Saying that a lot has happened in Ethiopia in the past 2 weeks is not only an understatement but would even amount to a lie. A lot has not happened in Ethiopia for the past 2 weeks or even month, it is as if Ethiopia is a whole new country with new political and economic ideals, ones that seem to be very different from the previous one.
Now, just summarizing the developments in the past week: we have a new chief of our National Defense Force and the Intelligence and National Security Services, a couple of very prominent political figures have “retired”, our State Owned Enterprises are going to sell their minority shares, we are starting up our Navy, we have agreed to respect the arbitration award that allocates the territory of Badme, highest Ethiopian honors have been conferred on some of our politicions…. dizzy yet?
I can barely keep up and from what I keep reading and seeing on social media, I am clear that I am not the only one that feels that way. As we all try and cope with what seems like an endless streak of breaking news about Ethiopia, comedy seems to be how we are doing it. I have been receiving a series of jokes, memes, which are pictures with funny quotes for those that are not familiar with them, interesting commentaries about how fast everything is evolving. And I have to be honest, it certainly has helped me cope with these sudden changes.
Let me tell you some of my favorite ones. This one man commented saying that Ethiopian Television 8 o’clock news has never been this exciting and that he now goes into the shower with an umbrella and his phone because he does not know what’s going to happen next. But as much as there is comedy, it has really been a way of discussing real matters and giving one’s opinion.
The more I think about it, the more I wonder if our comedy is our way of coping or if it is cynicism. With our history, we are not exactly the most positive and changing loving people. In fact we do not like change, although we constantly want things to change but when they actually start changing we are the loudest critics.
I decided to look into this and long and behold, we are not the only people who cope with laughter or jokes. Humor has long been recognized as more than mere fun and games. It presents an alternative means of expressing criticism about injustices, arrogance, pretentions or hypocrisies that can’t socially or legally be expressed otherwise. This kind of humor is called gallows humor. It is viewed as an expression of resilience and hope that has the power to sooth suffering. When the minority has few tools to combat an oppressive majority, gallows human can be used as a sort of secret subversive weapon. The danger that ridicule poses to those in power is captured by the Italian phrase una risatavi seppellira, meaning “it will be a laugh that buries you”.
I was reminded of the play in Zimbabwe that was made after Mugabe stepped down from power. It was a piece that mocked him, the first lady and reflected realities of Zimbabwe through comedy. The fact that the play was permitted showed that it was in fact a new day for Zimbabwe under the new leadership.
I think we are waiting to find out how skin deep this new Ethiopia and new leadership really is. I guess we will find out in time, until then, let’s enjoy the humour