- Photo Essay - August 30, 2005


August 30, 2005: A Day in the Life of Addis Ababa Listros (Shoe-shine Boys)

On a rainy Thursday evening of this Kremt of 2005 in Addis Ababa, our Photo Essay Team met up - at our favorite hung-out in the city - to chart 'strategy' and 'outline' its tasks for the upcoming Ethiopian New Year of 1998.

The last part of the year has been extremely difficult for the city - in case no one noticed! Way back in June of this year, after Mr. Meles oversaw the killing of 40+ people in this city of ours and his subsequent security clamp, most of us were busy worrying for our lives and safety which - as you may guess - left us little or no time to entertain the idea of hitting the streets to do what we loved most. Following the Sene Lideta massacre, one would have to be totally nuts to go around the city with cameras in hand as Meles' Agazee militia patrolled the streets with RPGs, AKs and Hand Grenades (A side note: Even 14 years after coming to see the 'city life', Weyane soldiers still haven't dropped the habit of carrying weapons meant for guerilla warfare and intimidating city dwellers with grenades. No wonder, we voted you all out of office! Note to Donors: Please give Weyane people Euro and US weapons meant for the city to replace their Russian and Chinese RPGS).

At any rate, if there is any lesson learnt from the Mengistu era, it is that life continues even in the middle of this atmosphere of continuous fear and uncertainty that has gripped our city and country. Therefore, as we sat down to chart what we want to do in 1998 (EC), the thing that weighed much on our minds was safety - personal safety! 'What topics can we cover and what topics will not endanger us and people around us?' were some of the questions asked and discussed at length.  A senior member of our group - on his own volition - had taken some pictures of the new condominiums sprouting all over town and suggested that we do a story on that. That met a stiff resistance - no one wanted to touch anything smelling of EPRDF. Even if the pictures looked good and there is some story in them, that issue was tainted. After a couple of bottles of Bedele beer, (no Pepsi, we joked even though there is a rumor that EPRDF may soon put the sign of 'bee'-the infamous 'Nib' on Bedele bottles), the idea of doing a story on ordinary Addis Ababans going on with their lives gained acceptance.

So, here is an essay that documents what a typical day looks like for our city's beloved 'Listros'. It has been said before - and we will repeat it here - that Addis Ababa can survive without engineers, doctors, lawyers and the police; but with no Listros and taxi drivers, Addis Ababa will cease to exist as a city. In all seriousness, we do not think that this statement is with no merit. What will life in Addis Ababa be like if one does not stop by a friendly and hard-working Listro for a good half-an-hour of cleaning and polishing of a pair of shoes? How will one dare to show up at office with shoes smeared with the stubborn Addis Ababa kremt 'chiqa' and bega abuara? No self-respecting Addis Ababan dares to be seen with shoes that have not been touched by a Listro at least once in a day. How about the friendly chat with these hard working  kids from the great Gurage land of central Ethiopia?

The stories of hard work, community, parents in Gurage land, brothers and sisters ready to get married, their friends who started as Listros 4 years ago and who now own their own kiosks in Merkato are some of the finest inspiration moments for any Addis Ababan. The story of the extreme care one's pair of shoes enjoy at the hands of a Listro, the friendly service, the 'money-back' guarantee (if you do not enjoy their work), upward mobility are some of the great traits that Addis Ababan Listros share. In fact, we suggest that in some business schools in the country as well as abroad, the business practices and models of Addis Ababa Listros should be made required readings. When was the last time that one heard of a Listro who failed in life? Really, these folks that you see in these pictures will one day become successful business owners in the Great Merkato area importing anything from Chinese diesel power generators to DVD players. We salute their bravery and discipline and wish that the rest of Addis Ababa and Ethiopia follow their examples. True 'capacity building', 'poverty reduction' and 'entrepreneurship' is practiced among the Listros with astounding results. May be the USAID, AU, World Bank officials who routinely come to the city should take a note of that. We are worried, though, that this exercise of raising awareness of the business profiles of these enterprising Ethiopians, may give a bad idea to that entity of today's Ethiopia with thousands of tentacles- EPRDF. You see, from fertilizers to heavy machinery, the Weyane machinery is determined to control and exploit every aspect of the Ethiopian economy through its parastatal organizations like Dinsho, Mega, Mesfin Engineering, etc. Maybe they may now want to get into the Listro business with shady names like Agazee Shoe Shine Enterprise, Dedebit Shoe Cooperative, or Federal Shoe Enhancement Corporation.

Pictures: Left Column: Top to Bottom. It is morning in Addis and we catch three of our new friends as they wake up to a new sunny day in Kremt. More Listros come to the Arat Kilo area. Our new friend is carrying shoes that were repaired over-night (the role of the Listro has now been extended to mobile repair operations as well). Unpacking of repaired shoes is followed by the day's first customer enjoying a typical customer care.

Right Column: Top to Bottom. Works goes on till around 10:00 AM. Tea/Breakfast break is taken only after the city's work force has its shoes shined and disappeared into the big rectangular blocks of bureaucracy and inefficiency (like the now vanquished W/o Genet Zewdie's Education ministry). "Chibs' is what is for breakfast (Old Addis Ababans may not know this term! If you know this term, you may send us e-mail at Mediaethiopia.com). After another brisque afternoon and early evening work, our Listro friends retire to their communal dwellings.  Sometimes, these dwellings could be also the work places.

As the Listro tradition continues in the next day and then to the new year, we wonder what Poet Tsegay's 1960 play "Listro' would have looked liked? "Chibs", we insist was not a vocabulary Poet Tsegaye G/M would have used. 


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