Billboard Parade

Commercial advertisements are one of the many faces of urban life. Their presence contributes to the image of a city, if managed properly. With the roads of Addis Abeba filled with random billboards, however, its facade is somewhat spoiled. With a new approach they could, rather, bring some value.

Anywhere we go along the breadth and width of the capital, they cannot escape our notice. They could be of varying colours, shapes, designs and sizes.

They are often placed asymmetrically. The materials used range from standard A4 sheets of paper to big sheets of cardboard, or even long pieces of cloth on which banners are painted.

It may be recalled that, during the Dergue regime, all of the cities across the country were devoid of commercial advertisements, on the grounds that they were stains of capitalism, or imperialist ideology, if you will. That, of course, does not mean that the streets and road sides were neat and tidy back then.

There were massive billboards in select areas carrying slogans that were meant to teach and promote the teachings of Marxism and Leninism; others claimed that it was an era for socialism, or even communism. But, that is a different subject, altogether.

Following the downfall of the Dergue, commercial advertisements were quickly put up throughout the city, promoting products in a seeming vendetta. Billboards for globally popular soft drinks and other Western-based business advertisements sprang up like mushrooms. They were like chimes on a clock, sounding and breathing capitalism into the city once again.

Advertisements went up haphazardly, so much so that city hall officials tried to take some regulatory measures that would help to organise them. But, it was not an easy job to implement within the given period of time, since many stakeholders had to be consulted.

Should a businesswoman take the legal procedure to get a permit to erect a big billboard, say at a vantage point on the side of the road, she would first have to knock on several office doors. The spot where the billboard is to be affixed has to be licenced by the land registration department of the City Administration, as well as the Agency for parking or greening.

The tax man also has to decide on the rate of taxation and is responsible for collecting the dues. Other companies may come up and submit protesting applications, claiming that their posters may be overshadowed by a new applicant.

Presentation of the commercial advertisement is another issue of concern. Many people feel dismal about the use of language. In accordance with the directives issued in relation to language, if outdoor commercials are to be bilingual, Amharic alphabets have to be placed on top. But, many commercial posters of cafes, bars, eateries and pastries, located in the capital, prefer to reverse that order.

This polarisation also has the hypocritical aspect of adopting names and titles, which are simply copied from the Western world. Many of these businesses seem to be suffering from some kind of identity crisis.

Paper posters at main road junctions and squares are often targeting job seekers. They obviously have a wide range of readers.

Many job seekers roaming the streets of the capital find these commercials magnetic. Some of these posters carry notifications of the tender or sale of secondhand goods and commodities. Unfortunately, these are misplaced, because their readers are only job seekers, most likely with little money in their pockets.

Addis Abeba, unlike any other capital city, is stocked with corrugated iron fences and metallic gates. Posters make bad use of these metallic walls by throwing up advertisements. Every inch of these fences and walls is covered with all sorts of papers on which ads are written or scribbled. Telephone and electric lamp posts are not spared either.

Posting spaces are also the subject of conflicts. An employed man carrying bundles of printed copies of ads, a tin full of glue and a brush comes by and posts the papers on the walls and poles. A few minutes later, another fellow, wearing a khaki apron, comes to overlay another advertisement, before even any interested party has had enough time to read what was written on the first advertisement.

The municipal sweepers are seen at times trying to peel off these papers to throw them into the rubbish bin. Hardly have they finished cleaning them off than a poster man lurking nearby will come to redress the corrugated iron fences or utility poles.

Electronic billboards may be inaccessible because of the high costs. The other scenario, however, is simply affixing notices to walls and gates, regardless of whether or not they are read, or, indeed, whether or not they end up in dust bins.

These varying ads have a negative impact on the beauty of the capital. The asymmetric pattern of posting and the irregular shapes and sizes of the advertisements could well give an unfavourable image of the city.

These unread posts are not only a waste of time and money, but also leave marks and create a mess, despite the fact that they may be bringing in some money or daily bread to the boys who make a business out of plastering them on someone else’s property, trespassing on their rights.

The management of posters could be a source of income, but only if it is managed and guided in the way other capital cities around the world do it.

By Girma Feyissa

Published on March 31, 2013 [ Vol 13 ,No 674]



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