In January 2018, a new railway connecting Addis Ababa to the coast of neighbouring Djibouti commenced operations. Built and financed by the Chinese, and largely following the route of an earlier French-built line, the Ethio-Djibouti railway figures at the heart of Ethiopia’s development aspirations. With its grandiose, neo-Baroque train stations that rise up out of the dusty drylands of the country’s nomadic east, the project embodies the high modernism of Ethiopian state-building today.
But beneath the rhetoric of “Ethiopian Renaissance” profound discontent bubbles. The country is still under a state-of-emergency, the second of its kind in as many years, following several years of widespread anti-government unrest. Thousands of young men and women leave their homes each year, braving perilous journeys across some of the world’s most inhospitable terrain in search of a better life across the Red Sea. The Ethiopian government's heavy-handed implementation of its vision of a modern industrial society is breeding deep resentment.
Following the railway from Addis Ababa all the way to the coast in Djibouti, Tom Gardner and photographer Charlie Rosser report on the efforts of the Ethiopian government to use grand infrastructure projects like this to bring development to one of the world’s poorest regions.