Mosvold: A Norwegian Name for Quality in Ethiopia

Torrey MosvoldTorrey Mosvold

Last updated: 31.05.2010 // Mosvold is a name people in Ethiopia will know, both from the area around the shop in Piazza, and as a name of quality products, particularly furniture. But the fact that Mosvold is a Norwegian name, established by Norwegians with Norwegian products might not be so well known. When dealing with Ethio-Norwegian business relations, one should start with the first Norwegian business venture in Ethiopia, which started in the late 1940s, and ended when the company was nationalised by the Derg in 1975.

This article was published in the Embassy's business enclosure to the Capital 16 May. Find more articles from the enclosure here.

 

The company was run by Mr. Torrey Mosvold, a versatile businessman whose family ran a major Shipping line in the southern part of Norway. In the late 1940s, he was approached by a representative from the Norwegian Lutheran Mission, an organization who had started deploying missionaries in Ethiopia. The mission representative  told of a country in need of investment and new businesses, with a huge potential. After thorough research, the Mosvold company decided to open a furniture outlet in Addis Ababa, and later expand into other businesses. The shop was to be located at Piazza, on what was then called Emperor Haile Selassie Avenue.

 

The first activities of Mosvold Ethiopia Ltd  was soon expanded with a speparate department in the shop selling high-quality building-materials,  many of them delivered from factories in Norway owned by the Mosvold company. The shop sold food, office equipment, and tools, as well as high quality furniture from Norway.

 

Torrey Mosvold viewed it as important to produce goods locally, thus benefiting his Ethiopian employees. He had previously heard about the high quality of Ethiopian wood, and the contacts that had encouraged him to start up in Ethiopia had suggested that a furniture factory would be an ideal project.

 

The furniture factory was established and placed in the area around Balcha Hospital. It employed a large number of Ethiopians and devised a system for salaries and pensions unique in Ethiopia. The salaries at the factory were 75 times higher than in similar Ethiopian businesses.

 

Throughout the 1960s, the Mosvold company in Ethiopia was steadily growing. The furniture made by the company was much sought after in the international circles of Addis Ababa, a city becoming a diplomatic centre of Africa in the 1960s, with the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) headquarters, as well as the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). The furniture from the factory was also exported, mainly to Saudi-Arabia. The store at Piazza was modernised into comprising of five departments; one for the locally produced furniture and imported goods, one for carpets, one for office equipment, one for household-goods, and one for kitchenware. Another important step for the Mosvold company was when they managed to secure the right to be sole importer of goods from the Swedish company Ericsson to Ethiopia.

 

Mr. Torrey Mosvold himself played a vital role securing the success of his company’s engagement in Ethiopia. He did thorough market research in advance, visited Addis Ababa on many occasions, and developed a strong network, also within the circles close to Emperor Haile Selassie. Torrey Mosvold seemed to be encouraged by challenges, and he was the kind of man who never took no for an answer.

 

Times, however, were changing. From being a politically stable country when the Mosvold company established itself in the 1940s and -50s, Ethiopian internal affairs became more instable from the late 1960s into the early -70s. In early 1975, after the ousting of the Emperor and the take over of the Dergue, Mosvold Ethiopia Ltd was about to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Mr.Torrey Mosvold arrived in an Addis Ababa in turmoil, far from the “Imperial glory” he had seen before. The car he used to travel around Addis Ababa became a target for stone throwing. Mr. Mosvold quickly realized that conditions had changed, and left Ethiopia, never to return. On February 4th 1975, the Mosvold store and furniture factory were nationalised by the Dergue. Finally, in 1976, all financial assets were confiscated.

 

The former Mosvold shop can still be found around Piazza, as well as an old and beaten company sign oor the furniture factory, right around the corner from Lideta Sub City Police station. They are remnants of an area with close and successful Ethio-Norwegian business ties, hopefully bearing good tidings for further strengthening of economic ties between the two countries in the future.

This article was published in the Embassy's business enclosure to the Capital 16 May. Find more articles from the enclosure here.


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