Behailu Wase: Ethiopia’s Cafe Society

Exploring the making of a political satire show offers insight into the growing pains of Ethiopia's new democracy. (Aljazeera)


Filmmaker: Brian Tilley

In a compound on the edge of Addis Ababa – next to a cluster of houses and a busy primary school – is a large corrugated iron shack.

Inside is a cafe. Not an ordinary cafe, but the set of Ethiopia’s first political satire show to be broadcast on state television – Min Litazez, which translates to “How may I serve you?”.

“This is our mini Ethiopia,” says creator and director Behailu Wase, who grew up in the same compound from where he now airs his popular show. “A lot of ideas are discussed here.”

In the three seasons it has been on air, Min Litazez has built an enthusiastic and loyal audience among a population starved for political commentary and a new kind of comedy after almost 27 years of dictatorship during which such things would have been unthinkable.

We’re not just trying to make people laugh, but raise awareness because we want to create a better country.

But after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018, he instituted a number of political and economic reforms, including loosening restrictions on the media and freedom of speech.

The sitcom-satire is set in a cafe, meant to be a metaphor of the country as a whole. In each episode, the cafe owner’s life tries to mirror and reflect the challenges faced by the country’s new leadership.

Past episodes have dealt with issues like government inefficiency, ethnic nationalism and authoritarianism – despite attempts to censor some of the content and, at times, even temporary suspension of the show itself.

“We’re not just trying to make people laugh, but raise awareness because we want to create a better country,” Behailu says.

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