(Published in Global Journalist: Project Exile; February 2nd, 2017)
In Eritrea, even being part of the East African nation’s tame state media is no protection. That was the conclusion Abraham Zere reached after years of working as a columnist for the government newspaper Hadas Erta and later for the ruling party’s magazine.
All independent media outlets in the country of 6 million were closed in 2001 amid a massive crackdown on internal dissent following the country’s disastrous two-year border-war with Ethiopia. More than a dozen prominent journalists were jailed – and to this day it’s not known how many are still alive.
But as Abraham has written, for state media workers Eritrea became a Kafka-esque world of uncertainty and seemingly random detentions by security forces.
In 2006, security forces detained 10 state media journalists who worked at the Ministry of Information without any apparent rhyme or reason–keeping some in custody for weeks. In 2009, the military raided a state educational station called Radio Bana, arresting at least 40 reporters and media workers for reasons that are still unclear. Some were held in prison until 2015.
Abraham had his own difficulties in 2009 after publishing a column in the ruling party’s Hidri magazine highlighting the disaffection of Eritrean youth. That led to an immediate rebuke from Eritrea’s powerful Minister of Information Ali Abdu (himself now an asylum seeker in Australia after fleeing in 2013) – who published his own column in the state newspaper labeling Abraham’s work “irresponsible and dangerous.” Click here to read more.
(Published in Sabotage Reviews Nov. 21, 2016)
The collection portrays the “orgasm of crime”, following themes of shattered dreams; the bond between a father behind barbed wire and his waiting family; the atrophied and docile body; and mechanisms of torture and fear. The poet, “translator of pain and humiliation”, graphically portrays physical torture and psychological torment in which victims are “skinned alive” to confess to crimes they never committed. The long, mostly unpunctuated poems are loud cries of abuses and read as hallucinatory notes. Ultimately, the form becomes the message: these poems embody bold defiance against injustice.
The poems written in prison or immediately after Laâbi’s release do not fall into conventional sound rhymes or meters: he expresses collective maltreatment through free verse, capturing the suffering that he describes as “inferno of solitude”. The poem ‘Letter to My Friends Overseas’ explains why he might deflect traditional poetic forms: Click here to read more.
(Published in online journal of African Studies Quarterly Vol. 16, Issue 3-4)
Flaws and oversights resulting from such disregard of readily available scholarly material written by Eritreans are evident throughout the text. Although the book seeks to explore modern architecture in colonial Eritrea, the author, if one did not know any better, seems to be writing about a literally empty space. It’s difficult to see how one can write about distinct buildings and their history, without mentioning the human element. The book ignores the interactions, relationships, and acts of conscription, dislocation, and nationalization of land that played such crucial roles during the Italian colonial period. By ignoring these ignominious hallmarks of Italian colonial rule, and instead gazing at the Eritrean historic spaces through the eyes of the colonizer, the book reads more like an homage to the latter.
The book uses leading scholars in the field of architecture to substantiate its theories and conclusions. It provides a thorough look at the Italian colonists’ justifications and perspectives during the early colonial period in Eritrea, through travelogues of the early settlers and diaries from colonial missions. Employing theoretical abstractions and overusing minute details at the expense of rendering a bigger picture, the book avoids any meaningful treatment of the excessive use of lethal force and brutality exercised by the Italian colonizers. Furthermore, the author, by omitting discussion of these sensitive but relevant areas and quoting texts that appear to justify the colonial occupation, exacerbates, ignores, and/or misrepresents the rarely discussed Italian colonial “color bar” (racial hierarchy). For example, the book cites a text that glosses over the Italian color bar (later infamously adopted in Apartheid South Africa), casually observing: “Sons of Europeans mingle and play freely with native boys” (p.173) Click here to read the review (pp-179-180)