The African continent is comprised of 54 nations, each with its own independent government and sovereignty, GDP, culture, natural resources, language(s), military, and religion. The treasure trove of mineral and raw material wealth has scarcely been touched and the continent's largely untapped fertile lands could feed the world. Herewith is Jewel of Africa, an interactive adventure in the cradle of mankind, an exploration of nations from A-Z in alphabetical order.
Ethiopia: Most populous nation in the Horn of Africa
Ethiopia is a country located in the Horn of Africa. The country lies completely within the tropical latitudes and is relatively compact, with similar north-south and east-west dimensions. The capital is Addis Ababa, situated nearly at the center of the country. Ethiopia is the largest and most populated country in the Horn of Africa with 115 million people. With the 1993 secession of Eritrea, its former province along the Red Sea, Ethiopia became landlocked.
Ethiopia is one of the world’s oldest countries, its territorial extent having varied over the millennia of its existence. In ancient times it remained center on Aksum, an imperial capital located in the northern part of the modern state, about 100 miles from the Red Sea coast. The present territory was consolidated during the 19th and 20th centuries as European powers encroached into Ethiopia’s historical domain. Ethiopia became prominent in modern world affairs first in 1896, when it defeated colonial Italy in the Battle of Adwa, and again in 1935-36, when it was invaded and occupied by fascist Italy.
Liberation during World War II by the Allied powers set the stage for Ethiopia to play a more prominent role in world affairs. Ethiopia was among the first independent nations to sign the Charter of the United Nations, and it gave moral and material support to the decolonization of Africa and to the growth of Pan-African cooperation. These efforts culminated in the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (since 2002, the African Union) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, both of which have their headquarters in Addis Ababa.
Ethiopia is bounded by Eritrea to the north, Djibouti to the northeast, Somalia to the east, Kenya to the south, and South Sudan and Sudan to the west. The nation’s topography, one of the most rugged in Africa, is built on four geologic formations. Rocks of Precambrian origin (more than 540 million years in age) form the oldest basal complex of Ethiopia, as they do in most of Africa. The Precambrian layer is buried under more recent geologic formations—except in parts of northern, western, and southern Ethiopia, where there are exposed rock layers of granite and schist.
Geologic processes of the Mesozoic Era (about 250 to 65 million years ago) contributed sedimen- tary layers of limestone and sandstone, most of which have been either eroded or covered by volcanic rocks. Younger sedimentary layers are found in northern Ethiopia and on the floors of the Rift Valley. Lava flows from the Cenozoic Era (i.e., the past 65 million years) have formed basaltic layers that now cover two-thirds of Ethiopia’s land surface with a thickness ranging from about 1,000 feet to almost 10,000 feet. The Rift Valley forms a spectacular graben (a massive tectonic trough) running right down the middle of the country from the northern frontier with Eritrea to the southern border with Kenya.
Although Ethiopia’s complex relief defies easy classification, five topographic features are discern- ible. These are the Western Highlands, the Western Lowlands, the Eastern Highlands. the Eastern Lowlands, and the Rift Valley. The Western Highlands are the most extensive and rugged topo- graphic component of Ethiopia. The most spectacular portion is the North Central massifs; these form the roof of Ethiopia, with elevations ranging from 14,872 feet (4,533 for Mount Ras Dejen the highest point in Ethiopia, to the Blue Nile and Tekes river channels 10,000 feet below. Lake Tana—Ethiopia’s largest inland lake and the main reservoir for the Blue Nile River—is located in this region, at an elevation of about 6,000 feet.
The Western Lowlands stretch north-south along the border with Sudan and South Sudan and include the lower valleys of the Blue Nile, Tekeze, and Baro rivers. With elevations of about 3,300 feet, the lowlands become too hot to attract dense settlement. The Rift Valley is part of the larger
Ethiopia is one of the oldest countries on Earth going back millennia. But Addis Ababa, the nation's sprawling capital in the highlands bordering the Great Rift Valley with 4.5 million people, belies antiquity as the country’s commercial and cultural hub.
Ethiopia has successfully embraced the 21st century with a strong economy boasting a national air carrier, rail system, and automobile manufacturing, but political strife and civil conflict continues to plague total progress.
East African Rift System. Hemmed in by the escarpments of the Western and Eastern Highlands, it has two distinct sections. The first part is in the northeast, where the valley floor widens into a funnel shape as it approaches the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. This is a relatively flat area interrupted only by occasional volcanic cones, some of which are active.
The Denakil Plain, in which a depression known as the Kobar Sink drops as low as 380 feet below sea level, is found here. High temperatures and lack of moisture make the northeastern Rift Valley unattractive for settlement. The southwestern section, on the other hand, is a narrow depression of much higher elevation. It contains Ethiopia’s Lakes Region, an internal drainage basin of many small rivers that drain into Lakes Abaya, Abiyata, Awasa, Langano, Shala, Chamo, and Ziway. Together these lakes have more than 1,200 square miles of water surface. The upper Rift Valley is one of the most productive and most settled parts of Ethiopia.
The Eastern Highlands are much smaller in extent than the Western Highlands, but they offer equally impressive contrast in topography. The highest peaks are Tullu Deemtu at 14,360 feet, and Mount Batu, at 14,127 feet. The Eastern Lowlands resemble the long train of a bridal gown suddenly dipping from the narrow band of the Eastern Highlands and gently rolling for hundreds of miles to the Somalian border. Two important regions here are the Ogaden and the Hawd. The Shebele and Genale rivers cross the lowlands, moderating the desert ecology.
Ethiopia has three principal drainage systems. The first and largest is the western drainage system, which includes the watersheds of the Blue Nile (known as the Abay in Ethiopia), the Tekeze, and the Baro rivers. All three rivers flow west to the White Nile in South Sudan and Sudan. The second is the Rift Valley internal drainage system, composed of the Awash River, the Lakes Region, and the Omo River. The Awash flows northeast to the Denakil Plain before it dissipates into a series of swamps and Lake Abe at the border with Djibouti.
The Lakes Region is a self-contained drainage basin, and the Omo flows south into Lake Turkana, on the border with Kenya. The third system is that of the Shebele and Genale rivers. Both of these rivers originate in the Eastern Highlands and flow southeast toward Somalia and the Indian Ocean. Only the Genale (known as the Jubba in Somalia) makes it to the sea; the Shebele (in Somali, Shabeelle) disappears in sand just inside the coastline.
Soils of Ethiopia
The soils of Ethiopia can be classified into five principal types. The first type is composed of euritic nitosols and andosols and is found on portions of the Western and Eastern highlands. These soils are formed from volcanic material and, with proper management, have medium to high potential for rain-fed agriculture. The second group of soils, eutric cambisols and ferric and orthic luvisols, are found in the Simien plateau of the Western Highlands. They are highly weathered with a subsurface accumulation of clay and are characterized by low nutrient retention, surface crusting, and erosion hazards. With proper management, they are of medium agricultural potential.
The third group of soils is the dark clay found in the Western Lowlands and at the foothills of the Western Highlands. Composed of vertisols, they have medium to high potential for both food and agriculture but pose tillage problems because they harden when dry and become sticky when wet. Some of the rich coffee-growing regions of Ethiopia are found on these soils.
The fourth group is composed of yermosols, xerosols, and other saline soils that cover desert areas of the Eastern Lowlands and the Denakil Plain. Because of moisture deficiency and coarse texture, they lack potential for rain-fed agriculture. However, the wetter margins are excellent for livestock, and even the drier margins respond well to irrigation. The fifth soil group is lithosols found primarily in the Denakil Plain. Lack of moisture and shallow profile preclude cultivation of these soils.
Soil erosion is a serious problem in Ethiopia. Particularly in the northern provinces, which have been settled with sedentary agriculture for millennia, population density has caused major damage to the soil’s physical base, to its organic and chemical nutrients, and to the natural vegetation cover. Even on the cool plateaus, where good volcanic soils are found in abundance, crude means of cultivation have exposed the soils to heavy seasonal rain, causing extensive gully and sheet erosion.
Because Ethiopia is located in the tropical latitudes, its areas of lower elevation experience climatic conditions typical of tropical savanna or desert. However, relief plays a significant role in moderating temperature, so higher elevations experience weather typical of temperate zones. Thus, average annual temperatures in the highlands are in the low 60s Fahrenheit, while the lowlands average in the low 80s Fahrenheit.
There are three seasons in Ethiopia. From September to February is the long dry season known as the bega; this is followed by a short rainy season, the belg, in March and April. May is a hot and dry month preceding the long rainy season (kremt) in June, July, and August. The coldest temperatures generally occur in December or January (bega) and the hottest in March, April, or May (belg). However, in many localities July has the coldest tempera- tures because of the moderating influence of rainfall.
Ethiopia can be divided into four rainfall regimes. Rain falls year-round in the southern portions of the Western Highlands, where annual precipitation may reach 80 inches (2,000 mm). Summer rainfall is received by the Eastern Highlands and by the northern portion of the Western Highlands; annual precipitation there may amount to 55 inches. The Eastern Lowlands get rain twice a year, in April–May and October-November, with two dry periods in between. Total annual precipitation varies from 20 to 40 inches. The driest of all regions is the Denakil Plain, which receives less than 20 inches and sometimes none at all.
Plant and animal life
Ethiopia’s natural vegetation is influenced by four biomes. The first is savanna, which, in wetter portions of the Western highlands, consists of montane tropical vegetation with dense, luxuriant forests and rich undergrowth. Drier sections of savanna found at lower elevations of the Western and Eastern Highlands contain tropical dry forests mixed with grassland.
The second biome is mountain vegetation; it comprises montane and temperate grasslands and covers the higher altitudes of the Western and Eastern highlands. The third biome, tropical thickets and wooded steppe, is found in the Rift Valley and Eastern Lowlands. The fourth biome is desert steppe vegetation, which covers portions of the Denakil Plain.
Ethiopia has had a rich variety of wildlife that in some cases has been reduced to a few endangered remnants. Lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes, rhinoceroses, and wild buffalo are rarities, especially in northern Ethiopia. The Rift Valley, the Omo River valley, and the Western Lowlands contain remnants of big-game varieties. Smaller game varieties such as foxes, jackals, wild dogs, and hyenas are found abundantly throughout the country.
Uniquely Ethiopian and among the most endangered species are the walia ibex of the Simien Mountains, the mountain nyala (a kind of antelope), and the Simien jackal. In addition, the gelada monkey is under threat. All four species are found in the Western and Eastern highlands in numbers ranging from a few hundred for the walia ibex to a few thousand for the others.
More-abundant varieties found in the lowlands include such antelopes as the oryx, the greater kudu, and the waterbuck, various types of monkeys including the black-and-white colobus (known as guereza in Ethiopia and hunted for its beautiful long-haired pelt), and varieties of wild pig. In order to protect remaining species, the government has set aside 20 national parks, game reserves, and sanctuaries covering a total area of 21,320 square miles—about five percent of the total area of Ethiopia. Simien Mountains National Park, home to several endangered species, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978.
Ethnic groups and languages
Ethiopians are ethnically diverse, with the most important differences on the basis of linguistic categorization. Ethiopia is a mosaic of about 100 languages that can be classified into four groups. The vast majority of languages belong to the Semitic, Cushitic, or Omotic groups, all part of the Afro-Asiatic language family. A small number of languages belong to a fourth group, Nilotic, which is part of the Nilo-Saharan language family.
The Semitic languages are spoken primarily in the northern and central parts of the country; they include Geʿez, Tigrinya, Amharic, Gurage, and Hareri. Geʿez, the ancient language of the Aksumite empire, is used today only for religious writings and worship in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Tigrinya is native to the northeastern part of the country. Amharic is one of the country’s principal languages and is native to the central and northwestern areas. Gurage and Hareri are spoken by relatively few people in the south and east.
The most prominent Cushitic languages are Oromo, Somali, and Afar. Oromo is native to the western, south- western, southern, and eastern areas of the country. Somali is dominant among inhabitants of the Ogaden and Hawd, while Afar is most common in the Denaki Plain. The Omotic languages, chief among which is Walaita, are not widespread, being spoken mostly in the densely populated areas of the extreme southwest. The Nilotic language group is native to the Western Lowlands, with Kunama speakers being dominant. Under the constitution, all Ethiopian languages enjoy official state recognition. However, Amharic is the “working language” of the federal government; together with Oromo, it is one of the two most widely spoken languages in the country. In the 1990s ethno-linguistic differences were used as the basis for restructuring Ethiopia’s administrative divisions.
Religion of Ethiopia
Christianity was introduced to Ethiopia in the 4th century, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (called Tewahdo in Ethiopia) is one of the oldest organized Christian bodies in the world. The church has long enjoyed a dominant role in the culture and politics of Ethiopia, having served as the official religion of the ruling elite until the demise of the monarchy in 1974. It also has served as the repository of Ethiopia’s literary tradition and its visual arts.
The core area of Christianity is in the highlands of northern Ethiopia, but its influence is felt in the entire country. More than two-fifths of Ethiopians follow the teachings of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. An additional 20 percent adhere to other Christian faiths, the vast majority of which are Protestant.
Islam was introduced in the 7th century and is now practiced by about one-third of Ethiopians. It is most important in the outlying regions, particularly in the Eastern Lowlands, but there are local concentrations throughout the country. Traditionally, the status of Islam has been far from equal with that of Christianity.
However, Haile Selassie I (reigned 1930-74) gave audiences to Muslim leaders and made overtures in response to their concerns, and under the Derg regime (1974-91) even more was done to give at least symbolic parity to the two faiths. Nevertheless, the perception of Ethiopia as “an island of Christianity in a sea of Islam” has continued to prevail among both highland Ethiopians and foreigners. There are some concerns among highlanders that fundamentalist Muslim movements in the region and in neighboring countries may galvanize sentiments for a greater role of Islam in Ethiopia. A small fraction of Ethiopians are animists who worship a variety of African deities. The majority of these traditionalists are speakers of Nilotic languages, such as the Kunama, and are located in the Western Lowlands.
With only about 20 percent of the population urbanized, most Ethiopians live in scattered rural communities. In order to reduce traveling distance, homesteads are generally scattered to be near farm plots. Buildings vary between circular and rectangular styles and are constructed of materials readily found within the environment. Roofs are mostly thatched, but rural households are increasingly opting for corrugated steel tops.
Modern urban centers in Ethiopia include the national capital of Addis Ababa and such regional centers as Dire Dawa (in the east), Jima (south), Nekemte (west), Dese (north-central), Gonder (northwest), and Mekele (north). Addis Ababa, founded by Menilek II in 1886, brought an end to the custom of “roving capitals” practiced by earlier monarchs. After World War II, “Addis” obtained the lion’s share of investments in industry, social services, and infrastructure, so it became the most attractive place for young people to seek opportunity. Although there has been an emphasis on decentralizing development, Addis Ababa still remains the prime destination for many migrants who are attracted by the opportunities it is perceived to offer or by its relative peace and security.
Ethiopia’s population growth rate is well above the global average and is among the highest in Africa. Birth and death rates for the country are also well above those for the world. Life expectancy is about 50 years of age, about average for the African continent but lower than that of the world. Although the general age of the population is slightly older than it was in last decades of the 20th century, Ethiopia still has a relatively young population, with more than 40 percent under age 15.
Ethiopia hosts refugees from several neighboring countries. The overwhelming majority of refugees are from Somalia, but there are also sizable numbers from Eritrea, Sudan, and South Sudan. Most have fled their countries because of conflict or famine. Conversely, there is some movement of Ethiopian refugees, most claiming political persecution and destined primarily for Kenya or the US. In addition, since the last quarter of the 20th century, many young educated Ethiopians have opted to move to the US or European countries for greater opportunities.
Internal migration has occurred for a number of reasons, including conflict and various government land-resettlement schemes.
During the 1998–2000 war with Eritrea, more than 300,000 Ethiopians in the Eritrean-Ethiopian border region were internally displaced, and, after periods of drought and famine in the early 2000s, some 300,000 people were moved from drought-prone areas to western parts of the country. Conflict between the federal government and the Tigray regional forces that began in 2020 led to the displacement of more than two million Tigrayans.
Economy of Ethiopia
Under Haile Selassie I (reigned 1930–74), Ethiopia’s economy enjoyed a modicum of free enterprise. The production and export of cash crops such as coffee were advanced, and import-substituting manufactures such as textiles and footwear were established. Especially after World War II, tourism, banking, insurance, and transport began to contribute more to the national economy.
The communist Derg regime, which ruled from 1974 to 1991, nationalized all means of production, including land, housing, farms, and industry. Faced with uncertainties on their land rights, the smallholding subsistence farmers who form the backbone of Ethiopian agriculture became reluctant to risk producing surplus foods for market. Although land has remained nationalized, conditions in rural Ethiopia have improved slightly, as the government has given considerable attention to rural development. Still, the question of land ownership has remained contentious and has hindered the development of commercial agriculture
Agriculture in Ethiopia is the foundation of the country's economy accounting for half of the GDP at 83.9 percent of exports, and 80 percent of employment. Many other economic activities depend on agriculture, including marketing, pro- cessing, and export of agricultural products. Production is mostly of a subsistence nature, and a large part of commodity exports are provided by the small agricultural cash-crop sector. The principal oilseeds, potatoes, sugar- cane, cereals, and veg- etables. Exports are nearly entirely agricultural com- modities, and coffee is the largest foreign exchange earner.
From nation to nation, the continent of Africa has some of the most beautiful women in the world, adding to its unique vitality. Ethiopia and the rest of the Horn of Africa reflect the vibrancy of this region of the world.
Beauty and splendor is a balance of nature. Ethiopia, one of the oldest civilizations on Earth is an example of this fragile balance. Below, the mighty Nile River, called the father of African rivers extending 4,132 miles, the longest in the world, courses through Ethiopia, rising south of the Equator flowing northward through northeastern Africa to drain into the Mediterranean Sea.
Camel, hyena. Nile crocodile. hippopatamus, Zebra, Ethiopia wolf, several species of avians, antelope, and baboons, still roam the nation's savannas, rivers, and lakes. Since the 1980's Ethiopia has lost 90 percent of its elephants, estimated to be less than 1,900; that number is rapidly dropping due to poaching for ivory, habitat loss, and human-elephant conflicts. The lion population is estimated to be a few hundred wild animals scattered throughout the country. Twenty lions are kept in the Addis Ababa Zoo. They belonged to a special collection of the late Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie.
Despite progress with economic reform since the 1990s, Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in Africa and the world. In 2001 Ethiopia qualified for debt relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries initiative of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, and in 2005 Ethiopia was one of several countries that benefited from 100 percent debt relief of loans from the IMF, the World Bank, and the African Development Bank.
Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Ethiopia’s most promising resource is its agricultural land. Although soil erosion, overgrazing, and deforestation have seriously damaged the plateaus, nearly half the potentially cultivable land is still available for use. Most of the reserve land is located in parts of the country that have favorable climatic conditions for intensive agriculture. In addition, Ethiopia is among the richest countries in Africa in number of livestock, including cattle. With better management of grazing lands and breeding, livestock raising has the potential to meet the demands of internal as well as export markets.
Agriculture contributes almost half of Ethiopia’s gross domestic product (GDP). There are three types of agricultural activity. The first—and by far the most important—is the subsistence smallholder sector, which produces most of the staple grains such as teff, wheat, barley, and oats (on the cooler plateaus) and sorghum, corn (maize), and millet (in warmer areas), as well as pulses such as chickpeas, peas, beans, and lentils. Farm
plots are very small, ranging from 3-6 acres. The second type of agriculture is cash cropping. Products include coffee, oilseeds, beeswax, sugarcane, and khat (qat; Catha edulis), a mild narcotic. Coffee, which is native to Ethiopia, is the single most important export. Subsistence livestock raising, the third agricultural activity, is impor- tant in the peripheral lowlands of Ethiopia. Large herds may be kept by a family as it migrates each season in search of grazing and water.
Fishing occurs on the country’s rivers and inland lakes and is primarily artisanal. Most of the fish sold locally is produced by small operators whose scale of operation and technology is inadequate for export production. Although the fishing industry is small, production more than doubled during the 1990s. The country does not engage in significant economic activity in the forestry sector.
Resources and power
The role of minerals in Ethiopia’s economy is small. Only gold and tantalum are of significance. Gold is mined at Kibre Mengist in the south, platinum at Yubdo in the west, and tantalum in the south-central part of the country. Deposits of gemstones, niobium, and soda ash are also mined, and there is potential for the exploitation of other mineral resources, including petroleum and natural gas. Also important are rock salt from the Denakil Plain and quarried building materials such as marble. Compared with its potential, this sector contributes very little to the country’s economy (less than 1 percent of GDP).
Hydroelectricity, the most important source of power for industries and major cities, is generated at several stations, including those on the Awash River, the Blue Nile River or its tributaries, the Omo River, the Gilgel Gibe River, and the Shebele River. However, these stations represent only part of Ethiopia’s full potential, and others are planned. Some hydroelectric projects have generated considerable controversy, such as the massive Gilgel Gibe III dam and power station along the Omo River, which was inaugurated in 2016, and the massive Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and power stations along the Blue Nile River, construction of which began in 2011. Filling of the dam’s reservoir, which will occur during the rainy season across several years, began in July 2020.
Most energy for domestic use in rural areas is derived primarily from firewood and charcoal, which has strained the remaining wood resources in the country. Ethiopia’s long dependence on these sources has contributed to the depletion of its trees and to the erosion of its soil. The government’s ongoing expansion of hydroelectric power generation is intended to increase access to electricity in rural areas as well as produce electricity for export to other countries. Ethiopia’s petroleum needs are met through imports, primarily from Sudan and Djibouti.
Modern manufacturing contributes about one-tenth of Ethiopia’s GDP. Products are primarily for domestic consumption. Among the most important are processed foods and beverages, textiles, tobacco, leather and footwear, and chemical products. Cottage industry and small enterprises are more important than industrial manufacturing in offering nonfarm employment and in producing a variety of consumer goods—for example, furniture, farming and construction implements, utensils, woven fabric, rugs, leathercrafts, footwear, jewelry, pottery, and baskets. Some of these products reach the tourist market.
Finance and trade
The National Bank of Ethiopia is the country’s central bank. It issues the national currency, the birr, and is also responsible for regulatory functions. There are many commercial banks, most of which are located in Addis Ababa. The Commercial Bank of Ethiopia is the largest commercial bank, with branches throughout the country. The Development Bank of Ethiopia provides loans for agricultural and livestock development and investment in manufacturing. Since the end of the 20th century, more financial institutions have begun extending loans for business and real-estate development.
Ethiopia’s exports are almost entirely agricultural. Coffee is the primary foreign-exchange earner; other exported products include khat, hides and skins, live animals, oilseeds, and gold. Manufactures, especially machinery and transport equipment, and chemical products account for much of the value of imports; food products, and fuels are also important. Significant trading partners include Saudi Arabia, China, and the US. With more being spent on imports than earned from exports, Ethiopia’s balance of payments has been negative for many years.
The services sector, primarily tourism, contributes to about two-fifths of Ethiopia’s GDP. Although tourism was curtailed during the period of Derg rule, Ethiopia once again promotes the tourist potential of such historical wonders as the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela the antiquities at Aksum, and the Gonder castles. Of equal attraction are Ethiopia’s diverse peoples, their intriguing cultures, and the natural beauty of their land. Unfortu- nately, potential has been limited because of a lack of tourism infrastructure and continuing political instability in the country. The 1998-2000 conflict with Eritrea and lingering tensions have discouraged tourists from visiting places such as Aksum, one of the most attractive destinations in northern Ethiopia.
Labor and taxation
Ethiopian law allows all workers, with the exception of civil servants, to form and participate in unions. The Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions, an umbrella organization of several autonomous federations, is the largest labour organization. Also prominent is the Ethiopian Teachers’ Association. Tax revenue typically contributes to more than half the government’s budget. Improvements made in the late 1990s to methods of tax collection have contributed to an increase in tax revenue. Important taxes include import duties, income and profit tax, and sales tax.
Transportation and telecommunications
Among the more successful developments in Ethiopia has been the road system. During the brief Italian occupation of 1935-41, highways linking Addis Ababa to the provinces were opened up, and after World War II the Imperial Highway Authority opened new feeder roads to isolated localities. Road construction and maintenance slowed during the periods of conflict in the 1980s and ’90s. In 1997 the government embarked on an ambitious long-term road-development program and in the following decades constructed new roads and made repairs to the country’s existing road network.
With the 1994 secession of Eritrea, Ethiopia lost direct access to the Red Sea ports of Aseb and Mitsiwa. This loss placed greater importance on the Djibouti-to-Addis Ababa railway, which was originally built between 1897 and 1917 by a French company and was jointly operated by the governments of Djibouti and Ethiopia. The railway fell into disrepair, however, and, in the early 21st century, in spite of ongoing attempts to implement repairs, large portions of the tracks were unusable at any given time.
The railway’s limited functionality curtailed passenger and freight traffic until finally, by late 2010, trains had stopped traveling on any part of it. In the following years a new electrified rail line was constructed along the route of the old track; it was completed in 2016. The rail line, which was capable of handling cargo trains at speeds of up to 75 miles per hour and passenger trains at up to 100 miles per hour, substantially reduced the travel time between Djibouti city and Addis Ababa. The construction of the railway was part of a long-term plan by the Ethiopian government to create an expansive rail network across the country. A light-rail mass transit system in Addis Ababa was completed in 2015.
Ethiopia’s air transport system has enjoyed a success unparalleled in Africa. There are numerous airports located throughout the country. The internal network of Ethiopian Airlines (EA), a state-owned but independently operated carrier, is well developed, connecting major cities and locations of tourist interest. Its international network pro- vides excellent service to destinations throughout the world. Bole International Airport, near Addis Ababa, serves EA and other international airlines and is also an acknowledged center for pilot training and aircraft maintenance.
Telecommunications systems in Ethiopia are rather underdeveloped. Use of landline and mobile phones is not widespread, although mobile phone usage is increasing. Internet usage is limited. Since the late 1990s the government has actively worked to expand.
Ethiopia’s ancient system of feudal government experienced significant changes under Haile Selassie I (reigned 1930-74), who carefully grafted onto the traditional governing institutions a weak parliament of appointed and elected legislators, a judiciary with modernized civil and criminal codes and a hierarchy of courts, and an executive cabinet of ministers headed by a prime minister but answerable to the emperor.
The Derg took power in 1974 and promised to bring revolutionary change to Ethiopia. Promulgating itself as the Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC) and later as the Workers’ Party of Ethiopia (WPE), the Derg instituted a Soviet-style government with a state president and a house of deputies that were answerable to a revolutionary council with a politburo at the top. In May 1991 the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) entered the capital.
The EPRDF introduced a temporary constitution called the National Charter, created an 87-member assembly known as the State Council, and proceeded to form a cabinet for the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE). The TGE endorsed the secession of Eritrea, realigned provincial boundaries in an attempt to create ethnic homogenates, demobilized the national armed forces, and suspended the courts and enforcing agencies.
The TGE was replaced by the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, which was established by a constitution adopted in 1994 but not promulgated until after the federal elections of 1995. The new constitution stated that “sovereignty resides in the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia” rather than in the people as a whole and granted each nation, nationality, or people rights of self-determination, up to and including secession.
Under the constitution the government is a republic with a powerful prime minister as head of government and a titular president as head of state. The legislature is bicameral, with a House of Peoples’ Representatives (lower chamber) and a House of the Federation (upper chamber). Members of the former are directly elected to a five-year term, while members of the latter, who also serve a five-year term, can be either selected by state councils or directly elected if state councils exercise the option to hold an election. The ruling party in the House of Peoples’ Representatives designates a prime minister. It also nominates a candidate for the presidency, who is then subject to a vote by both legislative houses. The president serves a six-year term.
The 1994 constitution created ethnically based kililoch (regional states; singular kilil)—Afar, Amhara, Benishangul Gumuz, Gambella, Harari, Oromia, Somali, Tigray, and Southern Nations, Nationalities and People (SNNP)—and two self-governing administrations, the cities of Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa. Each regional state is headed by a president elected by the state council, and the cities are headed by a chairman. Voters in a 2019 referendum overwhelmingly supported creation of a new kilil for the Sidamo people, which would be split from the SNNP kilil.
Justice, and the political process
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. The federal court system is headed by the Supreme Court; there are also a High Court and Courts of First Instance. Each state has a parallel court system. There is universal suffrage for Ethiopian citizens age 18 and older. All nations, nationalities, and peoples are guaranteed the right to participate in government, and each group is represented by at least one member in the House of the Federation. Some one-fifth of the seats in the House of Peoples’ Representatives are designated for underrepresented minorities.
Despite these measures, however, in practice each group is not proportionally represented. Women also participate in the political process, although representation tends to be disproportionate. In the 2000s women held about one-fifth of the seats in both legislative houses. In addition, some women also served as cabinet ministers and as justices of the Supreme Court.
The EPRDF, a coalition comprising primarily Amhara, Oromo, and Tigray parties, was the ruling party since the formation of the new republic in 1995—until the party was dissolved in 2019. It was replaced by the Prosperity Party, which included some Amhara and Oromo groups that had been part of the EPRDF as well as several smaller regional ethnic-based parties. Other political parties include the National Movement of Amhara, Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice, and Gedeo People’s Democratic Organization.
The country’s military, the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), is among the largest on the African continent. The army is by far the largest contingent; in addition, there is a small air force. ENDF troops have participated in several international missions as United Nations Peacekeeping Forces.
Health and welfare
Ethiopia’s health care system includes primary health centers, clinics, and hospitals. Only major cities have hospitals with full-time physicians, and most of the hospitals are in Addis Ababa. Access to modern health care is very limited, and in many rural areas it is virtually nonexistent. The infant mortality rate is almost twice that of the world average. Common health concerns are lower respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases, and HIV/AIDS. Ethiopia’s HIV/AIDS adult prevalence is above the world average and slightly above that of neighboring countries, although it is lower than that of many other African countries. In Ethiopia the prevalence is higher in urban areas and among young women and girls.
Most health facilities are government owned. Progress in health care in Ethiopia suffered during the Derg era, when many of the country’s doctors either emigrated or simply failed to return from specialized training abroad. Despite the fall of the Derg regime in 1991, this trend has not been reversed. Medical schools in the country continue to produce general practitioners and a few specialists, but the scale of output does not match the rising demand. Shortages of equipment and drugs are persistent problems in the country. Widespread use of traditional healing, including such specialized occupations as bone-setting, midwifery, and minor surgery (including circumcision), continues to be important.
Ethiopia maintains two educational systems. The traditional system is rooted in Christianity and Islam. Christian education at the primary level is often conducted by clergy in the vicinity of places of worship. Higher education, with emphasis on traditional Christian dogma, is still run by most major centers of worship, the most prominent being monasteries in the northern and northwestern parts of the country. Graduation from these centers leads to a position within the priesthood and church hierarchy.
Modern education was an innovation of the emperors Menilek II (reigned 1889–1913) and Haile Selassie I (1930-74), who established an excellent, though limited, system of primary and secondary education. In addition, colleges of liberal arts, technology, public health, building, law, social work, business, agriculture, and theology were opened in the 1950s and ’60s.
Public education is free at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. Primary education is offered for eight years and is compulsory between ages 7 and 12. Four years of secondary education, comprising two two-year cycles, follow. Primary schools are generally accessible, and there is a high rate of enrollment; in contrast, there is a shortage of secondary schools, and enrollment declines at that level. The public school system in general has deteriorated from lack of adequate funding, teaching staff, facilities, and space. Overcrowding is common.
The country’s oldest university, Addis Ababa University, was founded in 1950 as University College of Addis Ababa. In 1961 it was restructured and renamed Haile Selassie I University, and in 1975 it adopted its present name. Other universities in Ethiopia include Alemaya University in Dire Dawa, Debub University in Awassa, and universities in Jimma, Mekele, and Bahir Dar. Literacy rates in Ethiopia are much lower than regional and world averages. About half the male population is literate; literacy rate estimates for the female population range from about one-third to two-fifths.
The cultural heritage of Ethiopians resides in their religions, languages, and extended families. All major language and religious groups have their own cultural practices (which also vary by geographic location); however, there are commonalities that form strong and recognizable national traits. Most Ethiopians place less importance on artifacts of culture than they do on an idealized ethos of cultural refinement as reflected in a respect for human sanctity, the practice of social graces, and the blessings of accumulated wisdom.
Religion provides the basic tenets of morality. The invocation of God is often all that is needed to seal agreements, deliver on promises, and seek justifiable redress. Hospitality is reckoned the ultimate expression of grace in social relations. Old age earns respect and prominence in society, especially because of the piety, wisdom, knowledge, prudence, and altruism that it is supposed to bestow.
The influence of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church on the national culture has been strong. Easter (Amharic: Yetinsa-e Be-al, or Fassika), Christmas (Yelidet Be-al, or Genna), and the Finding of the True Cross (Meskel) have become dominant national holidays. In an effort to reduce the dominance of Christianity, both the Derg and the EPRDF-led government have elevated the status of Islam. Major Islamic holidays include Eid al-Fit (ending the fast of Ramadan) and Eid al-Adha (ending the period of pilgrimage to Mecca). Nondenominational holidays include National Day on May 28, in observance of the 1991 defeat of the Derg regime, and Workers’ Day May 1.
Ethiopia’s distinctive cuisine has gained a worldwide reputation. Its most typical dishes are wats and alechas, stews redolent with spices and aromatic vegetables. The wat is further enhanced by the addition of berbere, a complex seasoning paste made incendiary by dried hot chilies. The wat or alecha may contain beef, goat, lamb, chicken, hard-boiled eggs, or fish. Berbere and other spice pastes enliven many dishes. A spiced clarified butter, niter kebbeh, is widely used to flavor sautéed foods. Since the Ethiopian Orthodox Church mandates abstaining from meat on as many as 250 days a year, vegetarian dishes form an important part of Ethiopian cuisine. Legumes such as lentils or chickpeas appear in many guises. Other popular dishes include kitfo, chopped raw beef served with berbere.
A traditional Ethiopian meal is served on a communal platter covered with thin sheets of injera, a soft flat-bread prepared from a slightly fermented batter made from teff, a type of millet. The spongy injera serves as both plate and utensil; it is topped with meat and vegetable stews. Ayib, a fresh soft cheese similar to cottage cheese, serves to temper the heat of the spicy dishes. Each diner tears off a piece of injera and uses it to scoop up a morsel of one or more dishes and their sauces. One diner may feed an injera-wrapped morsel to another, a practice called gursha. Tej, a honey-based wine, or beer accompanies the meal, and coffee sweetened with honey concludes it. Tea is grown in Ethiopia and is also a popular beverage.
Traditional Ethiopian music is as diverse as the country’s population. Many of the songs in the Amharic language incorporate a layered meaning that is described as “gold and wax.” Such songs can be interpreted as having both a spiritual theme (gold) and a meaning that is more personal and earthy (wax). The poet Mary Armede is an accomplished contemporary practitioner of this style. Influences of foreign music have been very selective, though brass ensembles and soul music have made an important impact. The celebrated Wallias and Roha bands are popular, as are singers Neway Debebe and Netsanet Mellesse.
Ethiopian literature, which has a long tradition, is written primarily either in classical Geʿez or in Amharic. The earliest extant literary works in Geʿez are translations of Christian religious writings from Greek, which may have influenced their style and syntax. During the 16th century, Amharic, then the principal spoken language, began to be used for literary purposes. Geʿez poetry (qene) flourished in the 18th century and has since continued to be practiced at many monasteries.
After Ethiopia regained its independence from Italy in 1941, authors were encouraged to write with an emphasis on moral and patriotic themes, and there was a focus on Amharic literature. Notable writers during this period include Makonnen Endalkachew, who produced allegorical novels and plays, Kebede Mikael, known for verse dramas, and Tekle Tsodeq Makuria, known for histories.
Most cultural institutions, including the National Museum of Ethiopia, the Museum of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, and the National Library and Archive of Ethiopia, are located in Addis Ababa. Evidence of Ethiopia’s rich cultural history is also found throughout the country at various sites, several of which have been designated UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The lower valleys of both the Awash and Omo rivers are home to several paleoanthropological sites that have yielded remains that provide evidence for the theory of human evolution. One of the best-known fossil remains is a partially complete female skeleton popularly known as “Lucy,” which was discovered at the Hadar site in the lower Awash River valley. Tiya, south of Addis Ababa, is an archaeological site that contains more than 30 monuments from an ancient Ethiopian culture.
The city of Aksum, once the seat of an ancient kingdom of the same name, is home to obelisks, castle ruins, and tombs, some of which date back to the first century CE. Ethiopia’s long Christian tradition is evident in several rock-hewn churches, dating back to the 13th century, situated in the landscape of Lalibela. The historical town of Harar Jungol in southern Ethiopia developed into an important centre of Islamic culture and trade by the 16th century; its architecture and layout are notable for their unique blend of African and Islamic influences. The fortress city of Fasil Ghebbi in Gonder includes the remains of castles and palaces constructed by a series of emperors during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Sports and recreation
Ethiopia is best known for its excellence in track events, and the international triumphs of Ethiopian runners have lifted the spirits of a people deeply aggrieved by the effects of political conflicts, social upheaval, and environ- mental disasters. The country’s Olympic debut came at the 1956 Melbourne Games, but it was Abebe Bikila’s epic barefooted Olympic marathon victory through the streets of Rome in 1960 that thrust Ethiopian athletes into the global sporting limelight.
By winning at the 1964 Tokyo Games (this time wearing shoes), he became the first athlete to win consecutive Olympic marathons. At the 1968 Mexico City Games, Ethiopia claimed a third consecutive marathon gold on the performance of Mamo Wolde. Miruts Yifter won gold medals in the men’s 5,000- and 10,000-meter events at the 1980 Moscow Games. (Ethiopia joined boycotts of both the 1976 and 1984 Summer Games.)
Haile Gebrselassie was the dominant long-distance runner of the 1990s and captured the gold medal in the 10,000-meter event at both the 1996 Atlanta Games and the 2000 Sydney Games. Millon Wolde and Gezanhegne Abera also took gold medals at the Sydney Games, in the 5,000-metre race and the marathon, respectively. Kenenisa Bekele dominated in the 2000s, taking the gold medal in the 10,000-meter race in the 2004 Athens Games and in the 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter events at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Ethiopian women also enjoy an impressive record. Derartu Tulu captured the gold medal in the 10,000-meter events at both the 1992 Barcelona Games and the 2000 Sydney Games, and Fatuma Roba won the marathon gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Prominent female Ethiopian runners in the 2000s include Tulu’s cousin, Tirunesh Dibaba, who won the gold medal in the 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter events at the 2008 Beijing Games, and Meseret Defar, who broke three world records in 2007.
Ethiopia was instrumental in the organization of postcolonial African soccer, thanks to the efforts of Ydnekatchew Tessema. Tessema, former player for the St. George football team of Addis Ababa, was a founding member and guiding force of the African Football Confederation from 1957 until his death in 1987. In the 1960s Ethiopia was a force in African football, seizing the 1962 African Nations Cup held in Addis Ababa and finishing fourth in 1963 and 1968. Star forward Worku Menghistu personified the golden age of Ethiopian football and was a national hero in the 1960s. After 1970, football in Ethiopia entered a period of steady decline.
Media and publishing
Although there has been much growth in the area of media and publishing since the fall of the Derg regime in 1991, there are still some limitations. Freedom of the press is provided for under the constitution, but the current government has not always respected these rights in practice. Media personnel have been harassed and arrested, and many journalists typically practice self-censorship. The government essentially has control over all broadcast media.
Ethiopian daily newspapers include two state-owned publications, Addis Zemen (Amharic) and the Ethiopian Herald (English), and the independent Daily Monitor (English). There are many other periodicals, including Captial, a business weekly (English), and the weekly Ethiopian Reporter (English and Amharic).
Radio is the most popular medium of choice, and there are several radio stations that broadcast in Ethiopia. The state-owned Radio Ethiopia offers programming in several Ethiopian languages as well as in Arabic, French, and English. The state also operates a television station, Ethiopian Television.
Jarrette Fellows, Jr. / Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License