Ethiopia - Encyclopedia Information
Official name Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Formation 1896 / 2002
Capital Addis Ababa
Population 85 million / 198 people per sq mile (77 people per sq km)
Total area 435,184 sq. miles (1,127,127 sq. km)
Languages Amharic*, Tigrinya, Galla, Sidamo, Somali, English, Arabic
Religions Orthodox Christian 40%, Muslim 40%, Traditional beliefs 15%, Other 5%
Ethnic mix Oromo 40%, Amhara 25%, Other 35%
Government Parliamentary system
Currency Birr = 100 cents
Literacy rate 36%
Calorie consumption 1952 kilocalories
Ethiopia, the land of the Blue Nile and Great Rift Valley, is the oldest independent country in Africa and is popularly referred to as “the cradle of humanity.” Ethiopia is also home to “Lucy,” in the 20th century the oldest known fossil evidence of a hominid (of the family of apes), who lived around 3.5 million years ago.
There are records of Ethiopian rulers dating back 5,000 years. Menelik I (est. 200 C.E.) was the first of the modern emperors of Ethiopia; according to legend he was the son of King Solomon and Makeda, the Queen of Sheba (the ancient name for Abyssinia).
The Ethiopian monarchy, unique among African nations, managed to avoid colonial rule (with the exception of Italian occupation from 1936–41 during World War II). Emperor Haile Selassie (1892–1975) was the last ruler of this ancient dynasty. Selassie forcibly annexed neighboring Eritrea in 1962. The war caused much hardship and ruined the economies of both countries. In 1974 Selassie was ousted by Mengistu Haile Mariam (b. 1937), who, with popular backing, rebelled against the emperor’s oppressive rule.
Haile Mariam headed a Marxist-Leninist military dictatorship, known as the Derg. It banned churches, evicted Americans, and looked to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) for economic support. Eventually, a rebel coalition called the Tigray People’s Liberation Front emerged. It aided Eritrea in regaining control over its main port and took over Ethiopia as well. Mengistu fled, and Tigrayan Meles Zenawi (b. 1955) won Ethiopia’s first parliamentary elections in 1995. Zenawi moved the country toward private sector expansion and ensuring an adequate food supply for the people.
Another two-year war between Eritrea and Ethiopia made the United Nations declare a 16-mile buffer zone between both countries to ensure peace, even though they also signed a peace accord between themselves. With the backdrop of the simmering border issues, the government in the early years of the 21st century focused on a controversial and ambitious project of relocating around 2 million people from the low-rainfall highlands in an attempt to improve the food and water supply problems of the country.
j GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE A landlocked country on the eastern African front (Horn of Africa), Ethiopia shares borders with Sudan (in the west), Eritrea (in the north), and Somalia and Djibouti (in the east). It covers a land area twice the size of France and is intersected by deep gorges including the fascinating Great Rift Valley. The Blue Nile, the chief headstream of the Nile by water volume, originates in Ethiopia.
Only about 12 percent of Ethiopia is used for subsistence agriculture that clusters along the banks of the Nile River. Big portions of its forests have been cut down for fuel over the past 25 years, significantly reducing forest cover.
The climate in Ethiopia varies by location. The central highlands (plateau) have moderate temperatures averaging about 61°F, while it gets hotter toward the low-lying areas. Kremt (the rainy season) lasts from June to September, and there are light showers in late March. It remains dry for most of the remaining year. Vibrant flowers cover the landscape after heavy rainfalls.
Many bird and animal species may be found in Ethiopia’s 14 major wildlife reserves, referred to as sub-Saharan microcosms. The unique Rift Valley houses some of the most exquisite animal and bird species in the world, while the Blue Nile Falls continue to dazzle tourists with natural beauty.
The Ethiopian economy is essentially based on agriculture, which accounts for more than half its gross domestic product (GDP). Coffee (Arabica) exports provide employment for about 80 percent of the people and account for 60 percent of Ethiopia’s total exports. Around 15 million Ethiopians depend on coffee for their livelihood, making coffee production a vital part of their social, cultural, and economic well-being. Many farmers have started exporting qat, a mild stimulant that is heavily consumed in neighboring Eritrea. The sales of qat are intended to offset losses in revenue from coffee caused by coffee’s falling market price.
The war between Eritrea and Ethiopia (1998–2000) disrupted the economies of both countries.
Ethiopia subsequently suffered major droughts and had to seek debt relief from the United Nation’s Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) in 2001.
HIPC is an agreement among official creditors to help the most heavily indebted countries obtain debt relief. The program is administered by the World Bank.
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
Ethiopia is a dense, complicated mixture of approximately 80 different cultures. The Oromos, the largest ethnic group, is composed of a mix of Muslims, Christians, and traditional animists. The official and most widely spoken language is Amharic.
Orominya and Tigrinya are spoken in the northern and southern parts, respectively.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has dominated the life of Ethiopians since the fourth century.
This tradition was essentially monastic with Orthodox clergy in nearly every town of the country.
The Orthodox tradition encompasses a belief in God, Jesus, and Catholic saints, yet focuses on the Old Testament, in contrast to most Western Churches. Church services often include fortunetelling, dancing, and astrology, incorporating the widespread traditional African animist beliefs.
Ethiopian traditions, which operate within a rigid religious system, give special importance to festivals and celebrations. By tradition, fasting is observed twice a week (Wednesday and Friday), and the people generally avoid consumption of dairy and meat products.
Injera (also enjera), a flat fermented pancake, is the mainstay of the Ethiopian diet. It is made from teff, a tiny, round grain similar to millet. Teffa, Amharic for “lost,” is so named because it is often lost when it is harvested and threshed because of its tiny size.
One might think that teff would be readily and cheaply available in the markets of Ethiopia, especially because so much of the land is devoted to its production and because it is more nutritious than barley, wheat, and millet; but its availability is limited.
Because of the labor-intensive harvesting and processing techniques it requires, the cost of producing teff is the highest in Ethiopia—another consequence of its small size.
As in Eritrea, everyone eats with their hands.
The other ubiquitous food is wat, or wot, a stew made with spices, meats, and pulses, such as lentils, beans, and split peas. It is served in a large plate, and everyone uses the flat teff pancakes to scoop mouthfuls of the wat.
The southern region of Kaffa and Buno claims to be the original home of coffee, and the bean has been grown in Ethiopia for more than 2,000 years. Coffee Arabica is quite popular in the capital city of Addis Ababa. So is tella, the local beer, a brew made from barley or maize, supplemented with tej, made from honey, and arakie, a potent grain spirit.
Marriages in the Amhara and Tigray regions are arranged only after much negotiation between the parents of the bride and groom. Men here are married by the age of 30, whereas women are married in their late teens. Traditionally a bride must be a virgin and unrelated to the groom’s family, going back at least five generations.
On the wedding day, the bride’s father presents cows, sheep, honey, and wheat as a dowry to the groom. After the ceremony, following Muslim customs, food is served at the bride’s house. Here the groom can eat only a special dish prepared by the mother of the bride.