Eritrea-CoverA new book on post-independence Eritrea is now available online.

It is “Postliberation Eritrea,” edited by Tekle Mariam Woldemikael.

You can read it here.

I have not had a chance to read it in full, but it does look good and has some excellent contributors.

I particularly liked the chapter by David M. Bozzini: The Catch-22 of Resistance: Jokes and Political Imagination of Eritrean Conscripts.

Below  is a short extract.


Mandatory and indefinite national service in state institutions, repressive policies such as military raids and pervasive controls, and an uneven bureaucracy and unexpected state measures particularly shape conscripts’ representations of state power and dynamics.

State arbitrariness is interpreted in many different ways, but stress produces in conscripts the experience of insecurity and uncertainty. It is widely believed, for instance, that the government disseminates false rumors to destabilize the population and that other hidden agendas to promote terror are at play. Conscripts’ attempts to understand uneven and arbitrary measures accordingly prioritize state officials’ agency and rational causality—the leadership’s carefully and well-designed evil plan—over blatant institutional shortcomings and systemic bureaucratic dysfunction. Associated with the perception of the personification of state power, the inconstancy of rules, the arbitrary volte-faces, and bureaucratic blockages are often explained as a deliberate and Machiavellian presidential agenda or as the result of the well-known lunatic temperament of Isaias Afwerki.

The malicious influence of the president is depicted in jokes that portray him as an evildoer or the enemy of the nation. These are two characteristic examples that I collected while talking with friends who had completed their university degree and were recently assigned in national service in Asmara. The discussion took place only among us on a saint’s-day celebration (ngdät, generally commemorated in a distinctive neighborhood or a village) in a calm corner of the compound (kanshelo, from Italian cancello ‘gate’) of a relative of one of them. The first one is based on the internationally famous clock-in-heaven joke; the other was elaborated from the rumor that Isaias Afwerki had to undergo a critical medical intervention shortly after independence:

It’s a very hot day in paradise. In one of the offices of the divine administration, an official is doing the inventory of a collection of clocks. Every clock represents a president in power on earth. Every time one of them commits a crime, the hand of the clock advances by a minute. This is how God keeps track of presidential misdeeds. All the clocks are there except for Isaias’s. The official searches and then panics because he can’t find it anywhere. Finally, he decides to report the disappearance to God personally. Surprised by the well-working air conditioning in God’s office, our official reconsiders his actions and excuses himself for having bothered God for nothing. Isaias’s clock was in fact standing on the divine desk, with its minute hand nicely ventilating the office.

In 1993, only shortly after independence, President Isaias flies to Israel to undergo medical treatment. The doctors heal him, but unfortunately, they transfuse him with Israeli blood. This explains why, after returning to Eritrea, he turned violently against the population: for him, the Eritreans have become Palestinians living in the occupied territories.

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