Sunday, August 13, 2006

The power of a single book

Stories on Birhanu Nega's book from prison
Molla Wolde, a charming young man, used to work as a newspaper vendor around the Shola area. The closure of tens of private newspapers after the massive political crackdown in November last year by the Ethiopian government left him without a livelihood. He started to work as a barber in his village earning 8 birr a day. That is significantly less than that the average daily income he used to get when he was a newspaper vendor at the height of the election controversy.
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.
Birhanu Nega's book has already broken all kind of sales records before even reaching the book stores. According to sources, in four days, more than 10,000 copies were sold. The reaction was equally stunning. From people who passionately kissed Birhanu's picture on the back cover to those who stayed all night reading it and failing to appear on work the next day, moving stories abound. "I have never been so engrossed and so impressed with an Ethiopian political literature," a man working in one of domestic NGOs told me. "It is still amazing that Birhanu writes of love and compassion even after what they did to him. He is an incorrigible optimist." Another civil society member had a more egotistical reason to enjoy the book. "I had supported the prisoners. I had felt that they were the one with truth and justice in their side. I had given the prisoners all the benefit of doubt when other opposition members disagreed with and splinted from them. This book vindicated me," he proudly boasted.
Molla recounted the enthusiasm with which people are buying the book. "They thank me. They hail me, for bringing the book to them. They say they love Birhanu. One lady read the dedication when I gave her the book and cascaded into tears," Molla said. Discussion groups are being formed in different government offices. Prayers to the jailed have started in protestant churches. Young people talk about the book's content and its price in villages. Even in the Prime Minister office the book was being sold without the bosses detecting it. It shows the amount of detest the people have to EPRDF.
People sensed the humility of the author and its compelling moral message. Some called the reading process painful. They had a feeling of guilt. "I am not a kind of person who usually questions about the meaning and value of life," a slick and well-clad computer programmer told me. "When I read the book, I really felt ashamed of myself. I questioned whether my life right now was worth living."
A famous footballer was walking in the Legehar area when a vendor approached him with books to be sold. One of those books was Birhanu's. He learnt the price was 100 birr and complained. The vendor showed him a big book written about Emperor Haile Selassie and asked whether which book the player preferred. The player's choice was obvious. "You see I sell the book on Haile Selassie for 100. Should I sell Dr. Birhanu's for less," The vendor stated. It was as if the vendor was saying that he knew the value of the book and he would set up the price despite its cover value. The player bought the book for 100. He didn't want to regret for not having it in case it was unavailable in the market in the coming days.
Such enthusiasm was shared by Addis Admass. Since the November crack down, Addis Admass, the only paper unaffiliated with the government, was just struggling to exist. It stayed clear of political stories. Yesterday, Birhanu's book was given front page coverage. The editorial was also inspired by the book's optimism and argued for people to see light in the darkness like Birhanu.
If Birhanu wrote to share his memoirs and opinions, the book went beyond that. It had put life back to the struggle for freedom and democracy. Wonder what a single book can do.


Anonymous said...

thank you for your info keep it up

Anonymous said...

This account is as amazing as it is uplifting, thank you!

One thought on a different note: On the one hand I wished that the surplus gains from this book would be able to be organized so as to go to the families of the imprisoned who are financially suffering (though this is not to say that impoverished newspaper vendors didn't deserve this boost!). But on the other hand, there is a certain feral beauty in this chaos and in the breakneck speed with which the book is spreading like wildfire throughout Ethiopia!

I wonder, however, whether it could be formally translated, the translation green-lighted by Berhanu Nega, and the English version distributed be-sine-sire-at online (eg. at a high price, with all the surplus proceeds this time going to the prisoners' families. Is this in the works? Also, this way the book will reach the ferenji community as well (I am sure Tim Clarke and others would like to have a look!)

Last but not least, please keep a tab on how Berhanu is doing and, if he is experiencing any harassment due to the book, please immediately report that. Your exposing will have a deterrent impact.

Thank you for this beautiful report!

Anonymous said...

Dear EZ,

What would we do without you? Reading this blog, it felt like I was in Addis. You have captured the mood in such a beautiful way.

"When I read the book, I really felt ashamed of myself. I questioned whether my life right now was worth living."
That's what Dr Berhanu is doing to Ethiopians all over the world, even to those of us who haven't gotten the opportunity to read his book yet. He is making us question the path we are following. He is making us question if we are leaving a legacy to the next generation. He is giving us HOPE.

Ethiopia loves you dearly, Dr Berhanu.

Kinijit is Love.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Birhanu's wisdom makes every day a Sunday for me.

It is only when I am in a "Bete Kistiyan" that I am challenged and comforted by the word of God to live in compassion and Love : love those who would not think twice to harm me and yet defend my rights, the rights I am given at birth

Reading about Birhanu, listening to his interviews and now, ONLY knowing that he wrote a book even without reading it, comforts me about my future and makes every day a Sunday for me.

You indeed are Birhanu.... THE light.

Sendek Alama

Anonymous said...

We are trying to get a copy but it is very scarse here in Addis.yesterday i am told that the book soared to 100 Br/copy.
Also someone who just bought the book tried to cover it 'cause every one was eager to see it.
the public response is amazing and confirming that they will not be dragged back pre-May 15 2005 .

Anonymous said...

it is a thrilling book. thank you Birhanu.

Anonymous said...

Ethio Zagol, you are amazing me. The way you are reporting it is making my sprite so high! Thanks Dr. Birhanu for inspiring us all.

Anonymous said...

arrrrrrrrrrreeeeee gobez
where a hell can we get the book?
begugut lenemot newko

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your good reports! The sale in europe and america should be well organized, so that FAMILIES OF kingit kaliti should be beneficiary from the proceeds.


Anonymous said...

Could the publisher translate the book into English so that the world also know the history of election 97?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Zag!

What an incredible story!
You are just a one man RRT(rapid response team) God bless you and we all can't wait to meet you in a free Ethiopia.

Berhanu is the Light!
Kinijit is the way!

Anonymous said...

EZ have you seen the news posted on about another new book, an exanct opposit of Birahanu's book? We should always expect king of darknesses coming whenever the dawn of freedom came to light.


Anonymous said...

Some of you hav to see your face in the mirror and ask yourself who you are? Who are you to decide where the money from Brhanu's book sale should go? It is non of your business, so don't butt in where you are not needed

Anonymous said...

The book is being sold very very quickly. It seems some mysterious chain has been established which makes sure that you will get a copy after 2 or 3 phone calls. The price (yesterday evening) was from a promised 35 to actual 100 Birr depending on where you buy it. I got my copy for 60 Birr.

I have read the first 70 pages and I am already swimming in a strange type of optimism: I feel we still have some hope of getting out of the misery created by melles and Co. without inflciting much damage on ourselves!!

Berhanu is the man for us! (Could this be a clear demonstration of our ancient wisdom which says "Smin mela'ikt yawotutal") The angels chose the right name for this man!

Anonymous said...


Well said wegene!

Yes, Berhanu is indeed the brightest star in the Kinijit

Berhanu is the light!
Kinijit is the way!

Anonymous said...

Dear Ethio-Zagol,

Thank you for capturing the mood and excitement around Dr. Berhanu’s book in Addis for us. We are just as thrilled and almost jumping up and down with excitement about this book and eagerly waiting for our own copy here in the US and Europe.

It seems to me there are two groups of Ethiopians today. On one hand we have people like Hailu Shawl, Berhanu Nega and all the other jailed leaders, who are willing to sacrifice everything including their lives if necessary to bring about light to Ethiopia and Ethiopians. On the other side we have destructive Diaspora elements that still do not understand the real meaning and extent of the current struggle. These elements still think that this is just another movement to bring about change in the seat of power for a new fresh round of corruption and looting orgy. I think this is why they are jockeying for a a prominent spot in the organization and weakening the movement in doing so.

Let’s hope that people like Shaleka Yoseph, Andargachew Tsige, Berhane Mewa and all the other good folks in CUD-NA and KIL will be able to weed out these bad apples and make the movement once again focused on Ethiopia and Ethiopians as a whole and not on individual mavericks.

As far as “Yetigraye Hizbena Yetimikehitegnoch Siera-Ketenant Eske zare” is concerned, it is the best candidate for the dustbin or recycling bin depending on how one feels charitable at the moment.

Anonymous said...

What is going on (ahmmm ...Zagol)?
It is sooo quiet in here. Ran out of calling cards or busy due to power struggle in North America Kinijit?

Any comment on the squable over the official Kinijit website?

Anonymous said...

AIGA boy,

MYOB! oh silly me, forgot you are too retarded! It means mind your own(damn) business. At least we fight with words, not AK 47s and blow each others brains out.

ZAG is too busy for your types!

Anonymous said...

What makes u sure of Adis Admass's not being affiliated to the govt?
Thank u

Anonymous said...

I have half way reading the book and no doubt ,it lives up to its expectations.D.r Birhanu is a high caliber scholar this country couldn't afford to lose.
It is not only the many revelations ( who the heros and the bandas)that touched me but how passionate his argument was to show tyranny must always be made to bow before democracy.

Anonymous said...

Girma Bekele read this - Idiot! Addis Ferenji's current visit to kaliti "Do not misunderstand me, some looks among Kaliti staff are far, far… to be hostile. So please, have the Diaspora snakes who whisper that Birtukan did not write the letter of Berhanu THE BOOK shut up… because I asked."