Documenting the Political and Economic Change of Ethiopia

Brazilian photographer Felipe Fittipaldi travels to Ethiopia to unveil one of the African continent’s most remarkable rising economies and take a look at all the varying consequences that have come with the country’s unprecedented transformation.

Ethiopia now boasts Africa’s fastest growing economy. A country that in the 1980s and 1990s had experienced severe famine crises due to drought and war, is witnessing the greatest transformation of its recent history, with economic growth around 10% and one of the highest rates of urbanisation in the world. Ethiopia has also sought peace with its longtime adversary, Eritrea; freed prisoners; opened access to websites and television channels that it had blocked for political reasons; and invited banned political organisations and their leaders to return from exile.

This unprecedented and rapid change comes against a more disconcerting backdrop of unrest, placing a massive strain on established political, economic, and social systems. Despite the impressive growth and modernisation, Ethiopia is still one of the poorest countries in the world and full of social contrasts, where nomadic shepherds with their Kalashnikov rifles live only a few miles from modern neighbourhoods in the capital Addis Ababa.

As a multi-ethnic giant with around 100 million people belonging to more than 80 ethnic groups and under a questionable democratic system, the country is at a crucial moment in which society will have to deal with complex issues such as massive rural exodus, political freedom, and ethnic tensions. This essay looks to portray the multiple faces of Ethiopia in its rapid and disorderly social and cultural transformation. Apparently, in a short time, Ethiopia will no longer be as before.

Muhammad, from the Afar people, protects the herd from other rival tribes.

Afar Region is the most neglected area in Ethiopia. Despite its significant geopolitical position and untapped natural resources, the region is left in a political and economic disarray by successive central powers. The combination of sinister political maneuver, rampant corruption and inconsistent development projects have exacerbated the social, economic and environmental adversities of the Afar people. A major part of pastoralist community that makes 85% of the region’s population has been displaced due to federal agricultural projects and regime affiliated investors. This was done without sustainable resettlement and reorientation towards agro-pastoral way of life. Environmental degradation, recurrent drought, highly polluted Awash River, unmet health needs and border conflicts are among few challenges to mention. Consequently, the Afar region remains the poorest of all within Ethiopian federation.

Berhanu and his helper Dula, a private street guard in Addis Ababa. Berhanu came from the countryside to the capital in search of better opportunities. According to the Ethiopian Central Statistics Agency, the urban population is projected to nearly triple with annual growth rate of 3.8 percent. This means, it will reach 42.3 million by 2037.

A boy named Kofi stands in front of a gas station that is being built next to his house on the road around Awash. Ethiopia, for the first time ever, began producing crude oil at Kalub and Hilala fields on Thursday in the eastern part of the country. The Chinese company Poly-GCL Petroleum Investment Limited is responsible for the extraction of both crude oil and natural gas in the Ogaden area, Somali regional state in eastern Ethiopia.

In capital Addis Ababa, an emerging consumer society is gaining ground, influenced by the presence of new Western and Chinese investments.

Amhara Village, Amhara Region, Ethiopia. About 90% of the Amhara are rural and make their living through farming, mostly in the Ethiopian highlands. Recently, the government has invested in infrastructure such as houses, schools and wells for the rural population, in an effort to integrate the country.

Arega Tefera, left the rural area to work with tourism in the city of Lalibela.

Adunga, resident of one of the housing estates built by the government, Bole, Ethiopia.

Scarecrow Soldier, Tigray region. The Eritrean–Ethiopian War took place in 1998 with the final peace only agreed in 2018. The confrontation took place on the borders of the Tigray Region- Eritrea and both countries spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the war and suffered tens of thousands of casualties as a direct consequence of the conflict. Only minor border changes resulted.

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