2 September 2012

Ethiopia: Sorrowful Businesses Work Extra to Make Meles' Mourning Stately

Looking at his short stature and youthful face, no one would believe Dembel Kemal when he claims he is fourteen. He states that he is not too young to do the seasonal side-job and earn pocket money.

On August 28, 2012, he was across the street from the Federal Police Commission Headquarters selling A4 sized posters of Ethiopia's recently deceased Prime Minister Meles Zenawi for five Birr.

Dembel is a student from Welene wereda, in Gurage Zone. During summer, when school is closed, he usually comes to Addis Abeba to stay with his sister, who does seasonal jobs around Jemo area, Nefas Silk Lafto District.

Although here to enjoy his vacation, Dembel thought he could spend some of his time selling the much wanted photos and posters of the late premier for mourners who would like to maintain the memory of their leader.

Even as thousands have taken to the streets to mourn the death of the Prime Minister when his body was flown in the night of Tuesday, August 21, just as many are now commemorating his passing and sending out messages of condolence through pictures, posters, banners, billboards and flowers.

This has made photo studios, graphic designers and printing houses extra-busy with unexpected bulk orders. Customers range from government offices, including woreda and district bureaus, to private citizens.

Mourners were attracted by the wallet to A4 size pictures of Meles Zenawi, which street vendors offer them with. Catchy pictures showing Meles now and in his rebel days were being sold in large quantities by people who wanted to have something to remember him by or by people who wanted to post the pictures on their vehicles as a demonstration of their grief.

In addition to regular street vendors those whose daily occupation is something else like Dembel, the student on vacation, and Robel Yohannes, an 18 year-old Higer Bus assistant, have taken to full time sale of these pictures to the many admirers of the late Prime Minister.

Robel usually makes an average of 150 Br a day from his usual work as an assistant, where he took time off to sell Meles's photos.

"I saw people selling it around Wednesday, and asked where I could get some," Robel said.

He has been making his sales since Thursday, August 23, 2012, to many buyers, including Higer Bus drivers and assistants he already knew. On Friday, he was able to sell 130 out of 200 wallet size photos he had ordered from Alazar Photo on Arada Building in Piazza.

"The photos cost me one Birr and I sell them for two Birr, on the streets."

Some studios say that they actually sell these small photos at 50 cents apiece. Alazar Photo Studio has been receiving orders for up 60 pictures per person since Wednesday August 22, a day after news of the passing of the leader was announced.

"A couple of boys came early on Wednesday with a picture of Meles. They had downloaded from the internet and asked us to reprint 60 copies of the pictures so far," recounts Yordanos Shewaye, manager of the studio.

They deliver the order at two Birr for four photos printed on one paper. Yordanos says about 50 boys have come to the studio to order pictures so far, and some of them are repeat customers.

Mourners and Meles admirers have gradually shifted their interests from the wallet size to larger pictures, framed photos and banners as more and more state-organised mourning events took place this past week.

Cherenet Bekele, 33, a contract taxi driver near Arada building, belonging to an association of 13 members from the same trade, bought large pictures of the Prime Minister for all the taxis in the association the day Meles's death was announced.

"He is the only leader I have known since I came of age. I admire the way he has kept peace for all of us so that we can do our work," he said.

All the 13 vehicles from Cherenet's association, standing idle in front of Arada bulding now display at least two large-sized pictures.

"We are planning to drive around the palace displaying the photos," Cherent said.

Bulk distributors for posters and large photos of bigger size that Cherenet had bought, are located in Merkato lining the streets of the dirt pathway known as Mestawet Terra. Shops lining on this street usually sell artificial flowers, photo albums, and photo frames. Vendors outside sell different holiday items depending on the season.

Tewfik Aman has been working in this area for 12 years. For six of those years, he had a shop where he sold postcards. Now he is in partnership with two other men and has set up a postcard and photo distributing business.

Normally, it is religious pictures and postcards that sell regularly. Demand reaches its peak during holiday seasons as people exchange postcards, but photos of a person or a postcard being sold in bulk are rare, according to Tewfik.

"I remember some pictures being sold after Telahun Gessese had passed away, but I have never seen any large orders coming within a short period of time to the extent it has this week," says Tewfik.

Like many others, Tewfik and his partners got the idea of selling large sized posters and framed photographs of the late Prime Minister after seeing the wallet sized photos being sold on the streets.

"We got different designs from graphic designers and are ordering in batches of 10,000 prints regularly," he said.

Since Meles' death was announced, they have distributed a total of 100,000 prints, as the demand the fans of the late Prime Minister heated. They also sell various sizes of framed photos for 120 to 150 Br apiece.

The printers, some of whom are running out of resources because of the sudden gush of order are also preparing T-shirts and banners with Meles Zenawi's pictures and words.

Most of the requests for T-shirts and banners have come from woreda and district officials and different government institutions.

Esayas Gashaw, owner of a digital printing and advertising office named after himself near Urael area, says that he had been inundated with orders. " The day we heard the death we were not even enthusiastic about coming to work," he said.

They would eventually go to work, and most of their work would be printing Meles Zenawi's pictures for the new order from mourners. By August 28, he had sold 10,000 photos, 5,000 caps and 20,000 t-shirts and unlimited banners. The t-shirts are sold for 90 Br to 100Br.

Banners on the other hand fetch 300 Br by the square metre for which people have ordered different sizes; he is also selling framed pictures from 300 Br to 400 Br.

"Aside from our regular customers, we have had officials personally approaching us and also a lot of people from regions," says Esayas.

Customers linger over the photos trying to choose the photograph that best represents their departed leader.

Government institutions including the Menilik's Palace are the ones that have the most orders for banners to drape on the walls and fences of buildings

So far, the Culture & Tourism Bureau, Environment Protection Authority, Ethiopian Olympics Committee and the National Palace have placed orders with him, according to Esayas. He had also received orders from Debrezeiet, Arbaminch, Gondar and other towns.

Even smaller scale printers report the same thing. Martha Advertising around Mexico Square says they have so far taken orders for a total of 300sqm of banners at 115 Br a square metre.

"Usually we close shop at 7:00pm, but now we sometimes stay overnight and work weekends. The earliest we close shop is at midnight," Tizita Kinfe, graphic designer at Marta Advertising told Fortune.

As such orders came suddenly, printers have used all the raw material they have in stock and are ordering items like ink cartridges, T-shirts, and canvass for banners from their respective suppliers.

Printers that Fortune talked to report that there had been a shortage of canvass at most of the printers on Monday, leaving officials with no choice but to change their orders to photographs or T-shirts.

By the start of the past week, Marta printers had finished all the canvass they had in stock, which they got from local distributors prior to news of the Prime Ministers' death.

Other printers have had trouble getting T-shirts as orders were enormous on the agent companies of textile factories.

Bravo Printing located on Haileselassie Street, near Hager Feker Theatre, has so far sold around 3,000 T-shirts, mostly for district and woreda officials who are scheduled to visit the Prime Minister's casket inside the National Palace this week. T-shirts were, however, briefly in short supply on Monday, although Al-Meda T-shirts have been in constant supply through the agents.

Al-Meda textiles itself has so far printed 6,000 T-shirts for own-use, and has accepted order for 30,000 black T-shirts with no prints from the administrations of Adwa, Axum and Mekelle.

People who are flocking to the Palace to pay a visit either officially through institutions upon request or simply as citizens have also placed orders for black clothing at Tailors' shops in Mercato's military Terra, or they have bought the clothing from boutiques.

Seeing the demand, the mannequins of a group of boutiques in-front of Ras Mekonen Bridge on Adwa street, have now donned only black clothing at the front display window.

The manager, Edmealem Haile, at one of these shops, Marti's Fashion, said that they dressed the mannequins black because it was mourning time.

"We ourselves are paying tribute to the Prime Minister," he told Fortune.

Sales of regular outfits were in decline in stores, as people went for the blacks.

"We have actually sold many black T-shirts, caps, shirts and cravats," Meryem Sefa, owner of City Fashion, said.

For the state funeral expected to take place on Sunday, and visits to the Palace, government employees have now turned their faces towards Mercato to have black clothes tailored.

These tailors are usually willing to process bulk orders fast and make clothing ready within three to four days for the state funeral.

Most of the businesses who have now got large orders for posters, T-shirts, photographs and the like, expect orders to level down after the burial ceremony on Sunday. But that day numerous people are likely to show in black and carrying pictures and posters of the late Prime Minister.


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