“STAMPEDE AT IRREECHA” – WHAT STAMPEDE?

“STAMPEDE AT IRREECHA” – WHAT STAMPEDE!

By: Jabessa Bonsa

There were tell-tale signs that things were not about to go well at Irreecha yesterday. There were tensions being built up, all rooted in the regime’s devious plan to sabotage the event, and kill as many people as the security forces could lay their hands on. For a regime addicted to serial killing and washing its hand with Oromo blood, there is no better place than the Irreecha festival, where Oromos turn up in their millions. Attendances at the previous events were estimated at 4 to 5 million and there is every reason to believe this time it would be much higher.

We have been receiving reports that the regime was putting in place all conditions necessary to ignite violence. For sure they knew that the Oromo would not accept any fake Abba Gadaa, a traditional chief. After all, it is not possible to lie about Abba Gadaa. It is as clear as daylight as to who the legitimate Abba Gadaa is. Apparently, TPLF agents, aliens to Oromo culture, do not even know about this. They must have thought this is yet another thing they could lie about and get away with it. As usual they tried to implant a fake figurehead but, as we expect, the festival goers resisted, demanding that the real Abba Gadaa take center stage. This was unacceptable to the authorities – they do not know how to gracefully back down, sometimes. Instead of reinstating the chief to make a key note speech, the security forces responded with extreme heavy handedness – deploying armored vehicles loaded with machine guns on the ground, helicopter gunships from the sky. They attacked even the real Abba Gadaa. The Irreecha venue, the shore of Arsedi lake, turned into a killing field. In an hour or so, the lives of 500 or so Oromo protesters perished. All this happened just because festival goers demanded that the authorities let an authentic Abba Gadaa go to take the stage instead of the fake one.

A few foreign correspondents reported as if the deaths happened due to stampede. At such gatherings stampedes do happen, but it makes sense to talk about stampedes only where panics are triggered by innocent random incidences such as unexpected sudden explosion, etc. But these jornos see with their naked eyes that bullets were being showered down from helicopter gunships and across from armored vehicles, plus teargas being sprayed in every direction – all these coordinated to as many killings as possible. Regardless, journalists, such as William Davison of Bloomberg and Elias Meseret of Reuters, have shamelessly come up with official version of the story that deaths happened exclusively due to stampede, basically relaying government press release, almost unedited! Apparently they were shying away from telling the truth in order not to annoy their host, the Ethiopian government, who apparently invited them to the event and paid for their transport and hotel bills.

I got up early morning on the Irreecha day to watch the procession live on Oromia TV. TVO has been broadcasting Irreecha live for the previous few years, enabling those of us who could not make it to be present at the event sight, to participate at least in spirit. So Irreecha day is one of very few occasions I bother to turn to TVO. As it turned out, there was no live transmission. This I found intriguing and disturbing. TVO transmission looked business as usual, except that two journalist, wearing in Oromo traditional dress, were in the studio talking random stuff about Oromo culture, and making occasional references to Irreecha. The unusual absence of live transmission was indicative of something ominous, as I explained in my first Facebook post early morning on the Irreecha day, a couple of hours before the killing started. A reader of my post commented, saying “now we know why live transmission did not happen” and this heightened my worries, but it was not immediately clear to me. Sure enough though, within an hour or so news about the shocking incident began to circulate in social media.

These sequences of events clearly confirm that the mass murder at Irreecha was premeditated. It was planned and executed with brutal efficiency. It is just a matter of how many were shot and killed and how many died of stampede. Even if some died of stampede, what matters is the trigger for the panic that led to the stampede. I do not understand what kind standard in journalism let reporters do their job without distinguishing this kind of obvious cause and effect relationships. Media organizations as reputable as Bloomberg and Washingtonpost may not bother to scrutinize the kinds of shoddy reporting they receive from their part-timers. After all such mediocre reporters chose to relocate to lucrative places such as Ethiopia and make themselves available, knowing that big media organizations cannot afford to send competent and professional journalists to such not so high priority locations.

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