By Tesfu Telahoun Abebe – First time visitors to Addis Abeba often remark on the abundance of coffee and pastry houses. If we add the in the tens of thousands of informal one-girl-show “ye-jebena buna” (literally ‘kettle coffee’-as opposed to espresso machine made coffee) its a wonder that the city’s residents sleep well at all!
Some would say this is to be expected in the capital of the coffee bean’s homeland. Ethiopia is by far Africa’s largest producer and exporter as well as the biggest consumer. The nation expects to harvest 600,000 tons this year although the United States Office of Agricultural Affairs predicts a production figure of just under 427,000 tons.
With coffee responsible for up to 30% of export earnings the relevant authorities have recently announced ambitious plans to triple production to 1.8 ml tons by 2024. In a good year, this should guarantee an export value of some 2-3 billion dollars if the target is achieved.
As roughly half of all coffee produced is consumed locally, the monetary value of domestic consumption is also no small matter. Coffee is is not simply a lucrative business in Addis Abeba and indeed throughout the country. The bean also serves as a national motif, tastefully representing Ethiopia’s contribution to world culture.
You would think that coffee processors and outlets in the original home of coffee would be branded with names which reflect this originality-after all, Ethiopians never miss an opportunity to proudly show off their beloved nation-or do they?
The capital now has several brewed coffee providers operating numerous outlets, along with uncountable single point of sale outlets with too many of these bearing some of the most unimaginative names one can NOT imagine!
European capital cities, American cities and states and Persian Gulf cities are much preferred. These names almost always reflect the proprietors immigrant experiences in and/or links to a given foreign city.
A couple of the cafe chains do have original names; one-a pioneer-is creatively named after the goatherd who allegedly discovered the invigorating properties of the coffee bean when he noted that his goats became hyper active after consuming the leaves of coffee shrubs.
Another chain’s name aptly recalls wild forest coffee which is among the best varieties of Ethiopian coffee.
However, this commendable originality by these establishments is unjustly compromised by crudely imitated logos clearly reminiscent of the basic format in the logo of a certain international chain -which I shall not name but simply say that, the star crossed buck does not stop in Seattle!
The alien names of most coffee outlets are just one small but telling indication of an awful truth. And as I shall show, it encompasses schools and colleges, hospitals and clinics, hotels, radio and TV stations-and the shows, names of performance artists and music groups and on and on.
Nearly 90% of hotels (not simply including international chains) with at least 30 rooms or more have foreign names.
Over 93% of the 126 private schools have non-Ethiopian or even African names. Invariably, many of these hotels and educational institutions attach ‘international’, mimicking our private banks, none of which has a representative office overseas let alone a branch. A few of these have (thankfully) discretely dropped the vain appendage.
This article is less about creative branding and more about the beginning of the end of Ethiopia’s trans-cultural national language and indigenous originality.
It is said that a persistent and comprehensive aversion by a people to utilize native language(s) is among the first symptoms of advanced societal decay.
For all our crowing about a passionate love for our diverse indigenous culture, I feel that too many Ethiopians are actually ashamed of who and what we are. In fact, scratch the ‘who’ in the preceding sentence because presently, we are deep into a collective identity crisis-a madness which is unleashing our worst demons.
How a country which is arguably the birth place of modern humanity (and therefore ancient enough to have evolved independently) could suffer a crisis of identity is just inexplicable.
This sickness has been around for at least the past 50 years and has metastasized under TPLF/EPRDF rule to actually endanger Ethiopia’s very existence today.
Anti-unity forces have covertly and overtly suppressed the public usage of Ethiopia’s Lingua-Franca. Undoubtedly, the objective has been to reverse the unifying force of a language which bridges and connects communities which speak at least 80 different languages and many more dialects.