Travelling silently through the southern lowlands, our Landcruiser grinds to a momentous halt, tires raking loose earth, the metal frame narrowly avoiding dusty children and curb-side market stalls. Chickens squark and flap as my Nikons crash into the dark footwell – a black tangle clattering amid a plume of orange dust. Twenty-four heavily armed soldiers strut past the front of our steaming beast, their footsteps punctuating the ticking-over of our choked engine. Outfit in desert fatigues and laden with rifles of Russian origin, Jet-black made-in-china boots trample the sun-beaten rock as the platoon march to an off-key melody carried on the desert wind. Passing us by, they methodically press battle-scarred magazines into the 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 history. With no official autonomous geographic zone registered to the Sidama, a constitutional right for all peoples and nationalities of Ethiopia, demonstrations can and do flare up in and around their claimed capital city, Awassa.
Update – In late 2019, c.6 months after this image was shot, the Ethiopian government granted the Sidama administrative self-determination via a national referendum.
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 drawn-out conflict with Tigray as the TPLF bitterly 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-ish faction. The lauded release of thousands of political prisoners caged under the iron-fisted rule of the TPLF has perhaps been cooled by the imprisonment of socially active, yet arguably volatile, self-styled Ethiopian digital celebrities. Radicalisation along the southern borders is played down for the benefit of social stability, yet it exists and is at the very least an existential threat the country will have to face sooner rather than later. Even the divisive swelling of Ethiopia’s largest dam, a technological marvel that will bring not just water but much needed foreign coppers into the national banks, has been aggressively criticised by Ethiopia’s neighbouring nations, those whom should perhaps know better yet tentatively align with the opposition. Understandably they will lose out, but at what cost to Ethiopia’s people and their future? These topics were being debated long before Ethiopia’s Nobel Laureate took centre stage but with Ethiopian nationalism as fierce as ever and with divides deepening between independent ethnic groups, this uniting of nationalism with ethnic politics could very well be a double-edged blade at the throat of Africa’s latest jewel on the Nile.