From New World Encyclopedia
የኢትዮጵያ ፌዴራላዊ
ዲሞክራሲያዊ ሪፐብሊክ

ye-Ītyōṗṗyā Fēdēralāwī Dīmōkrāsīyāwī Rīpeblīk
Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Flag of Ethiopia Coat of arms of Ethiopia
AnthemWodefit Gesgeshi, Widd Innat Ityopp'ya
("March Forward, Dear Mother Ethiopia")
Location of Ethiopia
(and largest city)
Addis Ababa
9°1.8′N 38°44.4′E
Official languages Amharic[1]
Recognized regional languages Other languages official amongst the different ethnicities and their respective regions.
Ethnic groups 
  • Oromo 34.5%
  • Amhara 26.9%
  • Somali 6.2%
  • Tigray 6.1%
  • Sidama 4.%
  • Gurage 2.5%
  • Welayta 2.3%
  • Hadiya 1.7%
  • Afar 1.7%
  • Gamo 1.5%
  • Gedeo 1.3%
  • Other 11.3%<[1]
  • Demonym Ethiopian
    Government Federal parliamentary republic1
     -  President Sahle-Work Zewde
     -  Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali
     -  Traditional date 980 BC 
     -  Current constitution 1991 
     -  Total 1,104,300 km² (27th)
    426,371 sq mi 
     -  Water (%) 0.7
     -  2016 estimate 102,403,196[2] (12th)
     -  2007 census 73,750,932[3] 
     -  Density 92.7/km² (123rd)
    240.1/sq mi
    GDP (PPP) 2018 estimate
     -  Total $216.449 billion[4] 
     -  Per capita $2,299.26[4] 
    GDP (nominal) 2018 estimate
     -  Total $87.303 billion[4] 
     -  Per capita $927.39[4] 
    Gini (2011) 33.6[5] 
    Currency Birr (ETB)
    Time zone EAT (UTC+3)
     -  Summer (DST) not observed (UTC+3)
    Internet TLD .et
    Calling code +251
    1 According to The Economist in its Democracy Index, Ethiopia is a "hybrid regime," with a dominant-party system led by the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front.

    Ethiopia, officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country situated in the Horn of Africa. It has one of the most extensive known histories as an independent nation on the continent, or indeed in the world, and is also one of the founders of the United Nations. Unique among African countries, Ethiopia maintained independence during the European scramble for African colonies, and continued to do so except for a five-year period (1936-1941) when it was under Italian occupation.

    The long reign of monarchs came to an end in 1974, when a pro-Soviet Marxist-Leninist military junta, the "Derg," deposed Emperor Haile Selassie and established a one-party communist state. After nearly two decades of terror and famine, in 1991 Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam was defeated by a coalition of rebel forces and fled to exile in Zimbabwe. The government that replaced the Derg has taken steps to liberalize the economy and the political environment, though there is still plenty of room for improvement.

    The Ethiopian economy is based on agriculture, which contributes 47 percent to GNP and employs 85 percent of the population. The major export crop is coffee. Indeed, it grows wild in the southwest region, which is believed to be the original source of the bean.


    Ethiopia, at 435,071 square miles (1,127,127 sq km) in size, makes up the major portion of the Horn of Africa, which is the easternmost part of the African landmass. Bordering Ethiopia are Sudan to the west, Djibouti and Eritrea to the north, Somalia to the east, and Kenya to the south. Addis Ababa, the capital, has an estimated population of three million. Its altitude of 8,000 feet ensures a temperate climate. It hosts several international agencies, such as the World Health Organization.

    Satellite image of Ethiopia
    Map of Ethiopia

    Two massive highland regions are a complex of mountains and plateaus separated by the Great Rift Valley, which runs generally southwest to northeast. Elevations in the western region, known as the Amhara Plateau, range from 7,800 to 12,000 feet (2,377-3,658 m). The Somali Plateau, to the east of the Great Rift Valley, has peaks that reach 13,000 feet (3,962 m). The valley itself ranges from 25 to 40 miles wide. In the north it contains the Denakil Depression, a desert area 380 feet (116 m) below sea level. The lowlands are located chiefly in the north-central and eastern parts of the country. Most of the population lives in the highlands because of the cooler temperature and more abundant water, swept in by warm, moist winds from the Indian Ocean. In the southwest, a combination of low elevation and high rainfall produces rainforests and a climate conducive to experimenting with crops.

    The Great Rift Valley contains a chain of lakes, including Lake Tana, the largest in Ethiopia. A spring just north of Lake Tana is considered the source of the Blue Nile, which cascades through deep gorges into Sudan and then joins with the White Nile to form the Nile River.

    The great diversity of terrain, the most rugged in Africa, results in wide variations in climate, soils, natural vegetation, and settlement patterns.

    Climate and ecology

    Elevation produces three climatic zones: the cool zone above 7,900 ft (2,400 m), where temperatures range from near freezing to 32°–61°F (16°C); the temperate zone at elevations of 4,900—7,900 ft (1,500 to 2,400 m) with temperatures from 61°–86°F (16°C–30°C); and the hot zone below 4,900 ft (1,500 m) with both tropical and arid conditions and daytime temperatures ranging from 81°–122°F (27°C–50°C). The normal rainy season is from mid-June to mid-September (longer in the southern highlands) preceded by intermittent showers from February or March; the remainder of the year is generally dry.

    Ethiopia has a large number of endemic species, notably the Gelada baboon, the Walia ibex (a rare mountain goat), and the Ethiopian wolf (or Simien fox). Jackals, wild dogs, and hyenas, as well as foxes, are common. Antelopes and monkeys are found in the lowlands. Crocodiles, hippopotamuses, and other reptiles and fish are found in the rivers and lakes. Eagles, flamingos, and hawks can be seen in the Great Rift Valley, but other birds include the egret, hornbill, ibis, ostrich, pelican, stork, and vulture.



    Some of the earliest known fossils of hominids have been found in Ethiopia, including the skeleton known as "Lucy" and others dated back five million years. The area is therefore often credited with being the origin of mankind. Bones discovered in eastern Ethiopia date back 3.2 million years. Ethiopia is described in the writings of the Greek historian, Herodotus, of the fifth century B.C.E.

    Other archaeological evidence, including stone tools and artifacts such as decorated ceramics, have also been discovered, attesting to the long period of human habitation in the region. Agriculture developed during the Neolithic period. The nation is also the oldest independent country in Africa and one of the oldest in the world.


    The English name "Ethiopia" is thought to be derived from the Greek word Aithiopia, from Aithiops ‘an Ethiopian’, derived from Greek terms meaning "of burnt visage." This etymology is disputed, however. The Book of Aksum, a chronicle composed in the fifteenth century, states that the name is derived from "Ityopp'is," a son (unmentioned in the Bible) of Cush, son of Ham, who according to legend founded the city of Axum.

    According to legend, the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon are the ancestors of a line of monarchs that continued, with two brief interruptions, until modern times. Their son, Menelik, was declared king by his father, and those claiming to be his descendants continued the dynasty until it was overthrown in 1974.

    The rise of sizable populations with a writing system dates back to at least 800 B.C.E. Proto-Ethiopian script inlaid on stone tablets has been found in the highlands, notably in the town of Yeha. The origin of this civilization is a point of contention. The traditional theory states that immigrants from the Arabian peninsula settled in northern Ethiopia, bringing with them their language, proto-Ethiopian (or Sabean), which has also been discovered on the eastern side of the Red Sea.

    This theory of the origin of Ethiopian civilization is being challenged. A new theory states that both sides of the Red Sea were a single cultural unit and that the rise of civilization in the Ethiopian highlands was not a product of diffusion and colonization from southern Arabia but a cultural exchange in which the people of Ethiopia played a vital and active role. During this time period, waterways such as the Red Sea were virtual highways, resulting in cultural and economic exchange. The Red Sea connected people on both coasts and produced a single cultural unit that included Ethiopia and Yemen, which over time diverged into different cultures. It is only in Ethiopia that proto-Ethiopian script developed and survives today in Ge'ez, Tigrean, and Amharic.

    In the first century C.E., the ancient city of Axum became a political, economic, and cultural center in the region. The Axumites dominated the Red Sea trade by the third century. By the fourth century they were one of only four nations in the world, along with Rome, Persia, and the Kushan Kingdom in northern India, to issue gold coinage.

    The Kingdom of Axum was a cultural and trading center. At various times, including a period in the sixth century, Axum controlled most of modern-day Yemen, some of southern Saudi Arabia just across the Red Sea, as well as northern Sudan, northern Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and northern Somalia.

    However, the Axumite Empire eventually declined as a result of the spread of Islam, resulting in a loss of control over the Red Sea as well as a depletion of natural resources in the region that left the environment unable to support the population. The political center shifted southward to the mountains of Lasta (now Lalibela).

    Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum, where it is believed by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church that the Ark of the Covenant lies.

    It was in the early fourth century C.E. that a Syro-Greek castaway, Frumentius, was taken to the court and eventually converted King Ezana to Christianity, thereby making it the official religion. As Islam made its appearance on the coast, Christians retreated into the highlands and consolidated their authority there, establishing Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity as the state religion.

    Most historians regard Yekunno Amlak as the founder of the Solomonic dynasty. In the process of legitimizing his rule, the emperor reproduced and possibly created the Kebra Nagast (Glory of the Kings), which is regarded as the national epic. The "Glory of the Kings" is a blend of local and oral traditions, Old and New Testament themes, apocryphal text, and Jewish and Muslim commentaries. The epic was compiled by six Tigrean scribes, who claimed to have translated the text from Arabic into Ge'ez. Contained within its central narrative is the account of Solomon and Sheba, an elaborate version of the story found in I Kings of the Bible. In the Ethiopian version, King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba have a child named Menelik (whose name is derived from the Hebrew ben-melech meaning "son of the king"), who establishes a duplicate Jewish empire in Ethiopia. In establishing this empire, Menelik I brings the Ark of the Covenant with him, along with the eldest sons of the Israeli nobles. He is crowned the first emperor of Ethiopia, the founder of the Solomonic dynasty.

    From this epic, a national identity emerged as God's new chosen people, heir to the Jews. The Solomonic emperors are descended from Solomon, and the Ethiopian people are the descendants of the sons of the Israeli nobles. The descent from Solomon was so essential to the nationalistic tradition and monarchical domination that Haile Selassie incorporated it into the country's first constitution in 1931, exempting the emperor from state law by virtue of his "divine" genealogy.

    Both the Orthodox Church and the monarchy fostered nationalism. In the epilogue of the Glory of the Kings, Christianity is brought to Ethiopia and adopted as the "rightful" religion. Thus, the empire was genealogically descended from the great Hebrew kings but "righteous" in its acceptance of the word of Jesus Christ.

    The Solomonic monarchy had a variable degree of political control over Ethiopia from the time of Yekunno Amlak in 1270 until Haile Selassie's dethroning in 1974.

    Other than contacts with Portugal that enabled Ethiopia to turn back Muslim invaders in 1527, few Europeans arrived in Ethiopia until the nineteenth century.

    Fasilides' Castle in Gondar, Amhara Region.

    All this contributed to Ethiopia's isolation from 1755 to 1855, called the "Age of Princes." The emperors became figureheads controlled by regional warlords. Ethiopian isolationism ended following a British mission that concluded an alliance between the two nations; however, it was not until the reign of Emperor Tewodros II, who began modernizing Ethiopia and recentralizing power in the emperor, that Ethiopia began to take part in world affairs again.

    In the 1880s, the Italians began to vie with the British for influence in bordering regions. Assab, a port near the southern entrance of the Red Sea, was bought from the local Afar sultan, vassal to the Ethiopian emperor, in 1870 by an Italian company, which by 1890 led to establishment of the Italian colony of Eritrea. Conflicts between the two countries resulted in the Battle of Adowa in 1896, when the Ethiopians surprised the world by defeating the colonial power and remaining independent, under the rule of Menelik II. The early twentieth century was marked by the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie I, who undertook the rapid modernization of Ethiopia. Haile Selassi's application to join the League of Nations in 1919 was rejected, because the institution of slavery was still strong in Ethiopia, and was not eliminated until 1923. Ethiopian sovereignty was interrupted only by the brief Italian occupation (1936–1941). British and patriot Ethiopian troops liberated the Ethiopian homeland in 1941, which was followed by sovereignty on January 31, 1941, and British recognition of full sovereignty (i.e., without any special British privileges) with the signing of the Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement in December 1944.

    The Derg

    Haile Selassie's reign came to an end in 1974, when a pro-Soviet Marxist-Leninist military junta, the "Derg," deposed him and established a one-party communist state. Derg is the short name of the Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police, and Territorial Army, a committee of military officers that ruled the country from 1974 until 1987. Between 1975 and 1977, the Derg executed and imprisoned tens of thousands of its opponents without trial.

    Mengistu Haile Mariam gained undisputed leadership of the Derg, which in 1987 was formally dissolved and the country became the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia under a new constitution. Many of the Derg members remained in key government posts and as members of the Central Committee and the Politburo of the Workers' Party of Ethiopia (WPE), which became Ethiopia's civilian version of the Eastern bloc communist parties. Mengistu became secretary general of the WPE and president of the country, as well as remaining commander in chief of the armed forces.

    Ethiopa where the Blue Nile emerges from Lake Tara.

    Mismanagement, corruption, and general hostility to the Derg's violent rule was coupled with the draining effects of constant warfare with the separatist guerrilla movements in Eritrea and Tigray, resulting in a drastic fall in general productivity of food and cash crops. Although Ethiopia is prone to chronic droughts, no one was prepared for the scale of drought and famine that struck the country in the mid-1980s. Hundreds of thousands fled economic misery, conscription, and political repression and went to live in neighboring countries and all over the Western world, creating an Ethiopian diaspora.

    Close to eight million people became famine victims during the drought of 1984, and over one million died. The Ethiopian government's inability or unwillingness to deal with the 1984-1985 famine provoked universal condemnation by the international community. The primary government response was uprooting large numbers of peasants who lived in the affected areas in the north and resettling them in the south. Several human rights organizations claimed that tens of thousands of peasants died as a result of forced resettlement.

    Beginning in 1985, peasants were forced to move their homesteads into planned villages, which were clustered around water, schools, medical services, and utility supply points to facilitate distribution of those services. Many peasants fled rather than acquiesce in relocation, which in general proved highly unpopular. Additionally, the government in most cases failed to provide the promised services. Far from benefiting agricultural productivity, the program caused a decline in food production.

    In 1977 Somalians attacked Ethiopia in the Ogaden War, but Ethiopia quickly defeated them with a massive influx of Soviet military hardware, direct Cuban military presence, coupled with East German and South Yemeni military assistance. Despite accruing one of the largest armies in Africa due to benevolent military assistance from East Bloc countries, an unending insurgency in the then provinces of Eritrea and Tigray, a major drought in 1985 and regime changes in the former Socialist Bloc culminated in the Derg regime being defeated in 1991 by the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) in the far north, and elsewhere by the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a loose coalition of rebel forces mainly dominated by the Tigrean People's Liberation Front.

    Return to democracy

    In 1993, the province of Eritrea became independent from Ethiopia, following a referendum, ending more than thirty years of armed conflict, one of the longest in Africa.

    In 1994, a constitution was adopted that led to Ethiopia's first multiparty elections the following year. In May 1998, a dispute over the undemarcated border with Eritrea led to the Eritrean-Ethiopian War that lasted until June 2000.

    On May 15, 2005, Ethiopia held another multiparty election, which resulted in the EPRDF's return to power, although a much larger group of opposition parliamentarians was elected.

    The irredentist claims of the extremist-controlled Council of Islamic Courts (CIC) in Somalia in 2006 posed a legitimate security threat to Ethiopia and to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia. In December 2006, the TFG requested the assistance of the Ethiopian military to respond to the CIC's aggression. Within a few weeks, joint Ethiopian-TFG forces routed the CIC from Somalia, and the deployment of the African Union's Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in March 2007 began to provide security in Mogadishu to allow for the quick withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia.

    The Somali-speaking Muslims who live in the Ogaden region continue to press the government for independence. The Ogaden National Liberation Front engages in periodic fighting with the Ethiopian military and in April 2007 killed 65 soldiers and nine Chinese workers at a Chinese-run oilfield near the Somali border.

    Human rights abuses reported by the U.S. State Department during 2006 included: limitation on citizens' right to change their government during the elections; unlawful killings, and beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly those suspected of sympathizing with or being members of the opposition; detention of thousands without charge and lengthy pretrial detention; infringement on citizens' privacy rights and frequent refusal to follow the law regarding search warrants; restrictions on freedom of the press; arrest, detention, and harassment of journalists for publishing articles critical of the government; restrictions on freedom of assembly; limitations on freedom of association; violence and societal discrimination against women and abuse of children; female genital mutilation (FGM); exploitation of children for economic and sexual purposes; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination against persons with disabilities and religious and ethnic minorities; and government interference in union activities.


    The election of Ethiopia's 547-member constituent assembly was held in June 1994. This assembly adopted the constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in December 1994. The elections for Ethiopia's first popularly chosen national parliament and regional legislatures were held in May and June 1995. Most opposition parties chose to boycott these elections. There was a landslide victory for the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). International and non-governmental observers concluded that opposition parties would have been able to participate had they chosen to do so.

    When the government was installed in August 1995, the first president was Negasso Gidada. The EPRDF-led government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi promoted a policy of ethnic federalism, devolving significant powers to regional, ethnically based authorities.

    Ethiopia today has nine semi-autonomous administrative regions that have the power to raise and spend their own revenues. Under the present government, Ethiopians enjoy greater political participation and freer debate than ever before in their history, although some fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the press, are, in practice, somewhat circumscribed.

    Since 1991, Ethiopia has established warm relations with the United States and western Europe and has sought substantial economic aid from Western countries and World Bank. In 2004, the government began a drive to move more than two million people away from the arid highlands of the east on the grounds that these resettlements would reduce food shortages.

    Foreign relations

    Since World War II, Ethiopia has played an active role in world and African affairs. Ethiopia was a charter member of the United Nations and took part in UN operations in Korea in 1951 and the Congo in 1960. Former Emperor Haile Selassie was a founder of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now the African Union (AU), which is based in Addis Ababa. The capital also hosts the UN Economic Commission for Africa. Ethiopia is also a member of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a Horn of Africa regional grouping.

    Although nominally a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, after the 1974 revolution Ethiopia moved into a close relationship with the Soviet Union and its allies and supported their international policies and positions until the change of government in 1991. Today, Ethiopia has very good relations with the United States and the West, especially in responding to regional instability and supporting the war on terrorism and, increasingly, through economic involvement.

    Ethiopia's relations with Eritrea remain tense. Although talks on resolving the border issue are continuing, thus far the parties have not agreed on a final demarcation. The UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) peacekeeping mission patrols a 25-kilometer-wide Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) within Eritrea separating the two countries.

    Ethiopia has also entered into a loose tripartite partnership of (nonmilitary) cooperation with Sudan and Yemen.


    The Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) numbers about 200,000 personnel, which makes it one of the largest militaries in Africa. During the 1998-2000 border war with Eritrea, the ENDF's mobilized strength reached approximately 350,000. Since the end of the war, some 150,000 soldiers have been demobilized. The ENDF continues a transition from its roots as a guerrilla army to an all-volunteer professional military organization with the aid of the United States and other countries. Training in peacekeeping operations, professional military education, military training management, counterterrorism operations, and military medicine are among the major programs sponsored by the United States. Ethiopia has one peacekeeping contingent in Liberia.

    Administrative divisions

    Ethiopia has a tiered system consisting of a federal government, ethnically based regional states, zones, woredas (districts), and kebeles (neighborhoods). There are nine ethnically based administrative regions, subdivided into 68 zones, two chartered cities (Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa), 550 woredas, and six special woredas.

    The constitution assigns extensive power to regional states that can establish their own government and democracy. Article 39 further gives every regional state the right to secede from Ethiopia. There is debate, however, as to how much of the power guaranteed in the constitution is actually given to the states.

    The regions and chartered cities of Ethiopia, numbered alphabetically.

    The subdivisions of Ethiopia are:

    1. Addis Ababa (chartered city)
    2. Afar
    3. Amhara
    4. Benishangul-Gumaz
    5. Dire Dawa (chartered city)
    6. Gambela
    7. Harari
    8. Oromia
    9. Somali
    10. Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region
    11. Tigray


    Woman coffee farmer with basket of coffee beans in Ethiopia

    After the 1974 revolution, the economy of Ethiopia was run as a socialist economy: strong state controls were implemented, and a large part of the economy was transferred to the public sector, including most modern industry and large-scale commercial agriculture, all agricultural land and urban rental property, and all financial institutions. Since mid-1991, the economy has evolved toward a decentralized, market-oriented economy, emphasizing individual initiative, designed to reverse a decade of economic decline. Gradual privatization of business, industry, banking, agriculture, trade, and commerce is underway.

    While the process of economic reform is ongoing, so far the reforms have attracted only meager foreign investment, and the government remains heavily involved in the economy. The ruling EPRDF controls more than 50 large business enterprises, following the Chinese model. Many government-owned properties during the previous regime have just been transferred to EPRDF-owned enterprises in the name of privatization. Furthermore, the Ethiopian constitution defines the right to own land as belonging only to "the state and the people," but citizens may only lease land (up to 99 years) and are unable to mortgage, sell, or own it.


    With only ten percent of its land arable, the Ethiopian economy is based on agriculture, which contributes 47 percent to GNP and more than 80 percent of exports, and employs 85 percent of the population. The major agricultural export crop is coffee, providing 35 percent of Ethiopia's foreign exchange earnings, down from 65 percent a decade ago because of the slump in coffee prices since the mid-1990s. Other traditional major agricultural exports are hides and skins, pulses, oilseeds, and the traditional "qat," a leafy shrub that has psychotropic qualities when chewed. Sugar and gold production have also become important in recent years.

    Ethiopia's agriculture is plagued by periodic drought, soil degradation caused by inappropriate agricultural practices and overgrazing, deforestation, high population density, undeveloped water resources, and poor transport infrastructure, making it difficult and expensive to get goods to market. Yet agriculture is the country's most promising resource. Potential exists for self-sufficiency in grains and for export development in livestock, flowers, grains, oilseeds, sugar, vegetables, and fruits.

    Natural resources

    Ethiopian highlands

    Gold, marble, limestone, and small amounts of tantalum are mined in Ethiopia. Other resources with potential for commercial development include large potash deposits, natural gas, iron ore, and possibly petroleum and geothermal energy. Although Ethiopia has good hydroelectric resources, which power most of its manufacturing sector, it is totally dependent on imports for its oil.

    A landlocked country, Ethiopia has relied on the port of Djibouti since the 1998-2000 border war with Eritrea. Ethiopia is connected with the port of Djibouti by road and rail for international trade. Of the 23,812 kilometers of all-weather roads in Ethiopia, 15 percent are asphalt. Mountainous terrain and the lack of good roads and sufficient vehicles make land transportation difficult and expensive.

    Dependent on a few vulnerable crops for its foreign exchange earnings and reliant on imported oil, Ethiopia lacks sufficient foreign exchange earnings. The financially conservative government has taken measures to solve this problem, including stringent import controls and sharply reduced subsidies on retail gasoline prices. Nevertheless, the largely subsistence economy is incapable of meeting the budget requirements for drought relief, an ambitious development plan, and indispensable imports such as oil. The gap has largely been covered through foreign assistance inflows.


    Ethiopia's population is highly diverse. Most of its people speak a Semitic or Cushitic language. The Oromo, Amhara, and Tigrayans make up more than three-fourths of the population, but there are more than 80 different ethnic groups within Ethiopia. Some of these have as few as ten thousand members.

    Semitic-speaking Ethiopians and Eritreans collectively refer to themselves as Habesha or Abesha, though others reject these names on the basis that they refer only to certain ethnicities. The Arabic form of this term is the etymological basis of "Abyssinia," the former name of Ethiopia in English and other European languages.

    Traditionally, the Amhara have been the dominant ethnic group, with the Tigreans as secondary partners. The other ethnic groups have responded differently to that situation. Resistance to Amhara dominance resulted in various separatist movements, particularly in Eritrea and among the Oromo. Eritrea was culturally and politically part of highland Ethiopia since before Axum's achievement of political dominance; Eritreans claim Axumite descendency as much as Ethiopians do.

    The "Oromo problem" continues to trouble Ethiopia. Although the Oromo are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, never in their history have they held political power. Ethiopian highlanders subjected many ethnic groups in the present state of Ethiopia, such as the Oromo, to colonial status. Conquered ethnic groups were expected to adopt the identity of the dominant Amhara-Tigrean ethnic groups (the national culture). It was illegal to publish, teach, or broadcast in any Oromo dialect until the early 1970s, which marked the end of Haile Selassie's reign. Even today, after an ethnic federalist government has been established, the Oromo lack appropriate political representation.

    Only 42.7 percent of the total adult population is literate, with male literacy at 50.3 percent and female literacy at 35.1 percent (2003 est.). GDP per capita is $1,000 (2006 est.). Population below poverty line is 38.7 percent. Life expectancy at birth is 49.23 years (males 48.06 years and females 50.44 years).

    Children in urban areas begin attending school at age five if their families can afford the fees. In rural areas, schools are few and children do farm work. This means a very low percentage of rural youth attend school. The government is trying to alleviate this problem by building accessible schools in rural areas. Children who do well in elementary school go on to secondary school. University education is free, but admission is extremely competitive. Every secondary student takes a standardized examination. The acceptance rate is approximately 20 percent of all those who take the tests.

    Traditionally, labor has been divided by gender, with authority given to the senior male in a household. Men are responsible for plowing, harvesting, the trading of goods, the slaughtering of animals, herding, the building of houses, and the cutting of wood. Women are responsible for the domestic sphere and help the men with some activities on the farm. Women are in charge of cooking, brewing beer, cutting hops, buying and selling spices, making butter, collecting and carrying wood, and carrying water.

    The gender division in urban areas is less pronounced than it is in the countryside. Many women work outside the home, and there tends to be a greater awareness of gender inequality. Women in urban areas are still responsible, with or without a career, for the domestic space. Employment at a baseline level is fairly equivalent, but men tend to be promoted much faster and more often.

    Arranged marriages are the norm, although this practice is becoming much less common, especially in urban areas. The presentation of a dowry from the male's family to the female's family is common. The amount is not fixed and varies with the wealth of the families. The dowry may include livestock, money, or other socially valued items.


    Ethiopia has 84 indigenous languages. English is the most widely spoken foreign language and is taught in all secondary schools. Amharic was the language of primary school instruction but has been replaced in many areas by local languages.


    This leather painting depicts Ethiopian Orthodox priests playing sistra and a drum.

    According to the 1994 census, Christians made up 61.6 percent of the country's population, Muslims 32.8 percent, and adherents of traditional faiths 5.6 percent. In 2006, the breakdown was 45-50 percent Muslim, 35-40 percent Ethiopian Orthodox, 12 percent animist, and 3-8 percent other, including Jews. Muslims and Christians generally get along peacefully.

    The Axumite Kingdom was one of the first nations to officially adopt Christianity, when King Ezana of Axum converted during the fourth century C.E. Today, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is by far the largest denomination, though a number of Protestant churches have recently gained ground.

    Because of the spread of Islam, Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity was severed from the Christian world. This led to many unique characteristics. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church lays claim to the original Ark of the Covenant, and replicas (called tabotat) are housed in a central sanctuary in all churches; it is the tabot that consecrates a church. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is the only established church that rejects the doctrine of Pauline Christianity, which states that the Old Testament lost its binding force after the coming of Jesus. The Old Testament focus of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church includes dietary laws similar to the kosher tradition, circumcision after the eighth day of birth, and a Saturday sabbath.

    Islam in Ethiopia dates back almost to the founding of the religion; in 616, a band of Muslims was counseled by the Prophet Prophet Muhammad to escape persecution in Mecca and travel to Abyssinia, which was ruled by, in the Prophet's estimation, a pious Christian king. Moreover, Islamic tradition states that Bilal, one of the foremost companions of the Prophet Muhammad, was from the region of present-day Ethiopia.

    There are numerous indigenous African religions in Ethiopia. In general, most of the Christians live in the highlands, while Muslims and adherents of traditional African religions tend to inhabit lowland regions. A small group of Jews, the Beta Israel, lived in Ethiopia for centuries, though most emigrated to Israel in the last decades of the twentieth century as part of the rescue missions undertaken by the Israeli government.

    Ethiopia is also the spiritual homeland of the Rastafari movement, whose adherents believe Ethiopia is Zion. Rastafari view Emperor Haile Selassie as Jesus, the human incarnation of God.


    The classical language of Ge'ez, which has evolved into Amharic and Tigrean, is one of the four extinct languages but is the only indigenous writing system in Africa still in use. Ge'ez is spoken in Orthodox Church services. The development of Ge'ez literature began with translations of the Old and New Testaments from Greek and Hebrew. Ge'ez was also the first Semitic language to employ a vowel system. Many apocryphal texts—such as the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, and the Ascension of Isaiah—have been preserved in their entirety only in Ge'ez. Even though these texts were not included in the Bible, among biblical scholars (and Ethiopian Christians) they are regarded as significant to an understanding of the origin and development of Christianity.

    Religious art, especially Orthodox Christian, has been a significant part of the national culture for hundreds of years. Illuminated Bibles and manuscripts have been dated to the twelfth century, and the eight-hundred-year-old churches in Lalibela contain Christian paintings, manuscripts, and stone relief.

    Christian music is believed to have been established by Saint Yared in the sixth century and is sung in Ge'ez, the liturgical language. Both Orthodox and Protestant music is popular and is sung in Amharic, Tigrean, and Oromo. The traditional dance, eskesta, consists of rhythmic shoulder movements and usually is accompanied by the kabaro, a drum made from wood and animal skin, and the masinqo, a single-stringed violin with an A-shaped bridge that is played with a small bow. Foreign influences exist in the form of Afro-pop, reggae, and hip-hop.

    Typical Ethiopian cuisine: Injera (pancake-like bread) and several kinds of wat (stew).

    Wood carving and sculpture are very common in the southern lowlands, especially among the Konso. A fine arts school has been established in Addis Ababa that teaches painting, sculpture, etching, and lettering.

    Ethiopian cuisine consists of various vegetable or meat side dishes and entrées, usually a wat or thick stew, served atop injera, a large sourdough flatbread. One does not eat with utensils but instead uses injera to scoop up the entrées and side dishes. Traditional Ethiopian cuisine employs no pork of any kind, as both Muslims and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians are prohibited from eating pork.

    The coffee kafa ceremony is a common ritual. The server starts a fire and roasts green coffee beans while burning frankincense. Once roasted, the coffee beans are ground with a mortar and pestle, and the powder is placed in a traditional black pot called a jebena. Water is then added. The jebena is removed from the fire, and coffee is served after brewing for the proper length of time. Often, kolo (cooked whole-grain barley) is served with the coffee.

    Traditional houses are round dwellings with cylindrical walls made of wattle and daub. The roofs are conical and made of thatch, and the center pole has sacred significance in most ethnic groups. Variations on this design occur. In the town of Lalibella the walls of many houses are made of stone and are two-storied, while in parts of Tigre, houses are traditionally rectangular. In more urban areas, a mixture of tradition and modernity is reflected in the architecture. The thatched roofs often are replaced with tin or steel roofing. The wealthier suburbs of Addis Ababa have multistory residences made of concrete and tile that are very western in form.

    The music is extremely diverse, with each of the country's eighty tribes being associated with unique sounds. Ethiopian music uses a unique modal system that is pentatonic, with characteristically long intervals between some notes. Influences include ancient Christian elements and Muslim and folk music from elsewhere in the Horn of Africa, especially Somalia. Popular musicians included Mahmoud Ahmed, Tilahun Gessesse, Asnaketch Worku, and Mulatu Astatke.

    Ethiopia offers a greater richness in archaeological findings and historical buildings than any other country in Sub-Saharan Africa. In April 2005, the Axum obelisk, one of Ethiopia's religious and historical treasures, was returned to Ethiopia by Italy. Italian troops seized the obelisk in 1937 and took it to Rome. Italy agreed to return the obelisk in 1947 in a UN agreement.

    Many churches and monasteries in the northern region are carved out of solid rock, including the 12 rock-hewn monolithic churches of Lalibela. The town is named after the thirteenth-century king who supervised its construction.


    Ethiopia produces some of the finest athletes of the world, most notably middle-distance and long-distance runners. As of March 2006, two Ethiopians dominated the long-distance running scene, mainly: Haile Gebreselassie (World champion and Olympic champion) who has broken more than ten world records, and Kenenisa Bekele (World champion and Olympic champion).

    Other notable Ethiopian distance-runners include Derartu Tulu, Abebe Bikila and Muruse Yefter. Tulu was the first black woman from Africa to win an Olympic gold medal, doing so at Barcelona. Bikila won the Olympic marathon in 1960 and 1964, setting world records both times. He is well-known to this day for winning the 1960 marathon in Rome while running barefoot. Yifter, the first in a tradition of Ethiopians known for their brilliant finishing speed, won gold at 5,000 and 10,000 meters at the Moscow Olympics. He is the last man to achieve this feat.


    1. 1.0 1.1 CIA, Ethiopia World Factbook.
    2. World Population Prospects 2017 Retrieved October 26, 2018.
    3. Country Level: Population and Housing Census of Ethiopia, 2007. Central Statistical Agency (Ethiopia), July 13, 2010. Retrieved October 26, 2018.
    4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 International Monetary Fund, Report for Selected Countries and Subjects: Ethiopia World Economic Outlook Database, October 2017. Retrieved October 26, 2018.
    5. United Nations Publications, Human Development Report: 2015: Work For Human Development United Nations, 2015. Retrieved October 26, 2018.

    ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

    • Adejumobi, Saheed A. The History of Ethiopia. The Greenwood histories of the modern nations. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007. ISBN 0313322732
    • Countries and their Cultures. Culture of Ethiopia. Retrieved April 2, 2022.
    • Hansberry, William Leo, and Joseph E. Harris. Pillars in Ethiopian history. Washington: Howard University Press, 1981 (original 1974). ISBN 0882580094
    • Mezlekia, Nega. Notes from the hyena's belly: an Ethiopian boyhood. New York: Picador USA, 2001. ISBN 978-0312269883
    • Morell, Virginia. Blue Nile: Ethiopia's river of magic and mystery. National Geographic, 2001. ISBN 0792279514
    • Shah, Tahir. In search of King Solomon's mines. New York: Arcade Pub., 2003. ISBN 978-1559706414
    • U.S. Department of State. U.S. Relations With Ethiopia. Retrieved April 2, 2022.

    External links

    All links retrieved March 22, 2024.


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