Ethiopia – The Arts and Media

Artistic Beauty in Social Development: A Vision for Ethiopia

A nation developing through the arts

Ayaana Media & Publishing is an Ethiopian social enterprise committed to literature and the arts in the Horn of Africa. For the past ten years, we have engaged in publishing, film, photography, design, and translation, with online and physical publications in multiple local languages and English. We partner with the community to tell stories that value culture, educate, and inspire.

We believe that creative expression is not reserved for developed nations solely but that the production and enjoyment of art contributes to social development, community building, and interpersonal peace. In a developing context like Ethiopia, this paradigm shift is necessary to encourage dignity and agency in its people. To this end, Ayaana Media & Publishing focuses on valuing and promoting the arts in communities that have been underserved.

A developing vision for Ethiopia: from literacy to visual storytelling

Ayaana was founded in 2012 as a vehicle to address the cycle of illiteracy in the Horn of Africa. For the first few years, we edited, designed, and published a literary magazine containing contemporary local-language poetry, fiction, oral tradition, and general educational texts. Over a span of five years, we published 120,000 magazines, with many of them still circulating today. At the heart of the project’s vision was the promotion of reading and writing to encourage critical thinking and dialogue in local languages.

Later, we established poetry events in the Somali Region of Ethiopia, using our media and communication skills to convey development messages. At our first event among this “nation of poets” as they are often called, young Somali women delivered original works exploring themes of motherhood, internal beauty, and love. While women do not typically have the opportunity to stand on a stage and speak boldly, they are seen as the backbone of Somali society—their courage in pushing against social issues publicly will likely have generational impact.

To break down negative stereotypes, such as Somalis being known as pirates or militants, we published a journal in 2015 called Modern Nomads, focused on youth identity surrounding Somalia’s civil war. Urbanization brought a crisis of identity for Somali men, especially, with the loss of their purpose as nomadic camel herders. Our publication engaged in asking, “What does it mean to be Somali?” The publication did so well that other local projects grew from that project in which we continued to highlight the dignity of the Somali people and beauty of their literary art.

Since 2015, we have devoted attention to storytelling through videography and photography, capturing the beauty of Ethiopia with its diverse people, languages, and cultures. We thrive at the intersection of visual documentary, culture, arts, literature, and narratives.

Conveying beauty to the world and each other

Through the arts and media, Ayaana desires to promote dialogue, respect, understanding, and love across the diverse communities and ethnic groups of Ethiopia. Given the current climate of conflict and identity politics, we believe that thoughtful and sensitive cultural and artistic production can contribute toward greater unity to counter the fracturing of Ethiopia.

“Ethiopians are good at appreciating the culture of their own ethnic group but are not interested in anyone else’s. We need to see the beauty and dignity in tribal outsiders by starting to see the beauty and value in unfamiliar cultures within our own country. This is how we can overcome tribalism—through cross-cultural appreciation.”

Alembirhan Fite

Some of the greatest contemporary challenges in Ethiopia lay in its cultural practices and traditions, but we believe that some of the greatest solutions can also be found in traditional culture. We see Ayaana Media & Publishing as a vehicle to address negative practices rooted in traditions, while promoting positive aspects of the same culture.

Somali Culture

Negative practices: child marriages, female genital mutilation, polygamy

Positive practices: collaboration, egalitarianism, strong community support and cultural exchange

Much under-appreciated and aesthetic cultural heritage exists from which we can draw lessons for building Ethiopia. Ayaana seeks to capture and facilitate indigenous cultural practices, art, values, and stories, to encourage critical dialogue about them, and to share them with the international community. We want to see marginalized groups self-represented through media so that they may find their space in this world and express themselves.

In all we do, we try to avoid working toward cultural preservation and promotion for the sake of heritage only, although heritage is worthwhile; instead, we continually ask what each cultural expression means for contemporary society—how does artistic activity develop the nation?

Jürg Schmid

Program coordinator

"From my own experience in local projects, I know how important the people in the background are. This is where PartnerAid makes a valuable contribution."