All About Ethiopia


Ethiopia is a landlocked country in the Horn of Africa. It has the continent’s second highest population at 109,358,444 and its surface area of 1,100,000 sq. km. is the tenth largest. Addis Ababa is the capital and the country is bordered by Sudan to the west, Djibouti and Somalia to the east, Kenya to the south, and Eritrea to the north.

When the European powers divided the African continent at the Berlin Conference, Ethiopia was one of two countries that retained its independence. It was one of four African members of the League of Nations. It became a member of the United Nations after a brief period of Italian occupation. Several newly independent African nations took Ethiopia’s colors for their flags. Addis Ababa was the center of several international groups focused on Africa.

The current borders result from territorial reduction in the north and expansion in the south. This expansion was completed through conquest as well as migrations. In 1974, civil wars intensified after Haile Selassie was overthrown. It is one of the Non-Aligned Movements founding members as well as the G-77 and the Organization of African Unity. Addis Ababa is the headquarters of the African Union, UNECA, and the Nile Basin Commission. Ethiopia also has one of Africa’s most powerful militaries. It has its own alphabet, time system, and calendar. The country’s UNESCO World Heritage sites are the most in Africa.

The land is varied and contains waterfalls as well as volcanic hot springs. It has some of Africa’s tallest mountains and lowest points. Africa’s largest cave, Sof Omar, is in Ethiopia. One of the world’s hottest places is located at Dallol. 80 ethnic groups live in Ethiopia today. Oromo and Amhara are the two largest. Ethiopia is famous for being the place where the coffee bean originated. It is also known for its gold medalists and its rock-hewn churches. Ethiopia is the top honey and coffee producer in Africa and has the largest livestock population in Africa.

Ethiopia has ties with the three main Abrahamic religions. It officially adopted Christianity as its religion in the 4th century. While it still has a Christian majority, one third of the people are now Muslim. It has the oldest Muslim settlement in Africa at Negash and was the site of Islam’s first hijra. There were a substantial number of Jews in Ethiopia until the 1980s. The Rastafarian religion claims Ethiopia as its spiritual homeland. Ethiopia has the second largest hydropower potential in Africa and is the source of 85 percent of the Nile River’s flow. Despite this it underwent a series of famines in the 1980′s resulting in potentially millions of deaths. The economy has slowly recovered and is now East Africa’s largest and one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Politically, the country is still fragile.


The Greek name for Ethiopia appears in the Illiad and the Odyssey. Herodotus, the Greek historian, uses it specifically to refer to modern Sudan and Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is also mentioned by name in the Old Testament. Kush is used in other Hebrew texts which refer to Nubia/Sudan. It is also referenced in the Greek version of the New Testament. The earliest uses of Ityopya in the region itself are in the name of the 4th Century Kingdom of Asksum. This was in stone inscriptions of King Ezana.

In English the country was once known as Abyssinia derived from Habesh. The modern Habesha is the name of the countries inhabitants. Some languages still use Abyssinia.

Habesha refers only to the Semitic-speaking groups in the Amhara and Tigray-Tigrinya people. In modern Ethiopia, the term is sometimes used to refer to all Eritreans and Ethiopians.



East Africa is considered the site of early Homo sapiens’ emergence in the Middle Paleolithic.


In approximately the 8th century BC, the D’mt kingdom was established in northern Ethiopia and Eritrea. Its capital was near the modern town of Yeha in northern Ethiopia. Most consider this a native African civilization, but it was influenced by the Sabaean due to their Red Sea dominance. Now, the ancient language of Ge’ez is not thought to derive from Sabaean. As early as 2000 BC there is evidence of Semitic speaking presence in the area.

After the D’mt fall in the 4th century BC, smaller successor kingdoms dominated the area. This took place until the 1st century BC rise of the Aksumite Empire. This empire was the ancestor of modern Ethiopia and reunited the area. Their base was in the northern highlands and they expanded southward from there. Mani, a Persian religious figure, listed Aksum as a great power with Rome, Persia, and China.

Middle Ages

From 1137 to 1270, the Zagwe ruled many parts of the area. This dynasty’s name comes from the Cushitic speaking Agaw who were from northern Ethiopia. A Solomonic dynasty ruled from 1270 AD for many centuries.

Ethiopia sought European contact in the early 15th century for the first time since Aksumite times. In 1428, the Emperor Yeshaq sent emissaries to Aragon’s Alfonso V. They sent emissaries in return but they did not complete the trip. In 1508, Portugal was the first European country that established steady relations under Emperor Lebna Dengel.

At this time, the empire was under attack from the Adal General and Imam, Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi. Portugal assisted the Ethiopian emperor with weapons and troops, which helped the emperor’s son defeat Ahmed. This was one of the first proxy wars because the Ottoman Empire also took sides as did Portugal. When Emperor Susenyos became Roman Catholic in 1624, revolt followed. On June 25, 1632, Susentos’ son, Fasilides, declared Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity as the official religion.

Zemene Mesafint

Ethiopia became isolated from 1755 to 1855, which was called the Zemene Mesafint (Age of Princes). The true control was in the hands of warlords and the emperors were simply figureheads.

A British mission ended isolation and signified an alliance between the nations. In 1855 the emperor’s power was restored and the country united under the reign of Tewodros II. Ethiopia began to modernize under his rule and take part in world affairs.

There were several rebellions to Tewodros’ rule. This included Northern Oromo militias and a Tigrayan rebellion. There were also incursions by the Ottomans and Egyptians. These ultimately led to Tewodros’ downfall when he died in battle. In 1868, Egypt and Ethiopia began a war at Gura. The Ethiopian forces led by Emperor Yohannes IV defeated the Egyptians.

From Menelik to Adwa

Modern-day Ethiopia began under Menelik II’s reign in the late 19th century. Menelik set off from the province of Shoa to conquer the southern, eastern, and western lands to turn them into an empire. He began expanding the kingdom with the help of the Shewan Oromo militia under Ras Gobena. This expansion led to modern day Ethiopia’s borders. Advances were also made in road construction, education, the tax system, and electricity. Addis Ababa was also founded as the new capital. The Treaty of Wichale, signed with Italy, recognized Ethiopia’s sovereignty in return for Italy’s control of northern Tigray. Italy would also give Menelik arms and support his position. During the time between the treaty’s signing and its ratification in Italy, the Italians expanded their territorial claims. Italy resettled landless Italians in Eritrea, which raised tensions with local peasants. This led to the battle of Adwa which occurred on March 1, 1896. The Ethiopians defeated the Italian forces.

Haile Selassie Era

Haile Selassie’s rule is the most well-known and influential in the history of Ethiopia. Rastafarians, mostly prevalent in Caribbean nations, see Haile Selassie as Jah incarnate.

Haile Selassie I came to power in the early 20th century after Iyasu V was deposed. He undertook Ethiopia’s modernization from 1916 when he was made a Ras and Regent for Zewditu and was the de facto ruler. When Zewditu died on November 2, 1930 Selassie was made emperor.

Selassie’s parents had ancestry in all three main ethnicities, Oromo, Amhara, and Gurange. He was the main figure in organizing the Organization of African Unity.

The Second Italo-Abyssian War and subsequent colonization interrupted Ethiopia’s independence. At the time of the attack, Selassie requested assistance from the League of Nations. This speech made him a worldwide figure. He was the 1935 Time magazine’s Man of the Year. When Italy entered World War II, the British, with the help of Ethiopian fighters, liberated Ethiopia in 1941. The British then recognized Ethiopia’s sovereignty by signing the Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement in December 1944. Throughout World War II, Italians fought a guerilla war in Ethiopia. Selassie issued a proclamation forbidding slavery in 1942. In the 20th century, the Ethiopian slave population was estimated at 2 to 4 million.

In 1952, Selassie arranged a federation with Eritrea. In 1962, he dissolved it. His annexation began the Eritrean War of Independence. Selassie was seen as a national hero but opinion shifted due to the 1973 oil crisis, succession uncertainty, food shortages, and discontent over modernization.

His reign ended in 1974 when a junta, which was backed by the Soviet Union, deposed him. The junta, known as the Derg, was led by Mengistu Haile Mariam. A one-party communist state was established called the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

1974-1994 Crisis

There were several coups as well as a refugee problem and drought. In 1977’s Ogaden War, Somalia captured part of Ogaden. Ethiopia regained it after the Eastern Bloc, led by the U.S.S.R, provided military aid. This included 15,000 Cuban troops.

The red terror, forced deportations, and hunger killed hundreds of thousands under Mengistu’s rule. The red terror was a response to violence allegedly carried out by the opposition. After a long trial in 2006, Mengistu was found guilty of genocide.

A series of famines struck Ethiopia beginning in the 1980s that killed 1 million. In the northern regions, fighting started against communist rule. The Tigrayan Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF) merged with other opposition groups in 1989. This larger group became the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Around this time, the Soviet Union began to retreat from supporting other nations and dramatically reduced aid to Ethiopia. This collapsed the military and brought further hardship. When communism fell worldwide, Mengistu’s position deteriorated.

EPRDF forces advanced on the capital in May 1991. Mengistu fled to Zimbabwe for asylum. A government began called the Transitional Government of Ethiopia. It consisted of a Council of Representatives with 87 members and was guided by a national charter. The Oromo Liberation Front left the government in 1992. The Southern Ethiopia Peoples’ Democratic Coalition left in 1993. A new constitution was formed in 1994 that provided for a bicameral legislature and an independent judiciary. The first free elections occurred in 1995. Negasso Gidada was elected president and Mele Zenawi prime minister.

Recent History

A 1993 referendum was held under U.N. supervision on whether Eritrea wanted independence from Ethiopia. 99 percent of the Eritreans voted for independence which was declared on May 24, 1993.

A constitution was adopted in 1994 that led to the country’s first elections the next year. A 1998 border dispute led to the Eritrea-Ethiopian War that went on until 2000. While the war strengthened the ruling coalition, the country’s economy suffered. Another election took place in 2005, which was highly disputed. Some in the international community found irregularities, but there is no consensus as to the result’s legitimacy. The opposition party did gain 200 parliamentary seats compared to the 12 they won in 2000. Most opposition representatives took their seats but some leaders of the CUD party were imprisoned for inciting violence after the election. They were later released.

A coalition of opposition parties was established in 2009 to oust the regime in the 2010 elections and published a manifesto on October 10, 2009.

This coalition, known as the Ethiopian Forum for Democratic Dialogue (FDD) is composed of the Oromo Federalist Congress, the Unity for Democracy and Justice, the Arena Tigray, and the Coalition of Somali Democratic Forces.


Ethiopian politics is in the framework of a federal parliamentary republic. The Prime Minister is the head of state. The government exercises executive power. The government and the two parliamentary chambers hold legislative power.

The 1994 constitution provides for an independent judiciary. International organizations have questioned the realities of this power separation.

The Economist’s Democracy Index lists the country as between a flawed democracy and an authoritarian regime. It places 105 out of 167 countries. Burundi is less democratic at 106 and Georgia more at 104.


The 547 member constituent assembly was elected in 1994. This body adopted the constitution later that same year. The first popular elections were held in May and June 1995. Most of the opposition boycotted these elections, leading to a landslide victory by the EPRDF.

In 1995, Ethiopia’s current government took power with Negasso Gidada as the first president. The government promoted a policy of ethnic federalism and gave significant powers to local authorities. There are nine administrative regions that have the power to raise their own revenues.  There is little media access besides state owned networks. Private newspapers may be harassed by the government and struggle to stay open. After the 2005 elections, 18 journalists, who were critical of the government, were arrested.

In the first multi-party elections in 2000, Zenawi’s government was elected. The results were criticized by international observers. The EPRDF won again in 2005. The opposition vote did increase but the election was generally considered unfair. 192 protesters were killed by police in 2005 protests after the results were tabulated.

The government also cracked down on opposition in the provinces. In Oromia, the regime used the excuse of terrorism to repress critics. In 2005, the main party in opposition was CUD. Most of the CUD leaders have moved to a new Unity for Democracy and Justice Party. Judge Birtukan Mideska heads this group.

Administrative Regions

While there were 13 provinces prior to 1996, there are nine administrative countries divided ethnically. These are further subdivided into zones and cities.

Regional states can establish their own government and democracy. Each region has a council where members are elected and it can direct regional affairs. The constitution gives the regions the right to secede.

The nine regions and two chartered cities are Addis Ababa, Afar, Amhara, Benishangul-Gumuz, Dire Dawa, Gambela, Harari, Oromis, Somali, Southern Nations, and Tigray.


Ethiopia is the 27th largest country in the world with an area of 435,071 sq. mi. It is similar to Bolivia in size.

Ethiopia mostly lies in the Horn of Africa on the easternmost part of Africa. Djibouti and Eritrea border ti to the north, Sudan to the west, Somalia to the east, and Kenya to the south. There are vast mountains and plateaus divided by the Great Rift Valley. The valley runs southwest to northeast. The terrain’s diversity leads to differences in soil, vegetation, climate, and settlement.


Topical monsoon is the predominant climate. The Ethiopian Highlands are cooler than other regions close to the equator. Most major cities are 2,000 to 2,500 meters above sea level.

Addis Ababa is in the foothills of Mount Entoto. It has a good climate year round. The seasons are largely rainfall defined with an average of 1,200 mm of rain per year. It is sunny 60 percent of the time. Even during the rainy season there is usually several hours of sunshine per day.

Most major cities and tourism locations are at a similar elevation and have a similar climate to Addis Ababa. In the lowlands, the climate can be hotter and drier. The town of Dallol has the highest temperatures average in the world.

Ecologically diverse, Ethiopia has deserts in the east, tropical forests to the south, and Afromontane in the north. The Nile’s source is Lake Tana in the northern part of the country. Endemic species include the Walia Ibex, Ethiopian wolf, and the Gelada Baboon.


Endangered Species

Due to logging, war, hunting, pollution, and human interference, African wildlife population have been declining. Ethiopia’s civil war and droughts have impacted habitats. When habitats rapidly change, animals do not have time to adjust.

Ethiopia has a number of species classified as critically endangered. These fall into three categories which are critically endangered, endangered, and vulnerable.

Ethiopia has 31 endemic species. The African Wild Dog was widespread but is now believed to be extinct. The Ethiopian Wolf is one of the most studied species.

Ethiopian Wolf

Fewer than 500 Ethiopian wolves remain due to pressure from agriculture, hunting, diseases, and hybridization with other dogs. The Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Project (EWCP) attempts to protect this species. Scientists have found the species is resilient to fragmentation.

As human density increases so do the negative interactions between the wolves and humans. These include hunting after the loss of livestock, poisoning, and road kills.


Conservation programs exist to protect species. The Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society was created in 1966 and focuses on promoting and studying natural environments.


Studies suggest deforestation causes soil erosion, loss of animal habitats, loss of soil nutrients, and loss of biodiversity. At the start of the 20th century, 35 percent of the country was covered in trees. That number has dropped to 11.9 percent.

Government programs to curtail deforestation include promoting reforestation, providing alternate timber material, and education. The government provides non-timber fuel sources to rural areas.

Outside organizations are attempting to create a forest management system. Due to a grant, the government began training people in proper irrigation and erosion reduction.


GDP growth has been fast. Ethiopia has the fastest growing economy in Africa that is not oil dependent. There have been attempts at economic improvement over the last 20 years, but many policies have been opposed. The 2008 drought also slowed growth. Despite the growth, poverty is still a problem.

Due to the rivers originating in Ethiopia, it is known as eastern Africa’s water tower. While it has great water reserves, there are few irrigation systems to utilize them.

The mismanagement in the government has hurt agricultural production. Ethiopia does have potential to be one of Africa’s more fertile nations.

A state-owned monopoly runs telecommunications services. The government believes keeping this system state owned will ensure services are kept in rural areas.

According to the constitution, only the state and the people can own land. Land can only be leased and cannot be sold. There is a 20 year maximum on rent, which is meant to ensure land goes to the most productive user.

41 percent of GDP is agriculture, which also makes up 80 percent of exports and 80 percent of the labor force. Other sectors also depend on agriculture. Most production is made by small farmers. Major crops are coffee, oilseeds, pulses, potatoes, cereals, vegetables, and sugarcane. Coffee is the largest foreign export earner. It is also the second biggest maize producer in Africa. Per capita income has reached $1,541. Life expectancy has also improved to 54 years for women and 52 years for men.


As mentioned, coffee is the largest export. Ethiopia is the world’s 10th largest livestock producer. Gold, leather, oilseeds and khat are other major exports.

In some less inhabited areas, large mineral resources and oil exist. Instability has blocked development.


Ethiopia’s 681 km of railways mostly consist of the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway. The system is under the joint control of both countries, but talks have started to potentially privatize the system.


The capacity to provide basic services is strained by migration, population growth, and urbanization. There have been two distinct periods of urbanization, the first from 1936-1941 during Italian occupation and from 1967-1975 when urban populations tripled. When Italy annexed Ethiopia, it began infrastructure projects to link the cities and to provide electrical power. In the second period, rural resident moved to the cities seeking work. A Land Reform Act in 1975 slowed this by providing incentives to remain in rural areas. The act was meant to increase food production and did so. Urbanization still increased, but at a slower pace of 8.1 percent from 1975 to 2000.

Ethiopia: Urban vs. Rural Life

Migration to the cities is usually driven by the desire for a better life. Rural life is a struggle with 16 percent of Ethiopians living on less than $1 per day. Only 65 percent of rural households eat what is considered a minimum amount of food per day. In children under 5, 42 percent are underweight. 75 percent of poor families share sleeping areas with livestock.

Since the amount of land held is so small, land cannot lie fallow. This reduces soil fertility. The subsequent reduction in fodder for livestock reduces milk yields. Families also burn manure for fuel, keeping it from being used as fertilizer.

The conditions are better in the cities but all Ethiopia suffers from poverty. 53 percent of Addis Ababa’s people live in slums. Only 12 percent of homes have cement tiles or floors. There is also a lack of proper sanitation.

Unlike rural children, most urban children (69 percent) attend school. There are also secondary schools and a university in Addis Ababa. The literacy rate is 82 percent.

Infant mortality, birth rates, and death rates are all lower in the cities due to better hospital access. Despite sanitation problems, the cities have much higher rates of improved water resources. NGOs exist to help, but are largely uncoordinated.


Ethiopia’s population is 109,358,444 million, up from 33.5 million in 1983. Population growth is down slightly, but is still 2.6 percent per year. The Amhara, Tigray, Somali, and Oromo make up three quarters of the people. The total number of ethnic groups is over 80. Most Ethiopians that speak Semitic languages refer to themselves as Habesha or Abesha.

At 34.4 percent, the Oromo are the largest ethnic group. 26.89 percent are Amhara. Somali and Tigray are 6.2 percent and 6.07 percent.

There were 201,700 refugees in the country in 2007. Most of these were from Somalia, Sudan, and Eritrea. Most live in refugee camps.


There are 84 indigenous languages in Ethiopia. English is the most widely spoken foreign language. At one point, Amharic was the first language in schools, but has been replaced by Oromifa and Tigrinya. The country has its own alphabet and calendar.


62.8 percent of Ethiopians are Christian, 33.9 percent Muslim, and 2.6 percent traditional faiths.

Orthodox Christianity dates back to the 1st century. In southern and western Ethiopia, Protestants and Orthodox Christians are largely represented. A small number of Jews, the Beta Israel live in the country but most immigrated to Israel.

The Aksum kingdom was one of the first to adopt Christianity. St. Frumentius of Tyre converted King Exana during the 4th century AD. The largest denomination today is the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Different names for Ethiopia are mentioned in the Bible as well as the Qur’an and Hadith.

Islam’s history in Ethiopia dates to 615 when a Muslim group was told to travel to Ethiopia by Muhammad. Bilal, the first muezzin (the person chosen to call the faithful to prayer), was from Abyssinia, the name for modern Ethiopia.

Those adhering to traditional beliefs live in the borderlands of the west and southwest

Ethiopia is also the Rastafari movement’s spiritual homeland, which they believe is Zion. In this faith, Haile Selassie I is viewed as Jesus. Selassie was an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian, a sect that also has a Zion concept. The Baha’i Faith has adherents mostly in Addis Ababa.


There is only one doctor for every 100,000 people. Other estimates differ and show 2.6 per 100,000. Diseases caused by poor sanitation and malnutrition are the major problem. This is further worsened by the lack of health facilities and treatment providers. Ethiopia has 119 hospital and 412 health centers. Life span averages are low and infant mortality is high. 8 percent of children die during or shortly after birth. HIV is also prevalent.  Traditional healers are relied on due to doctor shortages. Female genital mutilation is a common practice and often involves crude tools and no anesthetic.


The Orthodox Church dominated education in the country until the 1900s. The current system involves deeper regionalization. This leads to different languages being learned in different areas. Enrollment in 2004 was below that of other African nations.


Ethiopian Cuisine

Ethiopian cuisine consists of meat and vegetable side dishes with a thick stew entrée served on a flatbread. One typically uses the flatbread, or injera, to scoop the food without utensils.

A very popular food from roasted barley flower is Tihlo. Due to being forbidden in the major religions, cuisine does not include pork or shellfish. It is common to eat from a main dish in the table’s center with a group.

Ethiopian Music

Ethiopia has diverse music with unique sounds from each of the 80 ethnic groups. It typically uses a pentatonic system with long note intervals. Traditional singing has diverse styles of polyphony. Popular musicians are Tilahun Gessesse, Teddy Afro, Aster Aweke, Bizunesh Bekele, Muluken Melesse, Mahmoud Ahmed, Tadesse Alemu, Asnaketch Worku, Alemayehu Eshete, Gigi, Mulatu Astatke, and Ali Birra.

Ethiopian Sports

Football and track are the main sports. Athletes have won many Olympic gold medals in track and field. The football team is not successful. Distance runner, Haile Gebrselassie set a world marathon record while Kenenisa Bekele dominated the 5,000 and 10,000 meters.

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