Members of the Oromo community from different parts of Ethiopia gather in Meskel Square on the eve of the Irrecha festival in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (Yonas Tadesse, AFP)
Members of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group chanted and waved flags as they gathered for the first time to celebrate their thanksgiving feast in the capital – a city which prominent members of the group say belongs to them.
The annual Irreecha festival of the Oromo people marks the end of the rainy season and the start of the harvest season.
It traditionally takes place in the town of Bishoftu, located in the Oromia region about 50 km southeast of the capital, Addis Ababa.
Many Oromo leaders maintain that Addis Ababa is part of their group’s territory, meaning the decision to allow Irreecha celebrations there risked exacerbating ethnic tensions.
But a Friday night concert in Meskel’s central square and Saturday morning blessing ceremonies appeared to have gone off without major incident.
Dawud Ibsa, leader of the opposition Oromo Liberation Front, a former rebel group, told AFP that Saturday’s celebrations would be “very important” for Oromos who believe their demands on Addis Ababa have not been met. respected.
âIt’s our turn and a renewal of what’s taken from you,â he said.
Irreecha has already been a political flashpoint in recent years.
In 2016, the use of tear gas and firearms by security forces sparked a stampede that left dozens dead, some of whom drowned in a nearby lake.
The government put the death toll at 55, although Human Rights Watch later said it could have been in the hundreds.
The following year, Irreecha turned into an anti-government protest.
Last year, Irreecha – the first since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, himself of Oromo ethnicity, came to power – was peaceful.
The celebrations in Addis Ababa on Saturday will be followed by a larger event on Sunday in Bishoftu.
State-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate said Irreecha is expected to attract “millions of Oromo people from all over the country as well as non-Oromo visitors from different parts of the country and other parts of the world.”
Abiy said in her Irreecha post that the festival was “a symbol of peace and unity,” Fana said.
The security forces were nevertheless on high alert. Federal police announced Thursday that they had arrested a number of people with weapons who sought to “disturb” Irreecha.
Security is expected to be tightened in Addis Ababa all weekend and the roads in the city center were closed on Saturday.