This paper argues that the current EPRDF/TPLF government emulates the imperial ambition of high-modernist development in Ethiopia’s “last” frontier – the pastoral lowlands. We show that two pillars of imperial state expansion continue to haunt Ethiopia’s post-imperial statecraft in the pastoral lowlands: the frontier rush and a high-modernist ambition. The frontier rush is characterized by emptying land for private and state appropriation. The model of high modernism underpins political projects of legitimating state rule, violent land appropriation and suppression of dissent in the pastoral frontier. Our empirical material combines a review of the literature on Ethiopia’s history of high-modernist ambitions with a detailed case study of contemporary land dispossessions in two sites of Lower Omo Valley in Southern Ethiopia. Our case study shows how government officials and company managers mobilize frontier imaginations and high-modernist terminology to justify large-scale relocations of pastoral communities.