Ethiopia – Literature

A nation without literature

Millions of Ethiopians without literature

Reading in our mother tongue seems to be an obvious thing to us. Not in Ethiopia. Millions of Ethiopians have virtually no literature in their native language. They are stuck in the vicious circle of illiteracy: because no-one publishes, no-one reads, and because people are not readers, there is no market.

Since the establishment of a federal school system in Ethiopia, pupils first learn to read and write in their mother tongue and not, as at the time, in the official language Amharic. However, this initiative, which is good in itself, faces major challenges. One of them is the fact that in most of these languages ​​hardly any books exist. Although they learn to read and write, many people are never able to use their skills.

To break this vicious circle, a team of Swiss and Ethiopians launched a publishing house, Ayaana Publishing, in autumn 2012. The goal: to read in one’s native language must be a part of daily life for everybody in Ethiopia. PartnerAid Switzerland helps to make this goal a reality.

Establishing a culture of reading

The Ayaana team began with a literary magazine in Oromo, the main language of Ethiopia, which is spoken by more than 35 million people. It is the very first literary magazine in this language. A similar magazine for the Somali population followed soon afterwards. Both Oromo and Somali are two major languages ​​in important parts of Ethiopia and beyond. Nevertheless, they have very little literature.

An important part of the vision is knowledge transfer and vocational training. The Ayaana team offers layout design courses and practical workshops. The team provides authors with a platform for their works and works intensively to create networks between writers and artists.

Ayaana Publishing was deliberately not founded as a charitable work, but as a LLC. To ensure their sustainability, all these projects will have to be self-financing in the long term. Establishing a culture of reading however takes time. In addition, the Ayaana team wants to offer products at the lowest possible prices because the target audience has only a very small purchasing power.

Project snapshot

In 2013, the Ayaana team launched the first product with the magazine Oromo. By the time of its eleventh edition, the magazine already had a circulation of 20,000 copies. It employs, as needed, 15 to 20 employees. During this period, the team was able to gain valuable experience, build relationships, establish distribution channels, and optimise processes. Through advertising revenues and NGO-sponsored pages, the magazine is now virtually self-sufficient. In 2016, with the deterioration of security, the publication of the magazine had to be interrupted in several regions. The team is in the process of preparing an online version.

Great potential

There is great potential for growth and there is a strong demand from the heart of the population. A similar magazine is published for Somalis. Until the magazine is sufficiently known, it takes a lot of outreach work on the street and patience to find the right sellers to establish distribution channels. The team benefits greatly from the experience of the Oromo magazine, and is convinced that the Somali magazine will be self-sufficient. An online version is already available. It is accessed every month by 1.5 million readers – which is an enormous number!

We agree with the vision that in Ethiopia, reading in one’s own language should be part of everyone’s daily life!

Johny Mumenthaler

Member of the Board and Actuary

"Since my early years, because I have the privilege to live on the sunny side of the world, out of gratitude, I have been financially committed to my fellow human beings on the shadow side of life.”