post Listros

September 15th, 2010

Filed under: The Unspoken — Admassu @ 11:10

The Art of Survival

It was in the year 2003 that I met Dawit Shanko in Hamburg. Dawit, an architect who lived in Berlin. Dawit was in Hamburg presenting his newly established project “Listros” (Shoeshine boys).

He told me that as he was a small boy, he also has tried to finance his school utensils through shoe-shining. Because of this crucial and unforgettable life experience, Dawit has taken it as his priority task to make the world understand the hardship behind being a listro in Addis Abeba and in other towns of Ethiopia.

Music and multimedia by Admassu M.K.

The most important part of the project was to let the listro boys tell their own stories themselves. It was not an easy task to implement this idea. Since the most valuable possessions this kids have are their shoeshine boxes, an external support to provide them with an appropriate medium to help them express their situation was necessary.

Dawit was conscious about the huge expense that would be needed to start with. He was fortunate enough to organize the first step. This first step was to collect a number of compact photo cameras. After managing to buy as many cameras as possible, Dawit flew to Ethiopia. In Debre Zeit (a town 41 km south of Addis), Dawit gave those cameras to the listros of the town as gift. In return, the listro boys have agreed to take pictures of each other and give Dawit the negatives.

Things went quite well and as planned. The most surprising part of this procedure was the quality of the photographs taken by the listros. The pictures were brilliant and unexpectedly poetic. After coming back from Ethiopia and developing the photos, Dawit had a great motivation and a strong basis to proceed with the project to the next step.

Today, Listros project is a strong association. Many known German, Ethiopian and International artists present their creation under the title of “Listros”. The association organizes art exhibitions, discussion forums and workshops around the topic that deals with the conditions of shoeshine boys and street kids of Ethiopia. Those photographs by the listro boys are very famous and are still the most valuable emblem of the association.

The multimedia presentation from above was my contribution to the project. All pictures in this presentation were taken by the creative listro kids from Debre Zeit.

Please visit the Listros site to inform yourself more about the project or to take part.

Listros: A Dream in a Box (

post Gebre Kristos Desta

September 14th, 2010

Filed under: Art — Mitiku Adisu @ 22:56

Gebre Kristos Desta
By Mitiku Adisu

I don’t know what recollections my readers have of the late-poet/painter Gebre Kristos Desta [GKD] but I have two of my own. Please indulge me while I recount them.

Abstract painting by Gebre Kristos Desta

I believe I was in fourth grade when suddenly I and a bunch of classmates found ourselves jostling over pieces of yellow colored flyers being thrown into the air by the head teacher. To make it short, I managed to get my copy of GKD’s poem Ye Tteffer ByTawar when a charitable gust flew it right into my arms. True to reality in our part of the world, it was by sheer accident, therefore, that I was introduced to this incredible poet. And I never could forget him after that one incident. I hastened to read the first few lines which I also managed to commit to memory thereafter,

Gmash Qald Alawqm
Mot Endahu Lmoot, baSekond meTogna
enqlf endaRessa zeLalem Ltegna
mangad siTugn saffi …

I care less for half jokes
let me die, die in split-seconds
and fall into an endless sleep like a corpse
make way, broad way, for me…..

I was speechless, and instantly fell for this alien and enchanting intonation of what I thought was a novel perception of reality. I did not yet realize you could do what GKD just did – refuse to abide by traditional parameters and at the same time be true to your own cultural identity. One reading and I could not do it a second time. It was simply too much for a heart of a lad my age and build. May I intimate that it felt like mounting a rocket engine onto a baby Fiat?

The range of emotions the poem evoked at the time was not easy to pin down. But I know it involved an invitation to exploration, a sense of liberation and danger, longing, and fear of the unknown. I folded the poem and quietly stuck it within the pages of my textbook. For all I remember I did not need to open to those pages every time I wanted a lick; often just thinking about it did the job for me. A [yellow] hiss here. Folded. A [yellow] sigh there. “mangad siTugn saffi… mangad siTugn saffi”, it hissed and sighed.

Eight or so years later, I was at the Commercial Bank near the National Theatre waiting for a friend draw some cash. Once again, for the second time, a friend pointed out the poet/painter to me in real time and in real life. GKD was in sanforized khaki shirt and pants ceaselessly scribbling on the back of a bank slip standing to the side of the teller’s window. Pretending to be waiting in line I had my protruding and almost bursting eyes trained on his swift hands but all I could make out was lines lines more lines angry lines confused lines crazy lines… alien lines alighting on fast shrinking space. These must have been the tell-tale signs for a man who had rendezvous with death for he did not to live to be fifty [1932 – 1981]. What struck me watching him that day was the white spots on his hands and his face which I later learned were the result of a rare skin disease. [Were the spots battle scars caused by the Arts and the Sciences dueling over his soul?](1) And the crazy lines? These I was told were the warp and woof of the Abstract painter. I had no clue what Abstract painting was or could figure out why someone did not simply copy Nature without complicating an already complex and mystery-ridden life. Alas, I could not muster the courage to get closer to shake hands or talk with him; and that was to be the last time I would see him. Talk of missed opportunity! [“Missed opportunity” being the moniker for every educated Ethiopian 45 years of age and above.] The interesting thing is that I was able, with little luck, to ransack discussion forums and the blogosphere for few GKD poems. And just recently I came across a bundle neatly compiled by Amha Asfaw(2) [himself a prolific writer, poet and translator]. What struck me this time is the poet/painter’s preoccupation with death – certainly, a subject for another day. For now I take it we’ve become fast friends already through this brief recollection. And so, without further ado, I leave you with my rendering into English of Ya Tteffer ByTawar.(3)

The Alien(4)
I care less for half jokes
let me die, die in split-seconds
and fall into an endless sleep like a corpse
make way, broad way, for me
so I can move from end to end
with the speed of light, let me go past [galactic] worlds
and be sun, radiant sun, all-illumining, like the firmaments of God,(5) let me
be a volcano, a molten lava, its ashes, flood, flood of fire
intense, a million-, nay, a billion-fold
Make way, make me a broad way
let me move in darkness, in black, pitch-black darkness, where eye sees nothing, to still regions where
time is motionless, to airless, endless empty caverns
let me flutter and survey it all … for me the star is a plaything
A piece of earth, I write about earth, on black paper, on parchment of sky
as I glide recharging with celestial spark
I move and move and ransack(6) the heavens, storm bolted gates
Till non-being comes into being, silence woken
With huge strides I move
From earth to moon to star, from world to world
I move and move and create
I make the sun my habitat,
Let me burn a million- , aye, a billion-fold than Seol, and a million more than flames of Gehanam
make way, make a broad way for me…


Happy Ethiopian New Year September 11, 2010/ Maskaram 1. 2003

Translation Copyright by Mitiku Adisu, August 2010 All rights reserved


(1) GKD joined the University College [later Haileselassie I University] to study Agricultural Sciences but changed course two years later to pursue his life’s passion; the rare disease struck thereabouts.

(2) I suggest readers contact Amha Asfaw for more information. Appreciations to Amha for compiling the poems for public use.

(3) The Amharic version [as altered] is included. My recollection is  ‘indehu‘ not ‘indihu’; ‘bet‘ not ‘beten’, …For some reason I had always thought the title to the poem was ‘Menged Situgn Sefi‘ … Not ‘Yetefer Baytewar‘ or ‘Yetefer Mirkogna’. More research is needed to clear the confusion.

(4) Flow, faithfulness to the poet and his culture and avoiding excessive literalism were considerations that governed this translation.

(5) The phrase approximates Tsiriha Ariam the highest seat of power, the very Throne of God.

(6) Attests to the poet’s determination and his insatiable desire to unlock mysteries.

post Comments: Birr Devaluation

September 5th, 2010

Filed under: Economy — Lissan Magazine @ 15:30

This comments are taken from The comments are based on an article titled “Why you should pay attention to the Ethiopian devaluation” from the 2nd of September 2010. We are only presenting here the comment from two of the readers. Please click on the above link to read the full article.

The article begins…
“Yesterday Ethiopians received a September surprise when the central bank devalued the currency by 20 percent.”

The comment by Almaz goes:
Currency devaluation on the basis of a certain economic policy is something every nation does occasionally, more so amongst the developed nations than developing ones with the exception of China. Some 20 years ago Canada did it to stimulate the economy to pull it out of the early 1990s severe recession. Canada devalued the currency by 45% at some point. Then again, Canada is economically integrated with the US, over 80% is exported to the United States, and for that reason the devaluation was understandable. The timing also did have something to do with, a new trade regime was on its way being implemented (NAFTA) US did not mind for the border town States benefited from the exchange rate advantage of importing Canadian goods and products to present it for the voracious appetite of US consumers.

Although the depreciation would take only a year and half but raising it back to the level it was prior to the recession, it would take over seven years. Because it would be very risky for the confidence of the Canadian economy to maintain that low exchange rate after the economy got its wing to fly, foreign investors cannot get a good return for their investment if that low exchange rate was maintained, so instead of attracting few more investors the currency devaluing nation can lose many more investors. So, one has to show confidence on their economy by maintaining strength on their currency to reflect a good management and command.

Given the above example its not a bad idea for Ethiopia to devalue BIRR, however the trade deficit Ethiopia has is far greater to compensate by the export increase it will have no matter how large the export is, because Ethiopia is an 80 million nation with trade deficit is into billions. So devaluing the currency may encourage one time (short term) investors to come and take advantage but they will leave once that advantage runs its course. Those who buy real estate would benefit from the exchange rate advantage it will give them, but all others things will rise immediately after. As illustrated above, Ethiopia is an import economy nation. In the long term the country could lose its ability to maintain that same juice stimulant for an extended period of time knowing the way I know Ethiopia.

China on the other hand can manipulate its currency as much as it wants for however long it desires for it has a huge reserve, essentially driving the world currency exchange rate. Alluding to the fact, if one controls the US currency, one has the world in their pocket. Ethiopia does not have excessive reserve like China does, as a matter of fact Ethiopia is running a yearly deficit economy, which means it cannot do what China does and come out unscathed. It may help it for a one time currency collection by giving the labor of the citizens to the foreign investor accumulating the extra 20% and using that extra juice the one time foreign investor can increase the margin of profit by a 20%. However, that’s where it stops. The nation would have to devalue its currency further down in order to get another stimulant juice, the question then becomes where does the devaluing stop.

People who are running a responsible big financial company like Access Capitals may have been shaken over this sudden move, and based on the website it looks like that is exactly what happened. The author of that report tried politely to calm people down that this is a one time move and will not move another dime till June 2011. Well, I am most certain that such a rapid transition would mean the government does not have a clear command over the economy, hence the possibility for further BIRR decline is inevitable, it may not come soon but at some point the move will be repeated. The authorities may be testing the waters, see how far they can go without arousing a mass protest.


The comment from M.D.M. goes:
I am not an economist, I am just a businessman (an importer), so my analysis could be wrong. But I don’t blame the government, what better means is there to narrow the trade deficit? But Can anybody tell me how they came up with the 20% figure? It is a nice round figure and it looks like somebody just guessed it. My second question is how can Ethiopia compare itself with China and think of import substitution? China virtually manufactures everything while Ethiopia produces almost nothing. So don’t you think the damage outweighs the benefits and the substitution has to come before such big devaluation? Although I think the government has good intentions and is doing everything it can, such violent up and downs in the economy shows the future doesn’t look good for us here.



post Copyright Problem

September 1st, 2010

Filed under: Art — Lissan Magazine @ 23:27

Copyright Problem in Ethiopia

Contributed by meaza worku

Among many problems and challenges that art is facing in the third World countries, copyright difficulty is the main danger to the art’s Development. In Ethiopia copyright is a critical issue which requires Serious attention and collective responsibility. The problem is now very big and forces the artists, the government and the society to realize its impacts and crave for its solutions.

Copyright problem is not an occurrence which spread overnight. It has taken root and slowly developed for more than three decades. But through all this time, the artists were not well aware enough to realize the impacts that it has today. Thirteen years ago there were some musicians who were complaining about their creative work being copied from television and radio transmissions and distributed without their permission. But no serious attention was given to their compliant and due measures taken. Now it turned out to be an uncontrollable headache to the artists and the government.

Reflection on different creative arts results

The danger of copy right problem is reflected in all fields of art.
Ideas have been robbed and claimed as original or inventions. These days it is no news to hear that novels and theater scripts have been plagiarized and claimed as original. Anyone can witness that such plagiarized works are from foreign novels or films but cheated as created. Some do not want to mention the fact that the idea is adapted or directly translated and give due acknowledgment to the owner of that particular creative work. Novels can be translated in hundreds of ways in hundreds of languages and by hundreds of people, but the question arises when these hundreds deny the source.

Even there might be a plagiarized novel, short story, short play or full length play not imitated directly form the original language (source) but from the translations (secondary sources). However no such acts have been taken to court for ownership trials due to long distances or deaths. So the stolen works are simply left with scandals and such acts have gained encouragements and licensed to continue illegitimately. The absence of legal registration to creative works and certified ownership is one thing which serves as a hindrance to proper judgment when such ownership claims arise.

The same is true in theater productions. It simply becomes a tradition to take some theater productions directing (such as the style of blocking), stage craft, stage design, costumes and music and apply them in other theater productions without giving any credit to the first creator. In most of the theater houses almost all the ideas the plays and the materials presented on the stage are similar so much so that the audience senses that he/she is watching the same theater production. Everyone can take those similarities as a series of boring clichés but no one regards it as stolen creativities.

In choreographic works, particular movements and costumes were copied and placed for use as if it is public wealth. Photographic works, paintings, sculptures and architectural designs have been copied and sold such that the creators’ ownership is denied and excluded from the rightful benefit that artists must have from those particular creative arts results.

Copyright and audio/video production

Copyright problem is true for all creative arts but music and video film productions however seem worse and exaggerated. That is because the musicians are the ones who only tried to take such cases to court and took initiatives to provoke other artists to press for copyright revolution. But indeed the problems are wide on audio and video productions that outshine other creative works which also forces the artists to speak out loud. Illegal copies of musical albums and video film cassettes were made and distributed. Stickers and covers were imitated. Imitation songs were sang, produced and distributed without the permission of the artist who played it first. Even the only state owned television and radio stations use musical works to accompany commercial advertisements without giving the due payment to the artists, which obviously encourages criminals to consider their actions as right. No agreement is needed with the artists to take one or two best songs from the articular Album and different musicians and produce a collection of music album. This is also common among copyright problems.
The case of video film productions are almost the same but the copied product distributions are for international market.

Opposition movements

All this illegal acts and accumulated oppositions led for open demonstration and strike. Few years ago artists were organized to fight this illegal copying and distribution. On august 21st 2003, a demonstration was held to demand measures to be taken to address the copyright problem and to have a well reformed copy right law. Musicians, producer’s audiovisual publisher’s association members and art admirers participated in the demonstration. After this, there followed a strike for seven months.

Within these seven months, artistes were not to produce any audio video productions. Every one can understand the negative impact that this strike had on the development of art. For more than half a year audiences were banned to enjoy new artistic works, the necessary taxes which the government should have get was stopped. But still the artists were the victims because they were denied a livelihood. At that time more than eighteen musical productions were ready to be released. The market crowd was high that many of the audio video productions were left unheard, which also has a double consequence on the artists. However, that organized opposition movement to copy right problem forced the government to form a temporary committee of copyright to work on the copy right law.

Copy right law in Ethiopia

There is actually a copyright law in principle which was formulated in
1959 Ethiopian Civil Law that the issues of creative and artistic rights were included as part of it. It clearly stated the protection of such rights and all the necessary guides to safeguard from any violation are found in detail.
Considering the fact that any such violations are criminal actions The Ethiopian Criminal Law which was formulated in 1960 also protected such rights. According to the law, any one who disobeys this law should be fined or imprisoned on account of using someone else’s property for personal benefit. That is if that punished individual did not agree with the owner of that property and the owner was not beneficiary from that particular work.
The absence of benefit then would be calculated in money and to the maximum of 1000 (one thousand) Ethiopian birr (which is not more than 120 dollars) will be paid to the owner as compensation for any material loss and moral damage that have been caused according to artists. What seems clear here is that this law lacks constant revision, because no reforms were made since 1959, which would definitely need an attention with regard to current technological and societal changes. That was also one factor for the artists for not relying on the law because it lacks some potential to solve problems, and of course there was a problem in implementing it in to action.

Awareness of copy right law

Among all the challenges that copy right had awareness seems the major one. There were no understandings of copy right law what so ever to claim such rights.
Most of the artists understood that there is no copyright law in Ethiopia which was revealed in that demonstration because they requested to have one. That may be one reason for not going to court for justice and gave time for the criminals to be more organized that nowadays the have become complicated to all concerned bodies. It was even amazing some of the culprits who have robbed peoples’ creative works were at the demonstration wearing T-shirts and carrying flags with inscriptions that read: respect to creative art results! They are also influential enough to be represented in the copyright committee and audiovisual publisher association and they have an undeniable vote. They know each other with the artists, they discussed the matter informally but no one dares to take them to court. Even if they wanted to, they need objective evidence and most of all they must be caught red-handed.

Copy right problem and the revised law

As time passes, the former copy right law is being thoroughly discussed and the revised one is ready for use and all the committees is formed but the problem is wide and deep as it was before and now it got even more complicated. According to the recent information that we have from the copyright committee the problem seemed over when they started that organized movement but now it has started all over again. The pirated copies of audio cassettes are on the market side by side with the originals. People are still doing their illegal doings. They even distributed the forged material to some regional towns.

The 2003 demonstration was to have the revised copyright law which is now available for use but does not seem to have power to solve the problem yet. Some efforts have been made to take some cases to court but the police will ask for evidence and addresses to arrest the criminals. Who is going to search those illegal materials and evidences is the question which every one asks. Those materials which are used to copy are imported to the country untaxed. The problem is still beyond the control of individual and the government but it is there and it is alarming to the art and its development.


Download Ethiopian Copyright Law from 2004 (Negarit Gazeta)

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