From 1921-2012, 90 years of Experience in printing

 On 23 Tahsas 1917 (December 1924) and with the consent of Leul Ras Tafari there began the printing of a weekly magazine bearing the title Berhanena Selam .The new publication appeared every Thursday. The first copy of the magazine was presented to the Emperor, who received it with pleasure and other copies were similarly distributed among the officials attending the event, who read it eagerly. The name “Berhanena Selam” was also adopted by the printing press. The newsboys began their work of distribution on horseback, at 7 in the morning. The paper was printed and distributed freely among readers for nearly a month in order to make it popular. Then it was put on regular weekly sales to both subscribers and the general public alike. The establishment of Berhanena Selam Printing Press (the then name) was among the key factors that made it possible for ancient Ethiopia to take the leap forward into this modern age.

 When it was first set up, 9 decades ago, the printing press was originally designed to carry on the printing of religious books. At that time books on religious subjects were the only works sought by churches and other individual readers. These books had to be produced as manuscripts and, this was a laborious task, the people who where engaged in this work were few. It took a long time for the books to be available and were expensive to buy. At the beginning, Berhanena Selam was mainly engaged in the printing of religious books, produced in both Ge’ez and Amharic versions and which were sold at reasonable low prices, thus minimizing the problems previously encountered, the press also entered into the printings of various forms and records for use by public and private organizations as well as news papers. With further improvements in its organization the printing press succeeded in offering the nation the services expected of it. Starting with humble beginnings using hand operated machines, with very few impressions per hour and a staff of 7-12 persons, the printing press has now grown into a modern complex employing around 810 people operating modern web offset printing machines one of which can produce 30,000 copies of a 32-page newspaper in an hour.

The big chance and improvement experienced by the Berhanena Selam Printing Press is not solely confined to the number of people it now employs. The establishment, which began its modest operations in a small house consisting of two rooms today, manages its business inside a modern, seven-store building. As the printing technology is updating itself, we too continuously update our capacity with the latest printing technologies. The constant in BSPE, however, is our never-ending commitment to our customers, providing outstanding customer service including the 24 hours service! Apart from our capacity in modern equipment and running capital, the very big capital of our enterprise is the Manpower. For over 85 years, BSPE

The Foundation and Development of BSPE

Before the introduction of printing technology to Ethiopia, there was lack of sufficient copies of books and texts which had been produced by hand. As a result, people had been learning by heart and scholars were teaching their knowledge from memory. It was through this condition, therefore, that Ethiopian scholars succeeded in preserving and transferring the most valuable old books of church such as the four versions of “Gospel”, “Senksar,” “Henok” and Kufale” to the present users.

In the year 1917, the Regent, Leul Ras Tafari Mekonen formulated a body responsible for the production of books by hand. Thus, distinguished scholars from various churches and monasteries across the country were invited to Addis Ababa. Scribes and Geez professionals were also employed to translate the books of the Holy Scriptures from Geez into Amharic version. In the years to come, the increasing need for reading materials and the progressive efforts made by the scribes and other scholars gave a way for the search for modern printing methods.

Having desired to see a greater production of religious and educational works that might help create an enlightened and open society, the young Regent imported modern printing machines comparatively new to Ethiopia from Germany. The printing press was located in the present compound of Addis Ababa University that was also the palace (“Genete Leul”) in September 1921. The machines were a hand and pedal-operated to accomplish multipurpose activities and were set up in a small two-room building called Yechew Bet” (House of Salt). The first book of Holy Scripture produced in the press was called “Yohannes Afework” with its Amharic translations in 1921.

The printing press stepped up into a new chapter of development when it started printing of the first newspaper called “Berhanena Selam” (Light and Peace) on December 1924. The name “Berhanena Selam” for the present printing press was also adopted from this newspaper. In addition to “Berhanena Selam”, the press was printing a newspaper entitled “Atibia Kokeb” launched in 1926 E.C. and continued to appear until it finally ceased during the Italian invasion. It was a weekly issue both in Amharic and French. “Berhanena Selam” newspaper went out of publication in Miazia 22, 1928 E.C. during the Italian Invasion until later reappeared in the post liberation period.

Place Changes

As the works of the printing press became diversified and the number of employees increased, the need for new sites became significant to cope with the ever growing printing needs. Hence, the printing press first made a move to a new address in the premises of the present site of the Ministry of Finance. In 1930 E.C, the second change of address was made to a place known as “Lankc and Wellansa”. The press also leased a building which was located just opposite to the present head office of the press. However, obtaining a new place alone was not enough to meet the expansion needs of the plant. Thus, in order to fully cope with the growing pace of development, the press bought the present estate at a cost of 36,000 ((Maria Theresa dollars) from Blata Paulos, an Egyptian native.

The press was on operation until the Italian army advanced to Addis Ababa. By this time, the printing machines were taken to isolated area in the premises of Blata Haile Welde Kidan, in the vicinity of German Embassy to hide them from air raids.

Not only the sites of the printing press changed in different times, but also the name given to the printing press changed from time-to-time. Accordingly, it had the following names:

  • Ye Ethiopia Mengist Alga Worash Ye Leul Ras Tafari Mekonnen Matemia Bet
  • Ye Kedamawi Haile Selassie Negusse Negust Ze Ethiopia Matemia Bet (1923-1925E.C.)
  • Berhanena Selam Ye Ethiopia Negusse Negust Matemia Bet. (1923E.C.)

As far as the administration status of the printing press is concerned, it had passed through different ruling and controlling bodies between the years 1914 and 1925 E.C. In this period, it was ruled under the direct supervision of the Regent’s office. Beginning from the year 1925 E.C. the administration of the printing press was also placed under the Ministry of Pen. A number of important developments took place in this period. To cite some, the establishment of branches in 1927 E.C. and the beginning of publication of a scientific and educational newspapers entitled “Kessatie Berhan Lelibe Tebiban” with its three branches in Addis Ababa, Harar and Jimma. After the victory between 1941 and 1942, the printing press was jointly ruled by the British Military Commandants who came to Ethiopia to fight the Italian invaders, but still privately owned by Emperor Haile Selassie.

In 1942, the Printing press was again transferred to the Ministry of Pen. Four years later, it gained a short term autonomous under the higher protectrate of the Ministry of Pen until it was given to the Haile Selassie I Charity Organization in 1957. The organization administered it until the out-break of the 1974 Ethiopian Revolution, during which the printing press was nationalized as a state owned enterprise property of under the administration of Ministry of Information. Among the developments registered during this time was the introduction of computer technology to the press. When the EPRDF came to power, the printing press turned into public enterprise acquiring the name as “Beerhanena Selam Printing Enterprise” and it was under the rule of the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Currently, the printing enterprise is supervised by the Ethiopian Public Enterprises Supervising Authority through the board members who approve plans and strategies developed by the managing committee of the enterprise.

Though the printing industry has a short history in Ethiopia, it has played quite a significant role in shaping the modern educational, social, economic, cultural, and political situations of the country. It has contributed much to the propagation of education, religion, national economy and governmental orders and regulations. Thus, BSPE has taken the best position and image in the printing history of the country attributed to its age-old experience and technological advancements.