Ethiopia: Millions flock to festival after past unrest

By Addis Getachew

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AA) – On Sunday a town southeast of Ethiopia’s capital thronged with millions of people who came out to celebrate the annual Oromo thanksgiving festival.

The festival, Irreecha, part of an ancient indigenous socio-political system of democratic administration known as the Geda, is a heritage cherished and celebrated by Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo people.

In 2016, UNESCO put the Geda System on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

-Change from recent years

In the town of Bushoftu, 45 kilometers from the capital Addis Ababa, people celebrated Irreecha in a festive mood.

This stood in sharp contrast to the previous two observances, when young people turned the occasion into anti-government protests, giving much impetus to nationwide resistance movements, forcing the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) to make drastic political changes six months ago.

In the widespread protests, which also only halted six months ago, hundreds or even more were killed by security forces, according to human rights groups.

During the 2016 Irreecha, 52 people were killed after falling into a deep fissure in a stampede caused after security forces fired tear gas and live bullets into a thick crowd.

This April 2, the ruling party elected a young Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to replace his predecessor, who resigned to “give way for much-needed reform.” The reformist leader then apologized for what he described as decades of misguided policies and state-sponsored terrorism.

-'Vindicated'

Addisu Daba is one of the lucky ones who survived after falling into the ravine in 2016. Though the trauma still persists, he said the Oromo people now feel vindicated and see a ray of hope.

Daba who is in his mid-twenties, told Anadolu Agency: “The coming of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed seems to end decades of repression.”

However, he said: “The demands of the Oromo people for improvements in the area of the economy should be addressed.”

“Most of the youth who are credited for bringing about all the political change in the country are unemployed,” Daba said, adding that employment is a key benefit the government must deliver.

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