Nearly three months into the state of emergency declared by Ethiopia, the atmosphere on the streets of its bustling and impressively modern metropolis and capital, Addis Ababa, feels tense.
At 2,355 meters above sea level, the climate is pleasantly mild most of the year. Its broad thoroughfares are studded with magnificent cultural attractions. These are infused with the glow of an ancient yet resilient civilisation that could withstand both Jesuit and Wahhabi encroachment.
Yet, at present, tourists are understandably few and far between. There have been reports of hundreds of deaths in districts surrounding the capital in recent weeks. But these have been played down as an exaggeration by prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
The Chinese-backed metro rail system in Addis Ababa has been well used since launch
Behind the veneer of Ethiopia’s parliamentary federalism lies an authoritarian system of state-led development preferred by Beijing.
Violence broke out during an Oromo religious festival, and in some instances foreigners seem to have been targeted. In response, the predominantly ethnic-Tigrean government clamped down on social media, took a few TV channels off the air, and restricted the movement of the opposition leader and foreign observers.
For the past few years, Ethiopia has been able to partly shed its association with abject poverty and famine. Arguably inspired by China, the country became a developmental success story and one of the fastest-growing countries in the world. At much the same time, Addis Ababa was able to capitalise on being the gateway to the politics of the African continent and foreign aid.