In the last five years, the number of casually created political and ethnicity jokes in Ethiopia have been circulated amongst Ethiopians on mobile phones and CDs. Some hardliner opponents of these jokes described the situation as it has reached dangerously high level. These people accused the jokes by claiming that these “shaggy dog stories” regularly stereotype certain ethnic groups.
I remember how the oppressed jokes (Yetechekonu Keledoch) have offended many people and yet was and still is being enjoyed by many. As always there were unconfirmed rumors that all the comedians who participated in “Yetechekonu Keledoch” were imprisoned for a while because they have “offended” peoples’ languages and political understandings of some ethnic groups. It was not clear what offended people most of the comedians fake Amharic accent (whether people are offended because the fake accent is not convincing enough or the fact that the comedians mimicked Amharic as a second language speaker’s accent in the first place, is unclear anyway). But one thing is fact “Yetechekonu Keledoch” was a trend setter. To barely surprising, really; in the past, comedians are enjoying maximum security as they make the jokes informally using mobile phones and circulate them through mobile phones. These make this fad even difficult as it is not easy to trace and jail the mobile phone comedians unlike “Yetechekonu Keledoch” comedians. Therefore; mobile phone comedians have incensed the ardent opponents of these jokes and to their shock the comedians are in the den and nothing scares them so they kept on their mockery. But is it wrong to ridicule on ethnicity and political understandings of some Ethiopians? Are the jokes are wide of the mark?
I say as long as these jokes reflect the context of our society; I do not want to regard them as incredibly wide of the mark.
This may sound like a very imaginary idea but it isn’t. There are hundreds, if not thousands of ethnicity and political jokes across Ethiopia that aim to mock specifically Amharic languages’ of different ethnic groups and political understanding of a certain group of people. Some people would like to put the blame on theses jokes for putting these “cultural and political sensitive issues” to public though jokes. They said these jokes are awful practices which would help a lot to instigate racism, prejudice and discrimination in Ethiopia. They further their arguments that government should establish formal organizations in order to curb these practices.
But I say we Ethiopians have better things to be bothered about than protest over some jokes on mobile phone. Though I do not have conducted research on the matter most of the jokes circulated on mobile phones ridiculed every ethnic group equally. Most of the characters are making a mockery of their own ethnic group as well. For me most of the comedians’ fake Amharic accent is funny and I don’t care whether people are offended because the fake accent is not convincing enough or the fact that the comedians mimicked Amharic as a second language speaker’s accent. I will only take the funny part.
Honestly speaking I do not believe that these ethnicity or political jokes stereotype certain ethnic groups. I have observed that comedians make ethnic jokes about all Ethiopia’s ethnic groups, including their own. On top of that I do not generalize about an entire group of people based on one ethnic joke from a certain culture or a certain ethnic group.
I have a message for ardent opponents of these jokes. Any fundamental change starts from within. We can’t be fighting stereotyping or generalizing by opposing ethnicity jokes if our own behavior shows otherwise. When you listen ethnic jokes; tell yourself that all members of that ethnic group are not all “like that”. Remind yourself that a certain guy who tried to theft from you in the market like Merekato is not an indication that all people in Merekato are cheaters, etc. Expand your social circle outside of “your own kind”. When you expand your social circle to include Ethiopians of all ethnic backgrounds, you do not only realize the ethnic jokes are just jokes you will also broaden your own horizons and develop a warm relationship with others. Do not fight ethnic jokes as it clearly hampers freedom expression. What do you think?