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Ethiopia hoping for doll success

Ethiopia hoping for doll success

by Damian Zane [ BBC, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia ]

Ethiopia's proud history and rich heritage is being kept alive by a 38cm-high plastic doll. Senzero is the first ever doll to be manufactured in Ethiopia.

His creator, Girma Zelleke, confidently predicts that the Senzero doll will take the country by storm, as he already has his own successful animated television series.

[ Senzero is keeping Ethiopia's rich heritage alive ]

The boy - who on screen is computer generated - has a traditional Ethiopian haircut, and just wears a pair of white cotton shorts with the Ethiopian colours as trimming.

Senzero does a traditional Ethiopian dance - the boy moves his shoulders up and down, pushes his head backwards and forwards, and lifts his knees in the air in the style of dancers from the west of the country - with Ethiopian countryside scenes rolling across the background.


Girma Zelleke, or Papa Senzero, as he is now known, was inspired by the Ethiopian folk hero Senzero, a Tom Thumb-like figure who, despite his size, triumphs against adversity.

He is confident that the character will be a winner in the market place - and that is why he has gone into doll manufacturing.

"First of all I saw Baby Chacha, which is a dancing boy and I was dreaming to have an Ethiopian boy to be dancing the same."

"So I took the idea from there and I made a character... then I started reading Ethiopian folk tales and I noticed that Senzero is very wise, so I gave him the name Senzero," he said.

Cultural pride

The factory has 15 workers who can make about 100 dolls a day and although only recently launched, orders are already coming in, and Girma is confident that he can pay back his $60,000 loan within a year.

But his plans do not just stop there - in his workshop, Girma has a dancing Chinese doll, and he hopes that within a year he will be able to copy the design and produce a dancing three-dimensional Senzero.

And this is not all about making money - for Girma it is a way of instilling cultural pride.

[ Girma Zelleke wants to restore the pride and dignity of Ethiopian children ]

"Until now, and even when I was a kid, I was playing with foreign white dolls. We did not have black dolls and we did not imagine that there could a black doll," said Mr Zelleke.

"So, Senzero is a source of pride and when the kids see a black Ethiopian boy in their hands they start getting the feeling of pride and dignity in their minds".

Mickey Mouse

Girma is also dreaming of bigger things: more merchandising, more characters and a larger studio.

He also remembers that even Walt Disney had to start somewhere.
"First when you start everything it is miniature and small... even Walt Disney did not start from a very high situation," Mr Zelleke said.

[ Girma Zelleke in his studio - Girma Zelleke is dreaming of even bigger things ]

"Now I have started... I am making a doll and I will have a series of videos and I hope it is a miniature Walt Disney in Ethiopia".

Senzero may not be about to step into Mickey Mouse's shoes, but at least he is someone Ethiopians can call their own.


Die Vision des Herrn Zelleke ist genial und gehört zu unserem Paradigma einer Wiedergeburt Afrikas und der Schwarzen Völker. Wir kritisieren jedoch seine ethiopio-zentritische kulturelle Sicht. Ein solches Projekt sollte und muss eine globale PanAfrikanische VISION als primäre Grundlage haben. Der Mikro-Nationalismus in Afrika ist ein GIFT für eine globale Befreiung und Rehabilitierung der Schwarzen/Afrikanischen Völker. Alle Afrikanischen/Schwarzen Völker haben Eine Kulturelle Wiege, die kleinen Nuancen unter UNS und die kolonialen ideologischen Erben sollten UNS nicht ständig spalten. Die Klassik unserer gemeinsamen Kulturellen Wiege ist Nubisch-KEMET / Nubisch-Altägyptish, alles Andere ist
un-historiographisch und kontra-produktiv.