Anecdotes of Indefinite Anarchy

February 2018

The first edition of this small collection of Zere’s writing is printed on cut-off book-paper (rescued trash from Pierre Filion’s Montréal-based press “Les Éditions du Silence”). Folded using a basalt stone spat up by the Øresund at Amager Strandpark in Copenhagen. Covers are a brilliant yellow paper made of recycled kitchen gloves, from Papeterie Saint-Armand. Design takes inspiration from President Isaias Afwerki’s signature.

“There is no way the fiber, flax, will read the poem? Why can’t those people write poetry that is easily understood and communicates to human beings?”

— An arts editor for an Eritrean government newspaper,
in response to a poem called “እንጣጢዕ” (“Flax”).


In the texts compiled in Anecdotes of Indefinite Anarchy, Abraham T. Zere writes about Eritrea, one of the most silent countries in the world. When Zere wrote between 2016 and 2017, Eritrea was listed at the bottom of the list for worst country in the world for freedom of press by Reporters Without Borders. Today, little has changed, as it continues to sit at 179 out of 180, just above North Korea in the 2017 review. Since President Isaias Afwerki came to power in 1993, the Eritrean regime under the rule of the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice maintains a strict control over political criticism, artistic output and freedom of expression.

Anecdotes of Indefinite Anarchy exists in the lineage of the feuilleton, the short story that, in the hands of writers like Soviet writer Mikhail Zoshchenko and Uruguyan writer Eduardo Galeano, satirizes everyday life under a repressive regime. Zoshchenko and Galeano wrote about very different contexts of political repression, which nonetheless reflect the common experience of absurdity and the struggle for dignity in spite of the degrading conditions of life. In Zoshchenko’s stories, we read about the little impossibilities of everyday life under the bureaucratic nightmare of socialism. Zoshchenko reflects the fumbling human character, always tentative between obedience and an inner revolt, whose social acceptability is acquired by navigating endless paper trails, obeying ridiculous laws, and participating in machinic rituals. In Galeano’s work, we recover the history of an increasingly corporatized South America, the horrors of militarization and corruption, through humorous chronologies of popular history.

In Zere’s texts, we find the banality of a larger cruelty, one that permeates from the visible – the actors of government and disappearing journalists – to the very small and almost invisible – collecting bread or following a daily routine. With despair and humour, these Anecdotes tell of the perversion of values, the devaluation of human life, the ridiculous constraints that are intended to restrict free expression and protect the regime (often, also reflecting the very ignorance of this regime, and its determination to bloat itself out of proportion). The stories express the isolation and disconnection that disempowers people and reduces them to an automated façade of a society. But always, lingering in these stories, is the human spirit that persists, sometimes despite itself, in the face of a seemingly untouchable power.

Recommended reading

The Ethiopian Civil War: Views through the Prism of Eritrean (Social) Media, Abraham T. Zere, Warscapes

Amid Eritrea’s sustained “information blackout” in the Tigray Region, Abraham Zere unpacks the biases and absence of nuance that pervade the majority of Eritrean diasporic media and criticism of the Civil War that is accessible to Western audiences. From privileged academics and social justice warriors grandstanding for clout on social media, to the combative lines dividing guilt-ridden diasporic youth from the aging supporters of Afwerki’s regime, no-one is spared Zere’s incisive critique.

As Zere writes:

On whatever side of the struggle they fall, the second generation of Eritrean diaspora (who know the country from their parents and/or media) has created their own imaginary Eritrea, which is very far from reality. As they are firmly set on their side, most do not accept – much less listen to – sound arguments from the other side. Their genuine desire to “help” or “defend the motherland” results in a very skewed image of the country.

Abraham T. Zere

Abraham T. Zere is a US-based exiled Eritrean writer/journalist whose work has been published in The Guardian, The Independent, Al Jazeera English, Mail & Guardian, Index on Censorship Magazine, among others. Having published his short stories in Dissent Magazine and Berfrois, his debut collection of short stories in Tigrinya⁠—ካልእ ስለ ዘየሎ (2020)⁠—was published by Emkulu Publisher. With Daniel R. Mekonnen and Tedros Abraham he edited Uncensored Voices: Essays and Poems and Art Works by Exiled Eritreans (Loecker Erhard Verlag, 2018) and with Tedros Abraham co-translated Dawit Isaak: Hope and other Texts (Reporters Without Borders–Sweden, 2018) from Tigrinya into English.