Friday, August 21, 2015

Swedish TV crew defects to Eritrea

This satirical piece first appeared on in June 2009

Swedish TV crew defects to Eritrea
Ahmed Raji, ZNN News

(This is not a satire)

A Swedish TV crew which recently conducted an interview with the Eritrean president has sought asylum in Eritrea. Journalist Donald Boström, his producer, and his cameraman have adopted the East African country as their new home, renouncing their Swedish citizenship. Reached by telephone from Nairboi, a jubilant Boström confirmed the news of his defection along with his two colleagues. The news has shocked Swedish society and made headlines across Europe. Pundits and analysts have been pondering the possible motives for such unprecedented move.
In the now famous interview, the Eritrean president dissected the atrocious realities of Western societies, taking Sweden as a blatant case study of societal inequalities and state malfunction. He patiently catalogued the virtues and achievements of his own rule, leaving no choice for his interviewer but to conclude that Eritrea’s was the best system of governance he had ever come across. The next morning, Boström and his colleagues were standing at the door of general Affan, Eritrea’s immigration and citizenship tsar, to make their application for asylum.
An exciting array of programs is lined up for the three journalists for the summer, including a six-week political education camp in Nakfa and a one-month live-in internship at Weddi Legges’ farm in the vicinity of Tessenei. The latter is believed to give the three men a unique opportunity to observe, first-hand, the Eritrean economic miracle. “It is going to be very exciting”, said Boström, his voice exuding genuine enthusiasm. “I can’t wait to be heading down to Gash-Barka”. He plans to make his stay at the legendary Weddi Legges ranch “a total immersion”. “I expect this to be an almost spiritual experience”, he said. He also proudly mentioned that the President himself and numerous other prominent officials, including general Wucchu, often spend their weekends at the famed ranch, which would make the prospect of the internship all the more rewarding.
While these developments have baffled many back home in Sweden, Boström maintains that their act was the natural thing to do once the truth about their own inadequate system was revealed to them. The interview with the Eritrean president was an eye-opening experience. Indeed, their whole trip to Eritrea proved to be a life-changing journey. “Before the interview, we were living in complete ignorance” Boström said. “How such a despicable and unjust system as the one we have in Sweden was able to conceal its true nature for so long is baffling” he said, adding, “My life in Sweden was a sham.”
Asked by the Tigrinya service of the VOA whether the three journalists would join the ministry of information’s cadre of reporters, Mr. Ali Abdu, Eritrea’s minister information, answered in the positive. “That’s correct” he said, “They will be given the opportunity to serve the truth. But, as prospective citizens of this country, they would first have to fulfill their national duty.” An 18-month national service is mandatory in Eritrea (although, in practice, the majority of recruits volunteer to extend their service to several years). Sources close to Forte Baldissera1 told ZNN that minister Abdu has assigned News guru Weddi Barnosai to coach the newcomers in the workings and techniques of the Ministry of Information, in strict adherence to the ethos: ‘Serving the Truth’.
Meanwhile, the trio was given a room at ‘Enda Zena’, the Ministry of Information’s residential building in the Kagnew compound. A spokesman for the ministry said that, once their families join them, they would be given more spacious accommodation at Segen houses in Mai Temenai or ‘enda quteba’. It didn’t take long for the three men to adapt to their new surroundings. One neighbor described the new tenants as pleasant, courteous and extremely cooperative. They are already participating in the community’s sports and social activities with exceptional passion and have volunteered for a project or two. Their Tigrinya classes are progressing at a phenomenal speed, while the fashion of their blending in the local scene has been seamless. The cameraman was spotted early in the morning on Thursday standing in a queue in front of the neighborhood’s dkuan Hidri, to receive the trio’s first monthly ration of sugar, cooking oil and pasta. He later expressed his admiration for the discipline, patience and optimism of the shoppers, which struck him as a complete contrast to the individualism of Western societies that he had gladly turned his back on. “This is a truly egalitarian society” he said.
A request for an interview with general Affan (concerning Mr. Bostrom and his two colleagues’ naturalization process) was not answered. However, one of the general's assistants disclosed to ZNN News that, depending on the progress that the three journalists make in their education and rehabilitation (tehadso) programs, there was a strong possibility that they would be put on a fast-track towards full Eritrean citizenship.

1 The Eritrean Ministry of Information headquarters

[The following clarification was published a week later on]

The irony in Isaias’ Swedish TV interview
Ahmed Raji - Jun 12, 2009

Under Isaias, Eritrea has managed many ‘firsts’ and broken quite a few world and African records – albeit at the wrong end of the spectrum. It is the world’s biggest prison, the biggest jailer of journalists in Africa, the most oppressive among 169 countries of press freedom, and it has one of the highest per capita outflows of young refugees in the world. In every tragic tale of refugees perishing in the high seas, in the desert, or at some border crossing, there is an Eritrean story. 

This is the country that Isaias has bragged about in his interview with Donald Boström. This is his paradise – a place where the only choices available to young people are indefinite servitude, languishing in one of countless dungeons, or fleeing the country even at the risk of being killed. The man who turned his country into a giant gulag, boasted the merits of his rule. He reduced his people to destitution and yet has the audacity to talk about economic growth and food security. He shamelessly declared that Dawit Isak will never receive justice. Presiding over the ruins of a land that once promised a lot, he lashed at Sweden, a nation that is the envy of many. Just think about it – a brutal despot whose country is losing en masse its most productive population claims that his regime is better than that of the country providing refuge to those same young exiles. Do you see the irony? The surrealism, the almost barbaric hilarity of the situation?

This is the backdrop against which the parody I wrote a week ago should be read; which is exactly what many readers did. The irony, I presume, was not lost to the interviewer, Mr. Boström, either. Consider, for example, his question (to Isaias): “Since you have this very good system, where do you see Eritrea in 2015?”

I didn’t expect that my satire would be taken as real news by some readers! My first reaction was: "really?! Can anyone take this seriously?"  Indeed, can anyone familiar with the Eritrean reality be fooled that this is serious news? What happened to our sense of humour? We probably need good doses of The Colbert Report and The Onion, or any of their witty cousins elsewhere.  Yet, serious news is what some readers thought the piece was. My apologies to those who did. I tell those readers: rest assured; following the interview with our unelected ruler, Mr. Boström was duly back to his home country, Sweden, enjoying the blessings and amenities of one of the world’s freest, most prosperous, and most humane societies.

And here is a link to Victoria Bernal's article on Eritrean politics and the powers of humor, which analyzes the above satirical piece.

Please forget democracy and justice:
Eritrean politics and the powers of humor


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