Now that the Festive Season is Over, Time to Sit Down for Serious Business

The Ethiopian calendar year is structure in such a sophisticated way that it has set aside time for work, fun, marriages and more serious engagements like spiritual pursuits. The Ethiopian rainy season which roughly runs from May to September is a time for hard work in the fields. It is a time to plow the land and farmers leave their home early in the morning and leave the fields at sunset. Farm work is one of the hardest activities in Ethiopia. Agricultural activities are largely undertaken with traditional methods. Wooden ploughs are still the dominant tools while a pair of oxen are driven by farmers who are deep in the wet or muddy soil with their naked feet, holding a whip they sometime use to keep unruly animals in line of duty so to say.

In the last many decades, attempts were made by a few wealthy farmers to modernize agriculture in some of the most production farmlands in the south and southwest of the country. In the early 1960s, rich farmers in the then province of Arusi, now Arsi zone, which is part of the Oromia regional state, had tried to use modern machinery in their bid to launch commercial farming and export their products. The attempt was short lived because of the Revolution of 1974 that overturned everything upside down and led to the confiscation of extra land and machinery by the state. However, the revolutionary zealots of the 1970s were more interested in expropriation-appropriation or the distribution of land to the landless than in boosting productivity and output.

There was much chaos in Ethiopian agriculture as the Derg tried to implement one of the leading slogans of the revolution which was “Land to the Tiller”. The slogan was nevertheless quickly replaced with state ownership of land and later on the formation of unsuccessful collective farms that were no feasible because the capital and knowhow to run the farms had disappeared with the small class of modern farmers who were expropriated early in the revolution.

The TPLF/EPRDF regime that took over after 1991 was also uninterested to give land to the farmers. Many of the leaders of the TPLF trace their political education to the Ethiopian student movement that launched the first radical slogan. But once settled in power, the TPLF zealots quickly turned into land grabber and land speculators by using it to enrich themselves and their closest collaborators. Land was confiscated from poor farmers who received small amounts of financial compensations. As the price of land was not set by the market but arbitrarily by the state land became, in the capital Addis Ababa in particular, a powerful means of fast enrichment as it was transacted to third parties at exorbitant prices.

The state bureaucrats under the TPLF became speculators in land and real estate and joined the tiny strata of emerging business elites. For the TPLF, and was not only an economic means of self-enrichment but also a political weapon of control and oppression. The lot of the Ethiopian farmers changed little as many of them became paupers after they sold their plots on which TPLF-affiliated business people built sumptuous villas or condos and rented them to foreigners or members of the local wealthy class.

In the meantime, Ethiopian farmers in remote and inaccessible parts of the country continued to plow the land with centuries-old tools that did not increase but relatively decreased output as the rural population continued to grow at an unprecedented rate and food shortages and even famines became regular occurrences during the three decade-long rule of the TPLF.

As soon as the farming season dawns in Ethiopia, it is usual to see farmers around Addis Ababa working the land in the same old ways. As a matter of paradox, land continues to be a highly contested property that saw the end of feudalism and the demise of the plutocrats under the TPLF. Land tenure in Ethiopia is still a contested issue and the new government is apparently working on a plan for the modernization of agriculture as food shortages loom large in the economic horizon. It is now clear that unless land tenure and land management are reformed in a way that would accelerate rural productivity, poverty will remain the lot of tens of millions of farmers while food prices are going to increase together with inflation and make life even more unbearable even to wealthier residents of the big cities.

In the Ethiopian calendar, September represents the beginning of a New Year. It is a time when the seeds of food crops begin to emerge from the wet soil and new buds appear, followed by the early shoots of barley, wheat and teff, a super food Ethiopians eat every day and is the staple diet of tens of millions of Ethiopian hinge on. The following months of October and November usually witness farm-related activities such as weeding in which even women and children are involved to take care of the families’ food suppliers during the harvesting season, which is a time of hope and much happiness. Once the harvest is collected and reaches the barns, life assume a radically different tone. The months that follow harvest, are times of festivities starting from spiritual events to wedding ceremonies.

Most weddings in Ethiopia take place in the Ethiopian month of Tir or February. Weddings in Ethiopia are becoming more expensive and complicated as rural residents are increasingly adapting to the wedding culture of towns and cities that were borrowed from Western societies. Farmers around cities are prone to these kinds of influences and are forced to spend a lot of money in their bid to imitate the wedding culture in the towns that involves buying or hiring expensive cars, paying a lot of money for the feasts that are often prepared in expensive hotels, leaving alone the money spent on clothes and fancy decorations.

The time between November and February is a time of festivities as the holidays of Ethiopian Christmas and Timket or the baptism of Jesus Christ fall in this same time frame. This is also a time of big-time tourist activities as foreigners flock to the holy sites and other historic sites mostly in the north of the country. This year, at least two negative events tried to dampen the mood of marry makers and festival lovers. Number one is the corona virus pandemic. Number two is the war in Amhara. There were also silver linings to the otherwise dark clouds. Ethiopians from the Diaspora played a crucial role in filling the vacuum and making life better for quite a lot of Ethiopians.

The Diaspora presence in Ethiopia this year had at least three positive impacts. First they boosted the morale of compatriots in the war ravaged parts of the north by making generous contributions in cash and kind. Second, they helped revive the local economies in and around the war-torn parts of the country. Hotels and recreational facilities were the first to reap the benefits while those affected by the conflicts could see rays of hope in the future.

Three, the Diaspora mass exodus sent the expected message that Ethiopia is mostly peaceful, stable and the people are optimistic of the future. This was a torn on the side of all those who wished ill to the country and its people. We may perhaps add another point. The Diaspora presence has consolidated solidarity between and among the people and sent the right message: Anyone trying to mess things for Ethiopia will certainly get their fingers burnt.

February announces the end of the festive season in Ethiopia, followed March that s the beginning of the two-month fasting of Lent. Things start to quiet down in the following two months. No more the chaos and noise of the last few months. No more weddings and other celebrations. No more Saints’ day’s celebrations and church rituals. No more too much eating and drinking. It is as if Ethiopian culture is shaped in such a way as to give the body a time for hard work and another time for rest. As science tells us fasting is the healthiest time for the body to recuperate and take stock of the abuses and overindulgences it had been subjected to during the festive season.

The end of the festive season has also national dimensions. This is the time for the country to take stock of its pluses and minuses and chart its course for the short long future. The, sufferings of millions of our compatriots in the war zones is not over. Many houses have been closed due to the death of a family member or a bread earner. Women are still mourning the loss of their nearest and dearest. They carry much of the burden of responsibility to feed the children and see them overcome the traumas of the war.

There is of course much to do countrywide to reverse the negative impacts of the conflicts. Ethiopians have lived through darker times. They are as energetic and persevering during times of difficulties as they are during happy times. That is why they are known for their perseverance in times of adversity. That is also the secret of their survival in the face of adversity. This is also why they continue to fascinate their friends and confuse or baffle their foes who do not know the natural fabric Ethiopians are made of. Anyway, the cycle of life in Ethiopia continues unabated. After the fasting season will come a period of two months of unlimited indulgence in non-fasting diets and drinks until another rainy season starts to knock on the doors around May or June. There will certainly be plenty of life activities after June and beyond.



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