Ethiopia: Timket Blasts

With celebrants dressed in white, prominently carrying the flag of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, horns were blared and drums struck for the celebration of Timket last Tuesday. On the days prior, preparations took place, with roundabouts and roads in several parts of the capital draped in colourful flags for what followers of the faith believe is the anniversary of the baptism of Jesus Christ.

The celebration was held with the backdrop of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Currently, cases have surpassed 132,000, and over 2,000 have died. But lockdown measures have long been mostly lifted after a five-month state of emergency expired late last year. It remains the case even as a new strain of the virus that is more transmissible has been reported in dozens of countries around the world, and there are no indications that Ethiopia will have early access to the COVID-19 vaccines.

It was in response to this that the authorities were attempting to warn celebrants to wear masks during the celebration, especially in Gonder city, Amhara Regional State, where it is most prominently held around the Fasilides Bath. It was only half successful, but there did not seem to be much work done on reducing the size of crowds. As they do every year, boys and men jumped into a pool, following a crowded procession of the Tabot, a replica of the Ark of the Covenant, and candlelight prayer the day before.

Held under tight security in most parts of the country, the celebration were largely peaceful. Last year, when 15,000 tourists were believed to have visited, a stand made of wood collapsed, injuring dozens and killing about 10 people. The stand was erected with steel this year.

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