Ethiopia, one of the oldest nations in the world, is a landlocked state nestled in the volatile Horn of Africa region. One of the world’s first officially Christian countries, Ethiopia is surrounded by Sudan and South Sudan to the west, Kenya to the south, Somalia to the east, and Eritrea and Djibouti to the north.
The Solomonic dynasty, a line of monarchs who ruled Ethiopia beginning in the 13th century, claimed to be directly descended from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The last of these rulers was Emperor Haile Selassie (revered by the Rastafari movement as the messiah), who reigned over Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. Although occupied by Italian troops in the late 1930s, Ethiopia maintained its independence during the era of European colonialism – the only African country to do so aside from Liberia.
A Communist junta called the Derg, lead by Mengistu Haile Mariam, ousted Selassie in 1974 and the country plunged into civil war that lasted until 1991. Between 1983-85, a famine killed hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians. The crisis was exacerbated by government policies and the ongoing civil war.
|ETHIOPIA: KEY FACTS|
Population: 93,815,992 (2007 census)
Capital: Addis Ababa
Life expectancy at birth: 56.56 years (2012 estimate)
Official language: Amharic
Religion: Orthodox 43.5 per cent, Muslim 33.9 per cent, Protestant 18.6 per cent, traditional 2.6 per cent, Catholic 0.7 per cent, other 0.7 per cent (2007 census)
GDP per capita: $1,100 (2011 estimate)
GDP growth rate: 7.5 per cent (2011 estimate)
Source: CIA Factbook
In 1991, a coalition of rebel groups called the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) overthrew Mariam and captured the capital, Addis Ababa. Meles Zenawi became president and ruled until his death on Monday at age 57.
Two years after the EPRDF victory, Eritrea split off from Ethiopia, after having fought a 30-year-long war for independence. Between 1998 and 2000 the two countries fought a war over disputed borders, leading to the deaths of tens of thousands. The war resulted in only minor changes to the border.
Economic growth surged under Zenawi, although freedoms did not. Zenawi fiercely cracked down on dissenters: after a disputed election in 2005, the leadership of an opposition party was jailed. Ethiopia also boasts several imprisoned journalists, some of whom have been jailed under a 2009 anti-terrorism law.
Ethiopia’s economy is centred around agriculture, where the majority of Ethiopians work. However, Ethiopia often faces problems with drought and soil degradation. Its biggest export is coffee, a crop said to have originated in the country.
The country has a very small private sector. Although Zenawi had sold off some state assets, he insisted banks and telecommunications firms remain in the hands of the state.
Ethiopian GDP has grown at a rapid clip in the past few years, but per capita income, at about $1,000, is one the lowest in the world.
|In Pictures: Ethiopia under Meles Zenawi|
In recent years Ethiopia has supported Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (whose mandate recently expired) in its fight against Islamist groups such as al-Shabaab in central and southern Somalia. Zenawi twice sent Ethiopian troops into Somalia to battle Islamist fighters.
Continuing border disputes has meant relations with Eritrea continue to be frosty. Ethiopia’s relations with its other northern neighbour, Djibouti, are friendly.
The United States is close with Ethiopia, regarding Zenawi as a key ally in its “war on terror” and is Ethiopia’s biggest foreign donor.