were Muslims, who converted their captives to Islam. As a condition of Ethiopia’s entry into the League of Nations, Selassie was required to eradicate the trade. He did what he could, and Ethiopia was admitted in 1923. Yet chattel servitude was not entirely eradicated. Bondsmen employed at the Addis Ababa palace were often actually “proud” of their position, writes Asserate. Slavery had long been a part of such African nation states as Dahomey, Oyo, and the Niger city-states.
With his unbending antipathy to any kind of social reform, from the 1950s onwards Selassie became out of touch and indifferent to the suffering of his people. When his 60-year rule ended, the subsequent “Red Terror” under President Mengistu, combined with Ethiopia’s border dispute with Eritrea, has left the African nation state depleted and corrupt.
 Ian Thomson’s The Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica is published by Faber. To order King of Kings for £16 (RRP £20) go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.

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Prof. Muse Tegegne has lectured sociology Change &  Liberation  in Europe, Africa and Americas. He has obtained  Doctorat es Science from the University of Geneva.   A PhD in Developmental Studies & ND in Natural Therapies.  He wrote on the  problematic of  the Horn of  Africa extensively. He Speaks Amharic, Tigergna, Hebrew, English, French. He has a good comprehension of Arabic, Spanish and Italian.