On a warm sunny day and windy evening, Oromo nationalist songs could be heard at some bars, shops and cafes in the small lakeside town of Bishoftu.
The multicultural town, located 40 kilometers (25 miles) southeast of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, is a ‘spiritual home’ of the Oromo people, the country’s largest ethnic group which makes up around 40 percent of its population.
Every year on Oct. 1, hundreds of thousands of Oromo people descend on Bishoftu and gather at a sacred lake to mark Irreecha, a religious festival of thanksgiving.
But 2016 marked a turning point.
That year, the festival turned into an anti-government protest which ended in a stampede that killed at least 52 people. It triggered waves of violent anti-government protests in the Oromia region which had continued on and off through much of the year and 2017.
During this period, similar protests took place in the Amhara region, and hundreds lost their lives while properties worth millions of dollars were destroyed in both regions.