The African Building Platform


100 Years of Branding & Communication in Ethiopia

Efrem Beyene
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Image: Michael Tsegaye

I would like to dedicate this exhibition to the proud Ethiopians of the past and to the creative of the present and future. I am cordially asking your understanding that this exhibition did not cover everything. It is rather my attempt (with resources I can afford) to raise the publics’ consciousness of Ethiopia’s proficiency and awareness in the field of communication, using strong symbols so early when branding was not perceived to be as essential as it is today in our global economy.

Symbols have always been used to build an emotional and psychological relationship between the message sender and receiver, they are vital tools to establish trust and promise. They say something, they stand for something, they touch and they have history. A reliable sign for a certain advantage; it could be faith, good deed, exercising power, politics, sports, unity, belonging, and today for selling all kinds of merchandise. When you see the Ambo symbol, you feel thirsty, and when you see the Red Cross symbol you feel a sense of safety. Usually, the brands with the bigger reach are better-known commercially and more expensive.

My interest in older and iconic Ethiopian brands started a few years ago by discovering Addis Ababa Hilton’s logotype designed fifty-one years ago in connection with the hotel’s opening in 1969. I was fascinated by how the beautiful Amharic letters were arranged geometrically in a humble and sublime manner. A respectful gesture by the designer and the management to the old nation and her people with their own distinct alphabet. That is building trust, which I mentioned earlier. I have to admit that, I have a solid emotional bond to the hotel due to its majestic and fascinating architecture inspired by the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela.

I kept on looking for more symbols; refreshing memories from my youth, remnants of signs during my visits to Addis, books, and the internet for more. It is with great pleasure to be able to share with you what I have discovered so far. It is indeed fascinating that the leaders of the country during that time, organizations and companies understood the importance of communicating with powerful symbols, employing Amharic letters, and sometimes combined with European characters. The symbols you are witnessing in this exhibition are executed skilfully with simplicity, sophistication, and honesty. Still fresh and cutting-edge to this day!

My name is Efrem Beyene. I grew up and studied in Dessie, a small town in the north-central part of Ethiopia. I was sent to Sweden in 1989 (thirty-two years ago) by the Embassy of Sweden in Addis Ababa to study art. Before I left for Sweden I used to exhibit my paintings at Göthe Institut and Alliance Ethiopia-Française in Addis Ababa. Today I work as a consultant in Stockholm in the field of Communication and Branding. I am very grateful to everything Ethiopia, my hometown Dessie and my school Woizero Sehin School has taught me to meet the challenges in a far and different country with dignity. When you know where you come from, it is much easier to navigate where you are going.

I would like to use this opportunity to thank Mr. Claus Steiner, for his genuine interest in this matter from the first outset and his unconditional support to realize the exhibition.

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© June, 2024 Ketema Journal

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