Tensions are high in two of Ethiopia’s ‘protest cities’ – Bahir Dar and Gondar – as the Orthodox Church readies to commemorate the Epiphany, known in local parlance as the ‘‘Timket.’‘ The event celebrates the occasion of the baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan.
The two cities, located in the north-west in the Amhara region, are famous for anti-government protests that led to deaths of hundreds of people last year. They have refused to be part of the event which starts Wednesday evening till Thursday evening.
Their refusal to openly celebrate is apparently over fears over a repeat of a stampede in early October last year during the Irreecha Thanksgiving festival in Bishoftu. Reports indicate that the government has deployed a heavy security presence in both areas.
A United Kingdom Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) travel alert warned that ‘‘there is tension in the Gondar and Bahir Dar areas of Amhara region after two separate explosions in January 2017, both at hotels that aren’t popular with foreign tourists; police have warned that further attacks may take place during or around the upcoming Timket Festival (19 January).’‘
A week after the Bishoftu incident, (on 9 October 2016) the Ethiopian government declared a state of emergency which is expected to last at least 6 months. The curfew was imposed to primarily quell months of unrest in the Amhara and Oromia regions.
Timket is largely marked with a reenactment of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, where people jump into the waters of the Fasillides Bath located in the Gondar region. Elsewhere across the country priests spray baptism water on the faithful.