Join our weekly newsletter.
Articles, news, and ideas.

Languages, people and their cultures.

In need of a translation or interpreting service? Get a 5% lifetime discount now!


Ethiopia Guide. Ethiopia Country Profile.

Country Profile: Ethiopia.

Interesting trivia: It is believed that Ethiopia is the place where mankind originated since the discovery of 5 million years old bones of what appeared to be that of the human ancestor.

Ethiopia is the only country in Africa that had maintained its independence in the course of its history. There was a short period though, about five years, when the country was occupied by Italy in 1936 up to 1941. Ethiopia was a monarchy for most of its existence and its defining moment was when Emperor Haile Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia started to make his reforms known when he was still a prince in 1916. He was crowned as the Emperor of Ethiopia in November 1930 and ruled until 1974, when he was deposed by a coup and replaced by a socialist rule under the Derg.

Under the Derg there was mass unrest with coups and uprisings and people became refugees. They were finally overthrown in 1991 when the various rebel forces united into the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front. Ethiopia finally adopted a new constitution in 1994 and by 1995 the country was able to hold multi-party elections. However, the country had a border war with Eritrea that lasted from September 1, 1961 up to May 24, 1991. Eritrea’s de facto independence from Ethiopia was on May 24, 1993.

The official name of Ethiopia is the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and its capital is Addis Ababa. During the ancient times, Ethiopia was divided into 18 provinces. Until 1993 Eritrea was a province of Ethiopia and from 1942 up to 1995, Ethiopia was divided into 13 provinces. Today, Ethiopia is divided into 9 regions and two chartered cities and the regions are divided into 68 zones. The current regions are Afar, Amhara, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambela, Harari, Oromia, Somali, Tigray and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Regions.

:: Background of Ethiopia ::

It is believed that Ethiopia is the place where mankind originated. Bones of what was believed to be that of the human ancestor were discovered in Ethiopia, which are believed to be about 5 million years old. Basically Ethiopia is one of the oldest countries in the world and is in fact the oldest independent country in Africa because it only came under Italian rule for about 5 years. According to historians, ancient Ethiopia was included in the writings of Herodotus, a Greek historian who lived during the fifth century B. C. Ethiopia was also recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible, which chronicled the visit of Queen Sheba, the wife of King Solomon of Israel to Jerusalem. And according to legend, their son Menelik I was the founder of the empire of Ethiopia.

Christianity was introduced to Ethiopia by missionaries from Syria and Egypt during the 4th century A.D. Islam rose in dominance during the 7th century and Ethiopia was isolated from Europe’s Christian community but the Portuguese tried to convert Ethiopia to Catholicism to strengthen their influence over the areas surrounding the Indian Ocean in 1493. This caused conflict between those that were pro-Catholic and those that were against it and the latter prevailed causing all the foreign missionaries that were already in Ethiopia to be driven out towards the middle of the 1600s and isolated Ethiopia once again.

The isolation was removed when Tewodros, Yohannes IV and Menelik II became successive governors of Ethiopia from 1855 to 1913 and Christianity prevailed, which caused the Lij Iyassu, a grandson of Menelik II and his successor to be deposed from his throne in 1916 because he favored Islam and replaced him with Zewditu, Menelik’s daughter. She was succeeded to the throne by her cousin Ras Tafari Makonnen, first as a regent and then Ethiopia’s emperor in 1930, who used his regnal name, Haile Selassie. In 1936, the Italian fascist forces were able to subdue the mighty Ethiopians and were able to rule the country for 5 years, sending Selassie to be exiled in England. He was able to come back and assume the throne when the Italians were finally driven out.

Not everyone was satisfied by the way Selassie ruled and civil unrest started on February 1974 and after 7 months of civil war, a military coup called the Derg was able to gain control and ousted Selassie to establish a socialist government following military rule. Fifty-nine members of the royal family including generals and ministers who remained loyal to the monarchy were executed by the Derg. Inconclusive reports said that on August 22 or 27, 1975 Selassie was murdered in the palace. There were official reports that surfaced that recorded Selassie’s death as complications arising from prostate operation. He was buried in an unmarked grave. In 1992 his remains were found buried under the palace toilet.

The Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc and Cuba provided financial support and assistance to Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam who ruled totalitarian style and militarized Ethiopia. Those who opposed the Derg and were therefore considered as enemies of the state were either tortured or killed in a period that was labeled as red terror and communism reigned in Ethiopia during the late 70s up to the early 80s and the Worker’s Party of Ethiopia was created. A delegation from Ethiopia signed a military assistance agreement with Russia in December of 1976 while meant that the military missions of the United States were driven out of the country. By 1977, Somalia took advantage of the unrest in Ethiopia and attacked through the Ogaden Desert claiming that the ethnic Somali areas near the border should be under Somalia’s rule. While the Ethiopian forces were driven back by the Somalis, they were powerless against the joint forces of Russia and Cuba.

The Derg was not able to rule for long due to several insurrections and the occurrence of natural calamities such as famine and droughts. Opposition forces joined together to form the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front in 1989. In two short years they were able to march into the capital city, Addis Ababa and Mengistu fled to Zimbabwe.

The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, the Oromo Liberation Front and other groups joined hands to form the Transitional Government of Ethiopia in July 1991. It had 87 Council of Representatives members and a national charter for its tentative constitution. The Oromo Liberation Front left the transitional government in June 1992, followed by the Southern Ethiopia People’s Democratic Coalition.

Isaias Afwerki of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front established a provisional government in Eritrea in May 1991 and administered the province independently until late April 1993. After 30 years of fighting for independence Eritrea finally won it when a referendum monitored by the UN was conducted. The unanimous vote was for independence and now Eritrea celebrates their independence from Ethiopia every 24th of May.

President Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia formed a multi-party democratic government and held a June 1994 election for a 547-member constituent assembly. In December 1994, the constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia was adopted and the new government was established by August 1995.

:: Geography of Ethiopia ::

Ethiopia is landlocked as it lost its entire coastline along the Red Sea was lost with the province of Eritrea won its independence on 24 May 1993. The Blue Nile, part of the Nile River originates from Lake Tana in the northwest border with Sudan. It is believed that coffee, castor bean and grain sorghum originated from Ethiopia.

Ethiopia, formerly called Abyssinia, is located in the horn of Eastern Africa, lying just west of Somalia. Its geographic location is 8° 00’ north and 38° 00’ east of the equator. It is a little less than twice the size of Texas or the combined size of France and Spain.

Ethiopia is quite a large land mass, with a total of 1,104,300 square kilometers. Total land area is 1 million square meters with the area covered by water totaling 104,300 square kilometers. The total length of Ethiopia east to west is 1,639 kilometers. North to south the total land area measures 1,577 kilometers.

Land Boundaries
The country is landlocked since the time that Eritrea that borders the Red Sea became independent. The total length of land boundaries is 5, 328 kilometers. Ethiopia is bounded on the north by Eritrea, on the East and the Southeast by Somalia and on the Northeast by Djibouti. The south is bounded by Kenya and the west is bounded by Sudan. As it is now landlocked, Ethiopia does not have any coastline and does not have any maritime claim.

Ethiopia lies near the equator but since most part of the country where the majority of the population live in a higher altitude with central highlands, the weather in Ethiopia is affected by the country’s different elevation. The Dega (highland) area is the highest area which is about 2,438 meters high. The weather here is cool the whole year. The next level of elevation is known as the Weina Dega (midland) where the weather is generally temperate. General height is from 1,524 meters to 2,134 meters. This is where the majority of the population of Ethiopia lives. However, the lowlands or the Kolla, sparsely populated and near the eastern border, have a hotter temperature, varying from tropical to sub-tropical climates, with the weather consistently warm all-year round. Rainfall is considered moderate, with the country receiving about 34 inches of rainfall annually. In the highlands the rainfall occurs twice a year, during February to March the rains are moderate. From June to September, the bigger or heavier rains occur. Generally, the average temperature is from 60° F up to about 85° F.

Ethiopia sits over two plateaus, the Somali plateau is located on the east and the Amhara lies on the north. The Great Rift Valley and three mountains, the Chelalo, Aranna and the Chercher run between these two plateaus. On the east where the Somali Plateau is located the terrain is rocky and arid and the population sparse. The northern side is populous, with most of the population concentrated south of Addis Ababa, where Goma Gofa and Sidamo are located. These are the major regions where coffee plantations can be seen. Even if the area is rugged, the elevation is lower than that of the eastern side. The lowest elevation is located in the Danakil Depression, which is 125 meters below sea level. Ras Dejen on the north is the highest point in Ethiopia, rising to a height of 4, 533 meters.

Natural Resources
The country has a few natural resources, including gold, iron ore, potash, coal and gemstones. It also has copper, natural gas, marble, limestone, kaolin, tantalum and soda ash, as well as hydroelectric resources. Of these natural resources, gold, limestone, marble and small reserves of tantalum are explored and mined. Available for commercial development but still needs to be explored are reserves of potash, iron ore, natural gas, possibly geothermal energy and oil. At the moment, Ethiopia is still dependent on oil imports.

Land Use
Of the total land area, only 10.1% is arable, for which only about 20% is being cultivated. Land that is planted with permanent crops is just 0.65% and the other areas are rugged, infertile or too dry for agriculture. The rest are either covered by forest or used for pasture.

Natural Hazards
The Great Rift Valley is still geologically active and still prone to earthquakes. Ethiopia is susceptible to volcanic eruptions and droughts. There are several active volcanoes in the country, such as Erta Ale, which is the most active; Dabbahu, Dalaffilla, Alayta, Dama Ali, Dallol, Kone, Fentale, Manda-Inakir and Manda Hararo. Hot springs can be found in the extreme east near the Red Sea. The rest of the country is prone to erosion, deforestation and overgrazing. The dry season can cause water shortage in some areas.

Environmental Issues
Due to the different weather conditions and elevation, some areas in Ethiopia suffer from water shortages, particularly those areas used for agriculture as there are prevalent water-intensive farming practices as well as poor management. Deforestation, soil erosion and overgrazing are causing problems and the lack of water is contributing to desertification.

International Agreements
Ethiopia has entered in international agreements on the issues of climate change, desertification, climate change-Kyoto protocol, biodiversity, hazardous wastes, ozone layer protection and endangered species. For those international agreements that Ethiopia has signed, the law of the sea and the environmental modification have not been ratified.

:: People of Ethiopia ::

As of July 2011, the estimated population of Ethiopia is 90,873,739, with a population growth of 3.19%. It is also estimated that the current birth rate is 42.99 births per 1,000 population while the death rate is 11.04 per 1,000 population. Migration is placed at minus 0.01 per 1,000 population. Also based on 2011 estimates, the fertility rate is placed at 6.02 children born for every woman of child-bearing age.

Age Structure
On the 15 to 64 age bracket, which is currently at 51%, there are 23,682,385 females over 22,707,235 males. The younger generation aged zero to 14 years, comprise 46.3% of the population, with 21,067,961 females and 20,990,369 males. The 65 years and over age range comprise 2.7% of the total population, with an estimated break down of 1,388,301 females and 1,037,488 males.

Median Age
The median age is in the late teens. For the total population, the median age is 16.8 years. For the female it is 17.1 years old and 16.5 years for the male.

Sex Ratio
The sex ratio is almost even between males and females. For the total population, 0.97 male is born for every female. At birth, 1.03 male is born over every female and 1 male for every female in the under 15-year age bracket. In the 15 to 64 years, 0.96 male is born for every female while in the 65 years and over, there is 0.75 male born for every female.

Infant Mortality Rate
Infant mortality in Ethiopia is quite high due to deaths caused by HIV/AIDS. For the whole country there are 77.12 deaths for every 1,000 live births. The breakdown is 88.03 deaths for males and 65.88 deaths for females according to estimates for 2011.

Life Expectancy at Birth
Life expectancy is quite low. According to estimates for 2011, 56.19 years is the estimate for the total population. Females outlast the males slightly, with female life expectancy placed at 58.81 years compared to only 53.64 years for the males.

According to the UNAIDS, an estimated 2 million Ethiopians are living with HIV, which is considered to be the third highest in the whole of Africa. According to the same report, 85% of the population is located in the rural areas and access to public health services is gravely lacking. The condition is quite serious as there are only about 1,200 public health service practitioners and health care workers with the proper training for the entire population of Ethiopia, according to estimates. According to the Ministry of Health of Ethiopia, it is estimated that the prevalence of HIV in adults is about 3.5%, however it is estimated that this figure increases to 5% among pregnant women, leading to 25% of children born to HIV-positive females. In the 2006 estimate, there are 1.32 million Ethiopians who were HIV-positive and only about 10% of them know that they are affected with the dreaded disease.

Citizens of Ethiopia are called and described as Ethiopians. The word Ethiopian is can be used either as a noun or as an adjctive.

Ethnic Groups
There are several ethnic groups living in Ethiopia, and according to the 2007 census the major ones include Oromo which account for 34.5%, Amara make up 26.9% and Somalie is placed at 6.2%. Tigraway comprise 6.1%, Sidama is about 4%, Guragie make up 2.5% and Welaita is about 2.3%. The Hadiya and the Affar each make up 1.7%, Gamo makes up 1.5%, Gedeo comprise1.3% while the minor ones combine to make up 11.3%

Ethiopians predominantly follow the Orthodox religion at 43.5% while the Muslims comprise 33.9%. There are also Protestants in Ethiopia which make up 18.6%, while those following traditional religion is about 2.6%. Catholics comprise 0.7% and other religions are followed by 0.7% of the population according to the census done in 2007.

There are three major languages that are officially spoken in Ethiopia as well as some regional languages that are also considered as the official languages for the regions. Amarigna or Amharic is the official language that is spoken by 32.7% of eh population. Arabic is also an official language and English is another official language that is taught in schools. Oromigna is an official regional language spoken by 31.6% of the population, just like Tigrina that is spoken by 6.1%. Other languages spoken are Somaligna (6%), Guaragigna (3.5%), Sidamigna (3.5%) and Hadiyigna (1.7%). Other minor languages are spoken by 14.8% of the population. These breakdowns are based on the 1994 census.

Literacy is quite high in Ethiopia and people aged 15 and over can read and write. Of the total population, 42.7 % are literate, broken down into 50.3% males and 35.1% females based on estimates done in 2003. Students spend an average of 8 years in school with males staying for 9 years and the females for 8 years.

:: References ::