Ethiopian satirist silently joins ranks of the exiled

By Hindessa Abdul/CPJ Guest Blogger on November 16, 2011 5:40 PM ET

An Abé Tokichaw column from March 2011 (CPJ)

Newspaper satirist Abebe Tolla, better known as Abé Tokichaw, fled Ethiopia fearing imprisonment in retaliation for critical news commentaries, media reported this week. His exit was overshadowed by the trial of opposition figures and journalists on charges of terrorism.

In an interview he gave to U.S.-based Addis Neger Online from an undisclosed location, Abebe said he fled the country because security agents threatened to throw him in prison. He did not even bid farewell to family members. Abebe alleged that state security agents pressured him for months to become an informant at his newspaper, the critical Amharic weekly Feteh.

Abebe Tolla, better known as Abé Tokichaw (Abé Tokichaw)

Abebe had been writing for Feteh and Awramba Times, another Amharic weekly known for its in-depth coverage of local politics. In the Oromiffa language, which is spoken by about 40 percent of the Ethiopian population, Abé Tokichaw can be translated as "Abé the one and only." It is not that usual to find dedicated satirists in Ethiopian print media. While there are some comedians in the country, most of them prefer to ply their trade on radio and TV.

Abebe's satires can generally be considered political. He has been particularly critical of the cadres of the ruling party. That may be the reason for the pressure on him. For instance, he has satirized ruling party members for repeating policy terms coined by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, such as "transformation," as in the government's five-year Growth and Transformation Plan, without fully understanding the terms. According to him, officials have confused ordinary people in attempts to explain the policies to constituents.

A March 2011 cover of Awramba Times (CPJ)

But he has also touched on the lot of ordinary Ethiopians. By reading his satires, one can be assured of catching up with the week's top issues, and the inevitable punch lines. He jokes about everything. He even jokes about punctuation. He loves brackets because they allow him to deviate from the main points. Last year he published a collection of satires.

Abebe becomes yet another entry on the list of exiled Ethiopian journalists. According to data compiled by CPJ, since 2001, at least 79 journalists have fled the country, the highest number in the world. "It is better to get out than to get in," he told Addis Neger Online. In is for prison.

Currently, seven journalists are being held in Ethiopian prisons on terrorism charges, according to CPJ.


It's a big loss for regular audiences of Fith and Awramba Times news papers. When reading his satires every week, it's like he speaks everyone's mind. He was an outlet for most of us who don't have the freedom to speak what we really think and want. I am eager to see if he would still keep writing or not. But one thing is certain. He will be charged for terrorism even in his absence. That's Ethiopia's reality and we live with it everyday!

Sad! Abe was my favorite. I loved to read his weekly satire because it reflected how the governments absurd policies and empty propaganda are viewed by the ordinary citizen. In the satire he presents himself as one government cadre but echoes the views and comments of his "friends". He tells how his friends mocked him or ridiculed his ideas as he tries to convince them of the government's policies. He tells how his friends are talking and joking about the hardship of the ordinary citizen struggling even to feed its family one meal a day while Abe, as a cadre, was trying to draw rosy economic propaganda pictures. His satire was a place where the madness of the government is met by humble common sense views and hardship filled life of the ordinary citizen. It was a wonderful and very entertaining satire. For a wise government, it could have served as the peoples' heart beat measurement tool but the totalitarian nature of the ruling party is not capable of handling the slightest dissent.

That country is being terrorized by a brutal thug. God help us. I thank you guys at CPJ. God Bless you.

Nowadays, fabricating political news to stir ethnic tensions has become #1 route to political asylum visas in Europe.

In today's world of online blogs and "freelance reporting," everyone is calling themselves journalists.

Gedion soory for your comment i think you are a part of Government but please think more before you judge. Every one knows that freedom of speech is not respected in Ethiopia so that is not a matter of " freelance reporting " or bla bla . Ethiopian government abuse the human rights even we have only one tv channel so keep quite .

People like Gedion are partners of the anti-information Groups.How dare you think that people try to flee his home country without forceful conditions? Abe Tocchaww is one of the victims of so many Journalists.One ruling cadrie the so called "Abisinia the great" but his real name is Melkamsew Abat tried to abuse Abe in His facebook wall.But true Ethiopians know who Abe TockChaw is!

Dear Gedion, there's nothing to be fabricated, everything speaks for itself in present day Ethiopia; unless you live behind those fancy & tall facades reserved only for the chosen ones. Let's assume, these journalist are fabricating stories to get asylum visa, but can you explain why would your democratic government waste full page about these wanna be journalists on one of its priceless newspaper? At least these journalists are living amongst the poorest of the poor and voice their compatriots' concerns, every day struggle and so on, on the limited space they are given. Stop watching ETV for one day and go to Cherqos, Lideta, Merkato, Arat Kilo, Entoto, or elsewhere in Ethiopia to have first hand experience on how our poor fellow citizens are struggling to meet the ends, to get justice, to get basic public services and then you'll understand why these wanna be journalists write what they write.
Theodros Arega
Ex Ethiopian TV Reporter/Producer
Stockholm, Sweden

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