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A tale of two Ethiopian books

It was a tale of two books in Ethiopia’s blogosphere over the past two weeks.

The first book, catchily titled African Development: Dead Ends and New Beginnings (PDF of the first draft – English), was written by Meles Zenawi, prime minister of Ethiopia, currently residing in the prime ministerial palace in the centre of the capital Addis Ababa.

The second, called The Dawn of Freedom (PDF of the Introduction – Amharic) has just been published by Dr Berhanu Nega, an opposition politician, elected mayor of Addis Ababa and currently residing in the city’s Kaliti prison on a range of charges including treason.

Not surprisingly, it is The Dawn of Freedom that is causing the biggest stir.

I was just thinking wrote:

I am excited to share you the publication of Dr Birhanu Nega's book, entitled ‘The Dawn of Freedom’ which unfortunately I was unable to find at any of the bookshops here in Addis. Where the 10,000 copies have gone, I really don’t know. Was there some kind of bibliocide? Or all sold out?

Ethio-Zagol came up with a possible explanation for the supply problem on his blog ethiopian life, politics, culture and arts. He told the story of Molla Wolde, an unemployed city newspaper vendor who benefitted from the huge demand:

When Molla heard the story of Dr. Birhanu's book changing hands in the city without reaching to book sellers, he thought it would make his day. He tracked a distributor through his former newspaper network and got hold of four hundred books. He sold them in hours at 45 birr though the cover price is 35, making him 4000 birr richer in a single day. “It didn't seem right to profit form this book. But I had played a role in making it reach to people and It wasn't bad either if I got some money out of that venture,” claimed the confused vendor. Little did he know that the price of the book had hit triple digits in some areas of the city.

Ethio-Zagol took up the story of the book and ran with it. His coverge included the first review of the publication – Review of Brehanu's Book: Part one – and an exclusive story on how it came to be published in the first place in Birhanu Nega writes a book:

Kaliti jail is notoriously hot in the summer. With an average of more than 100 people crammed in one room, it is hard to breathe. Prisoners spend most of their time outside their cells to avoid the stifling heat inside. For five months since he was taken to one of the worst cells in Kaliti, unlike most of his cellmates, Birhanu Nega spent his time inside the cell writing. It wasn't a letter or a diary he was writing. It was a book. How the book manuscript made it outside the cell and to kampla for publishing is amazing. It shows the nature of the struggle and the number of people involved in it. The story of the process of writing is, however, fascinating. Security guards twice took away some parts of the manuscript. He wrote them again…

Adebabay reported on claims that distributers of the book were being harassed. He continued:

So far only one local newspaper report about the book i.e. Addis Admas in its Saturday issue. The famous Reporter gave few lines in its English version on same day. But the Amharic Reporter couldn’t dare to report. Yet I have confirmed that the book reached the Reporter. Many discussion groups are already organized and I had the chance to attend one group yesterday. I will be back with their discussion later.

The reception given to the Prime Minister's publication was a little less enthusiastic.

Its main critic in the blogosphere was ethiopundit who laid straight into its main theme in Hypnotize. In the introduction, the prime minister explained that “my argument is that the neo-liberal paradigm is a dead end, is incapable of bringing about the African renaissance, and that a fundamental shift in paradigm is required to bring about the African renaissance.”

Ethiopundit responded:

This newest essay is not directed at any Ethiopian audience nor to anyone remotely familiar with Ethiopia – even cadres of Meles Inc. are far too addled by storms of lies and beaten by the rocks of reality to take it at all seriously. The audience is foreign aid donors, bureacrats and academics who may have been dismayed by the violent results of a Potemkin democracy over last year and who may yet stand ready to be impressed by one of their still favorite dictators and his oh so cutely irrepressible intellectualism.

This newest intellectual schtick may have abandoned revolutionary catchphrases such as ‘revolutionary democracy’ and ‘la lutta continua’ in preference for more acceptable development / progressive catchphrases (and some new ones – aid is now policy rent!?) – but it is just as absurd and just as self justifying

Beyond the books, there was good news for Ethiopia's blogs, which have been suffering from an apparent blockage over the past three months. Ethio-Zagol was again the first one to get to the story in Blogs unblocked:

The weblogs on blogspot.com which were blocked from being accessed are now unblocked. Today is the third day where Ethiopians are accessing the blogs which are very critical of the government without using anonymous proxy servers. Other pro-democracy websites and web magazines still remain blocked.

2 comments

  • A tale of two books

    Here’s a round-up I just did for GlobalVoices about Ethiopian bloggers’ reaction on the release of two publications – one by prime minister Meles Zenawi, the other by elected-then-imprisoned Addis mayor Dr Berhanu Nega. Meles’ report ‘African Devel…

  • Susan

    Hi

    I ordered this book through berhanunega.com in July 2007 and paid for it through PayPal, receiving a receipt on 14th July.

    The money (US$30) has been deducted from my Visa account, but I’ve never received the book. I emailed the site on the 15th November and haven’t received an answer.

    Does anyone have any information about what’s happening to book orders via that site? I’d be grateful for any information. Thanks.

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