October 2, 2020

Irreechaa 2020: The Oromo thanksgiving holiday amid public health and security crisis

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The Irreechaa otherwise known as Irreessa or Dhibaayyuu will be celebrated in Addis Ababa and…

Irreechaa 2020: The Oromo thanksgiving holiday amid public health and security crisis

The Irreechaa otherwise known as  Irreessa or Dhibaayyuu will be celebrated in Addis Ababa and different parts of the Oromia regional state, this weekend amid concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic as well as security issues. The celebrations are set to take place in Addis Ababa tomorrow Saturday October 3, 2020 while celebrations are expected to continue in the Bishoftu Hora Harsadii and other areas in the Oromia region.

The holiday is the annual day of thanksgiving of the Oromo people, celebrated each year on the last Sunday of the Ethipian month Meskerem which usually falls at the end of September and the beginning of October. According to the religious website Waaqeffannaa, the Oromo people celebrate the Irreechaa holiday “to thank Waaqaa (God) for the blessings and mercies they have received throughout the previous year.” 

Addis Ababa hosted the 2019 Irreechaa celebrations last year as massive numbers of the Oromo community flooded the capital in celebration of the holiday. As the city and other towns in Oromia prepare to host the 2020 instalment of the cultural and religious holiday, however, the covid19 pandemic and the current socio-political conditions of the country have made this year’s Irreechaa celebrations significantly different.

Like Buhe, Ashenda, Enkutatash (Ethiopian New Year) and most recently the Meskel celebrations, the Irreecha holiday will also be celebrated with less crowds present and with much precaution taken. The city administration via its deputy mayor Adanech Abiebie announced that only 5,000 to 6,000 people will be allowed to partake in this year’s celebrations in Addis Ababa. Last year a much higher number was reported to have attended the holiday. This year due to the pandemic and social distancing measures, a significantly lesser number of people are expected to attend the holiday. 

However, this is not the only concern during the celebrations of the Irreecha holiday this year. With palpable tensions in the Oromia region and prominent opposition leaders such as Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba jailed, many have been warning throughout the week regarding security risks surrounding the holiday. 

Earlier this week via an article on Thursday, the Human Rights Watch shared its concern over the upcoming celebrations recalling the incidents of 2016 where tear gas shot into the public by security forces causing many to die due to stampedes. In the article written by the Director of the Horn of Africa office of the HRW, Laetitia Bader recognised that the holiday was a  “flashpoint” for previous conflicts that led to human rights violations recalling that it is taking place on the backdrop of a challenging summer. The HRW also called for security forces to show restraint in responding to any events during the celebrations of the holiday this year. 

Reports of weapons seized enroute to Addis Ababa and Bishoftu from the National Intelligence and Security Services and the Oromia Regional State Police further compound this concern, despite several forums and discussions held between members of the Oromo community and officials including the deputy mayor of Addis Ababa. 

It is in this context that the celebrations of the holiday kick off tomorrow as roads in major parts of the city will remain closed to vehicles between 4:30 PM today and 12:00 PM tomorrow.