Ethiopia is Africa's second most populous nation and one of its largest economies. In 2018, its tourism sector was the fastest growing in the world. The capital, Addis Ababa, is home to a vibrant jazz scene, infused with riffs reminiscent of American soul, funk, and other mid-twentieth century U.S. music. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the biggest hydroelectric power plant in Africa, will soon give Ethiopia control over Africa's most important water source, the Nile, leaving farmers downstream in Sudan and Egypt in fear that their agricultural livelihoods may soon dry up.
Now, a civil conflict is threatening to thwart attempts by Ethiopia's leadership to unify the country's many ethnic groups under federal rule. In November 2020, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed responded to an attack against the Ethiopian defense forces by ordering airstrikes against targets in his own country, in the region of Tigray. In 2019 Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize after brokering a long-awaited peace with neighboring Eritrea. Just months later, he was waging what some say amounts to civil war. More than 50,000 refugees have fled the fighting across the border to Sudan. Some refugees are already making their way north to the Sudanese capital of Khartoum and may soon be headed onward toward the Mediterranean in their attempts to reach Europe, re-igniting the global refugee crisis anew.
The United States is home to more than 250,000 Ethiopian immigrants and their children—more than from any other African country except Nigeria. More Ethiopians live in California than any other state, with at least 7,000 in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Reporting for The Los Angeles Times, Jacob Kushner will explore Ethiopia's delicate politics, its booming economy, and its rise to geopolitical prominence.