Travelling silently through the southern Ethiopian lowlands our Landcruiser grinds to a momentous halt, tires raking through loose earth as the metal frame narrowly avoids dusty children and curb-side market stalls. Chickens squark and flap as my Nikons crash into a dark footwell, the black tangle clattering in a heap amid a plume of orange dust. Twenty-four heavily armed soldiers strut past the front of our steaming beast, each outfitted in desert fatigues laden with grenade belts and heavy, well-oiled rifles of Russian origin. Jet black made-in-china boots trample the sun-beaten rock whilst an off-key melody carried on the wind punctuates the now-quiet ticking-over of our choked engine. Passing in front of us the juvenile soldiers press battle-scarred magazines into worn rifles, ratcheting their Soviet steel in preparation for the battle ahead.
The Ethiopian coffee highlands where china never restsBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon Z6 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
Ethiopia’s coffee is considered by many as the pinnacle of organic dark roast beans grown anywhere in the world. The Bhuna coffee ceremony is stitched in to Ethiopia’s fabric with the smell of freshly roasted beans permeating every corner of this jewel in Africa’s crown. China, however, see less coffee and more revenue as they carve their way through the once lush rainforest, cutting huge swathes of land to build much needed transport routes. Not everyone, however, is in support of this government-driven initiative.
Ethiopia's Sidama celebrate ChambalaallaBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon Z6 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
Ethopia’s Sidama celebrate their annual new year, Fichee-chambalaalla, during a turbulent time in Ethiopia’s recent history. With no official autonomous geographic zone registered to the Sidama, a constitutional right for all peoples and nationalities of Ethiopia, protests can flare up in and around their claimed capital city, Awassa.
Debre LibanosBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon Z6 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
Outside AwassaBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon Z6 / 50 f1.4 / Ethiopia
Three and their companion climb a landslideBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon Z6 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
Oh so boredBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon Z6 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
A Tigrayan Cattle MarketBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D850 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
Outside Bahir DarBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D850 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
Primary ClinikBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D850 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
Crossing the Blue NileBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon Z6 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
Looking BackBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon Z6 / 70 - 200 f2.8 / Ethiopia
The connected world has been eagerly watching Ethiopia’s epic rise take shape, a rise as the powerhouse of Africa’s eastern horn. Yet who can really tell what’s going on behind Asian-powered data walls? Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed faces a potentially long drawn out war with the Tigrayans as the TPLF prepare to defend their longstanding self-imposed dominance over the country. The breakup of the Oromo Liberation Front has seen the militarisation of OLA Shane – a weaponised and rebellious arm of what was once a peaceful OLF. The lauded release of thousands of political prisoners caged under the iron-fisted rule of the TPLF has now perhaps been cooled by the imprisonment of socially active, and arguably volatile, self-styled Ethiopian celebrities. Terrorist activity along the southern borders has been played down for the benefit of social order yet it exists and is at the very least an existential threat Abiy will no doubt have to face sooner rather than later. Even the divisive filling of Ethiopia’s largest dam, a technological marvel that will bring in much needed foreign coppers to the national banks, has been criticised endlessly by those whom perhaps know no better and align with the opposition. Understandably Egypt will lose out, but at what cost to Ethiopia’s future? Perhaps, however, the straw that might break the camel’s back will be the delaying of Ethiopia’s first democratic election. Arguably these issues were on the cards long before our Nobel laureate took centre stage, but with Ethiopian nationalism as fierce as ever across the county, and with divides deepening between independent ethnic groups, this nationalism could be a two-edged blade at the throat of Africa’s new jewel on the Nile.