9 September 2017

Ethiopia: Losers, Winners of Enkutatash

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The Ethiopian New Year is around the corner. Come September 11th and the 2010 New Year Chibo will be lit. As usual little girls will be singing Abebayehosh, dressed in their best traditional costumes. Their male peers will be running around from door to door to present colourful amateur drawings, hopeful for something in return in the way of Difo Dabo or, if lucky, cash.

The best is yet to come. The New Year is celebrated by slaughtering a rooster, sheep or a goat. But everybody cannot join in the merrymaking as some find it unaffordable to buy these domestic animals. The polarised income of Ethiopians does not allow everyone the same luxuries, or even the same bad luck. But the downtrodden will still not let their ancestor's legacy fleet away; they will try to buy chicken ritually, based on the colour of the rooster's feathers.

The price tag on these domestic animals and their byproducts is almost insurmountable for people with low disposable incomes. Eggs, for instance, are now sold for up to four Birr each. We do not know what the New Year has in stock for us this year, but under the pretext of the recent drought and unrest in areas where there is farmland, prices would not be that difficult to speculate about. Inflation has picked up, and some staple foods may have increased, if not, doubled in price.

In recent times, a well-fed ox has come to fetch the same price as a Volkswagen Beetle in the real-life stock market, Kera. Speculations for this year's average ox's price are close to 20,000 Br each.

In a time when there are Ethiopian billionaires, 20,000 Br is just a tip. The poorest of the poor are expected to celebrate the New Year by sipping coffee on green grass, hopefully, uninterrupted by the noisy holiday celebrations all around town. The sudden rain fall of fortune may have enriched some, but it has also left others to drench.

As far as the weather is concerned, history is just repeating itself. The New Year, in theory, is when the rainy season should have ceased. But it looks like the torrential rain, although not as harsh as Huston in the United States, is here to stay at least in and around the capital city of Addis Abeba. On the other hand, in sections of the country, particularly the South-Eastern part, drought is affecting millions of people. There is a polarity in the weather too, just as much as the wealth between Ethiopians.

The felicitation of the New Year, as customary, will come from President Mulatu Teshome (PhD), Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegne and the heads of both the country's most populous religions. We expect the president to say something about social and economic developments of the country and the opportunities that could be opened for unemployed graduates. The Prime Minister may have something up his sleeve for those who have been repatriated from the Middle East.

Of course, with every coming holiday, we are reminded of others that have passed but are still remembered. Every regional state has a manner of expressing itself. In the Oromo region, one equally important celebration is the Irreecha celebration, at Bishoftu, which perhaps deserves qualification as an intangible world heritage. The celebration is in keeping with the Gadaa system, which has been researched and written about in detail by the well known Asmerom Legesse (Prof.).

It would be doing a service to our fellow Ethiopians to not think of such unfortunate incidents as the one that befell Bishoftu's Irreecha celebration last year when we celebrate holydays such as the New Year. The thanksgiving celebration that concluded with the death of dozens of innocent individuals was supposed to be one of joy and coming together. Likewise, over-flooding or draught could take place in some areas of the world. Individuals could face certain hardships, like death in the family, or a good friend. This is unavoidable, but in all instances, it is crucial to remember that not everyone is having a good time as us, or will ever be.

Last year's Irreecha, should not be remembered only in terms of politics, but down to the individual level. A national holiday is only 'national' in name. It could be the cause of sadness for others. So, in such times, it is important to give back, to analyze and ask where we stand. New Year should not just be a day of merrymaking but of contemplating too.

A happy new year to all of us but let us also think of last year's Irreecha victims, for this is the Ethiopian custom.

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