In Ethiopia, at the Irreecha festival, the anger of the Oromo does not disarm

The majority ethnic group of the country, which considers itself marginalized and martyred, denounces the Tigreans’ control over the affairs of the state for more than a quarter of a century.

By Emeline Wuilbercq (Addis Ababa, Correspondence)

Note – This article was published on lemonde?( a French language site) on the 03 October 2017. This is translated to English using Google Translate.


Irreechaa 2017

Chala* came to “thank God”, dressed in a traditional sweater with black, red and white bands, the young lawyer dipped yellow flowers and fresh grass in Harsade Lake in Bishoftu, a community south-east of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa . Then he sprinkled water with the bouquet. A tradition among the Oromo, the majority ethnic group, to celebrate the end of the rainy season. But this year, Irreecha Festival, the most important traditional Oromo festival held Sunday, October 1, was a special one.

A year ago, the festivities turned into a drama. Faced with angry demonstrators, the security forces, then present in large numbers in a very tense political context, carried out summonses and tear gas. In panic, the compact crowd had dispersed, and dozens of people had fallen into a ditch: 55 people died according to the government, much more according to the opposition. Human Rights Watch (HRW) refers to “probably hundreds” of victims.


A palpable rage

This deadly jostling marked the fatal climax of two years of anti-government demonstrations in the central and western Oromia regions, followed by Amhara (north), where more than 940 people died, according to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. A few days later, Ethiopia instituted a state of emergency, finally lifted after ten months.

The memory of 2016 is still fresh. “Our brothers are dead. We want to show that we are sad, “says a young man wearing a black t-shirt in homage to the victims, who writes,” The wound is always open. ” Beyond meditation, Oromo’s rage is there, palpable, even if “we must channel our anger” on this day of mourning, said Chala calmly.

This year, the federal police stood aloof. Soldiers and policemen from the Oromia region were stationed a few cables away. There was no weapons at the festival site on the orders of the government of the region, unlike last year, when there were “lots of soldiers,” a young man wearing a white headband assures that it had exceeded a crowd already very edgy. “If they had come, we would have cried again,” thought another young man. “It seems that the government learned from last year’s festival, and especially because the actions of the security forces have resulted in the deaths of so many people,” said Felix Horne, a researcher at HRW.

Not far from Lake Harsade, where the eventtook place, hundreds of young people enjoyed a rare freedom of expression to chant anti-government slogans from a stage transformed into an opposition platform. The flag of the OLF floats in the air. Some waved the flag without fear, others took pictures while crossing their arms above their heads, a gesture of Oromo rebellion prohibited under the state of emergency.


“It is a dictatorship”

The crowd is less numerous than last year, swear some. And the others, the mothers, the children? “They’re afraid,” assures Gemechu, a squat 20, and anger in his eyes. He is not afraid. He echoed what the protesters were shouting. “Didne Gabrummaa! (“No to oppression!”). And, most importantly, “Down Down Woyane! (“Down with the TPLF!”), The Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which has been the political base of the ruling coalition for more than a quarter of a century. Oromo feel marginalized and disadvantaged in the face of the Tigreans, an ethnic group that represents only 6% of the 100 million inhabitants, while they are more than 30 million. They accuse them of monopolizing all the key positions of the state, and of violating human rights.

“No equality, no freedom, no justice, it is a dictatorship, slice Abdi *, an accountant of about twenty years. They do not benefit from their growth. Growth, which the authorities are proud of: 7.6% in 2016, according to the World Bank, which ranks Ethiopia this year among the fastest-growing economies in the world. Nevertheless, “We do not like this government,” spits another. A widespread feeling at the Oromo festival venue and later in the town of Bishoftu, where groups of young people continued to chant their slogans on foot or by minibus. “The spearhead of the opposition has still not disarmed despite months of very heavy repression,” said Ren? Lefort, a researcher specializing in the Horn of Africa. But we can ask ourselves whether the whole of the Oromo population goes so far as to adhere to its radical militancy. ”

The party went off without incident. A relief for many participants, some feared a new tragedy. In the crowd, the young people are less confident despite the absence of intervention of the forces of the order. ” We are scared. They’re going to pick us up, there’s a lot of pictures of us going around, we’re going to end up in jail, “worries one of them. Like Merera Gudina, one of the leaders of the opposition, whose name was chanted during the peaceful demonstration, and tens of thousands of people imprisoned under the state of emergency. There would still be 8,000 behind bars. It does not matter, the youngster says to the black tee-shirt: “We are afraid, but we are ready to sacrifice ourselves to join our martyrs. “