University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


First batch of books reach Ethiopia

Successful first shipment in book drive to help out Ethiopian universities. But not without bureaucracy and red tape

Life scientist activists have succeeded in sending the first phase of collected books to Ethiopia, they report.

»Please pass our gratitude once more to the University Post for helping us in passing the information. It helped us a lot after the article was published. Now, we have got a permanent store for the books at the Frederiksberg Hospital and we are working for second phase collection and sending,« says Fikadu Reta Alemayehu, a former Faculty of Life Sciences graduate.

Earlier this year, Fikadu and student colleagues put together a plan to save as many books as he could from an inferno of literature, after the Faculty of Humanities announced that they would burn nearly 80,000 books to make space. The Faculty has since then aborted the plan after protests.

Provoked by failed book burning plan

Fikadu’s vision was for the books to benefit students in Ethiopian universities which, either due to lack of funding or high student enrollment, are short on the books they need. Along with the Faculty’s donation of books, there has also been a drive from students and private individuals to donate as many more books as they can in order to make the most charitable impact.

»We have so far sent 168 books, which are of very high quality, mostly books published after 2005. We organised funding on Facebook from Ethiopians in Denmark for the airplane ticket. We got more books but sending them by airplane is very expensive. If we send by ship, we can not easily get it to Addis Ababa since the ships take it only up to Djibouti. We don’t have proper coordination to process that. We also wanted it to be done in short time. Thus sending by airplane was easier but costly. That is why we could not send all the books yet«.

Read the original article about the book burning plan here, that inspired the collection. The plan was since aborted after Danish government intervention.

Storage issues

Months after, and it has proven not quite as straight forward as Fikadu and his team might have hoped.

»The Ethiopian Universities are willing to take the books. The problem is, we did not have prior formal communication with the universities. To send books to a public University in Ethiopia, the sending group and the University need to have initial agreed plans. The Universities need to allocate budget and responsible person etc. Thus, starting by showing them what we have on hand was important. So far the remaining books are temporarily stored at the University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Life Sciences Library. The library is undergoing reconstruction and they need the space where we have stored the books to be free. Fortunately, Anne, one of our volunteers contacted the Frederiksberg Hospital though her father who is working there. And we got a room where we can store the books for a longer time«.

»The point is, sending books from Europe to Ethiopia is a huge task that needs lots of coordination and prior arrangements. Since we started collecting books informally, we found it hard to make it go smooth. That is why we are working on making our volunteer group a formal group so that we can sign some papers and make official communications«.

Read the original article about the first phase of the project here.

Tax laws provide another hurdle

The biggest issue for the charitable drive and for Fikadu has been the legality issues and as he says the more ‘formal’ approach to making the donation.

»We did not face any copyright problems in Denmark. But, in Ethiopia, all books which are imported have to be taxed. The customs office at Addis Ababa asked for the prices of the books we sent. Since we collected used books, we did not have any information about how much the books cost. They also asked for a certificate of donation to show that we officially donated those books to Hawassa University. Yet, we found it difficult to do that since we are not a formal group«.

»Thus, I had to write a letter mentioning that I have donated the books to Hawassa University where I used to work before coming to Denmark. In addition, since I am on study leave from Hawassa University, communicating them individually was possible. I have sent an estimate of costs based on which they can calculate tax to be paid by Hawassa University«.

Progress, finally being made

Fikadu admitted that the best way to have gone about the mission thus far has been to take the informal approach, but concedes that in order for the project to fulfill its potential, a more formal way of thinking is required.

»The best way, we decided at the start, was to take a friendlier, emotionally attached approach to the institutions’ and those that have been kind enough to donate. Now, we can see that we have to take this more seriously in order to combat the legal issues, and to push through the official movement of the books to Ethiopia, getting the books to the right people as soon as possible«.

»We have sent 168 books, and they are now in Ethiopia. That is a big achievement for us. The public affairs office of Hawsasa University has informed me that they have got the permission from customs office to collect the books by bringing a letter that they are paying an estimated amount of tax. Thus, I think, we can move on, and make our team formal so that we can send more books and other educational materials since it is possible to do it, but not easy«.

For more information on ways you can help donate or to volunteer with the project see our Fact Box at the top right of the article and help to make a difference.

Stay in the know about news and events happening in Copenhagen by signing up for the University Post’s weekly newsletter here.