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Wednesday, 29 December, 1999, 18:31 GMT
Ethiopia: Partying like it's 1992

Sheraton Addis The Addis Ababa Sheraton: Party for a lucky 5,000

By Laeke Mariam Demessie in Addis Ababa

As the western world approaches the millennium, according to the Ethiopian calendar it is still 1992.

And with their new year coming in September, for ordinary Ethiopians 1 January 2000 will be just another day.

Not that this has stopped the Sheraton Hotel in the capital, Addis Ababa, from preparing a big celebration: "The African millennium in Ethiopia, the cradle of humankind," says hotel manager Jean-Pierre Manigoff.

"Addis Ababa, being an international city and the diplomatic capital of Africa, deserves to celebrate the European new year and the new millennium.

Ethiopian farmer Most Ethiopians are unconcerned by millennium celebrations
"And some Ethiopians will participate, just as foreigners participated in the Ethiopian new year celebrations".

Many Ethiopians from North America, Europe, and the Middle East have already booked to come to Ethiopia for the millennium celebration at the Sheraton, buying tickets for 1,000 birr ($125) per person.

Mr Manigoff boasts that they are ready to entertain 5,000 people. An open-air concert will feature Papa Wemba of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Toure Kunda of Mali, Ethiopian singers Aster Aweke and Tsehaye Yohanis - both now resident in the US - and American Maxi Priest.

Ancient calendar

Ethiopian deacons The Ethiopian church uses the Julian calendar
According to Kessis Melake Selam Dagnachew from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the origin of Ethiopia's calendar is the Bible.

He argues that creation took place in the autumn, which starts in September and ends in December. He also said that when God flooded the earth at the time of Noah, the flood started in the month of May (Ginbot, or the ninth month for Ethiopians) and subsided in September (Meskerem).

The earth dried up, heralding new life on earth. Hence two reasons for New Year being in September, right after the Ethiopian rainy season.

Kessis Dagnachew says the reason why the Ethiopian calendar is unique is because the Ethiopian church has had continuous possession of the original Old Testament writings which were lost to other nations.

Other churches 'mistaken'

As for why Ethiopia is eight years behind the west, Kessis Dagnachew says other churches made a mistake "somewhere between the calendar of the Old Testament and the New, from BC to AD, because they lost the Old Covenants or Testaments".

"Ethiopians have been always in possession of the Jewish Covenant or Old Testament," Kessis Dagnachew insists.

Hence for Ethiopians the new millennium is still eight years away while the rest of the Christian world is celebrating now.

So in Ethiopia there is no excitement, no shopping - only the tension of the Ethiopia-Eritrea border conflict which has been in the air for 20 months now.

An Ethiopian university lecturer commented that the 5,000 revellers at the hotel will be "celebrating eight years too soon".

But as Mr Manigoff of the Sheraton put it: "This celebration of the African millennium will be a good rehearsal for the Ethiopian millennium to come eight years from now."

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24 Dec 99 |  Africa
Botswana not bugged by Y2K

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