Ethiopia occupies a special place in popular African and global imagination as the only country on the continent to escape colonisation in the 19th and 20th century. Its history as an ancient Christian nation, as well as its long association with the political desire for pan-African freedom help it maintain a reputation as a leading African state. The location of the African Union and other Pan-African institution in its capital, Addis Ababa hinge on this legacy; the fame of its last emperor Haile Selassie as an advocate for African independence and, according to Rastafari theology, the re-incarnation of Jesus Christ (and a living god) contribute to global fascination with the country. Its modern history which has included revolution, war, famine and global admiration for its leaders, has been tumultuous.
Prior to the second World War, Ethiopia was invaded by the fascist regime of Italy’s Benito Mussolini – an occupation which exposed the weakness of the post World War I 'League of Nations.' The occupation was successfully repulsed during World War II and Haile Selassie restored to the throne. In the post-war period, the Emperor embarked on a modernisation drive, however, the increasing radicalisation of many educated Ethiopians, resistance by conservative elements of the aristocracy and widespread discontent in the army, led to a coup and culminated in the end of the Ethiopian monarchy. The modernity of the post-imperial military-socialist regime – The Derg – was both authoritarian and violent, provoking a civil war.
The late 1970s saw the Ogaden war with Somalia. Ethiopia was victorious in no small part through the aid of Soviet and Cuban forces fighting an intense ground war in the East of the country. In the 1980s, Ethiopia became inextricably identified with famine, a consequence of war, instability and deliberate policy including the forced settlement of rural populations, and intense drought. The situation was made famous in the wider world by pop star Bob Geldof and his Live Aid concert, the food shortages were however complex issues. The collapse of the Derg following protracted war and its defeat by the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, the opposition group which now rules the country.
Meles Zenawi, the former head of the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) was Prime Minister of Ethiopia from August 1990 until his death in 2012; the country has been relatively stable since the 1990s, despite the concerns of civil society groups about the government’s increasing crackdowns on freedom of speech, political repression and various human rights abuses. The EPRDF government’s close alliance with the United States in battling militant islamist groups in the East Africa region, as well as it’s growing economy has ensured it relative immunity from international criticism. It has a growing reputation as a destination for tourism. Ethiopia has followed an economic development path modelled on China, which emphasises state control and selective opening up of the economy to foreign investment. The government’s ownership of all land has allowed it to grant cheap concessions to foreign investors in its agricultural sector, which remains Ethiopia’s largest industry.