Ethiopia Population - History

Ethiopia Population - History

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.


Roughly 30 percent of total population consists of
the Amhara, whose native language-- Amharic-- is also spoken by additional 20 percent of population as second tongue. Amharic is Ethiopia's official language. The Tigray, speaking Tigrinya, constitute 12 to 15 percent of total population. Large number of smaller groups include Somali, Gurage, Awi,Afar, Welamo, Sidama, and Beja.
note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and death rates, lower population and growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected (July 2006 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years: 43.7% (male 16,373,718/female 16,280,766)
15-64 years: 53.6% (male 19,999,482/female 20,077,014)
65 years and over: 2.7% (male 929,349/female 1,117,652) (2006 est.)
Median age:
total: 17.8 years
male: 17.7 years
female: 17.9 years (2006 est.)
Population growth rate:
2.31% (2006 est.)
Birth rate:
37.98 births/1,000 population (2006 est.)
Death rate:
14.86 deaths/1,000 population (2006 est.)
Net migration rate:
0 migrant(s)/1,000 population
note: repatriation of Ethiopian refugees residing in Sudan is expected to continue for several years; some Sudanese, Somali, and Eritrean refugees, who fled to Ethiopia from the fighting or famine in their own countries, continue to return to their homes (2006 est.)
Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.01 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.83 male(s)/female
total population: 1 male(s)/female (2006 est.)
Infant mortality rate:
total: 93.62 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 103.43 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 83.51 deaths/1,000 live births (2006 est.)
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 49.03 years
male: 47.86 years
female: 50.24 years (2006 est.)
Total fertility rate:
5.22 children born/woman (2006 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate:
4.4% (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS:
1.5 million (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths:
120,000 (2003 est.)
Major infectious diseases:
degree of risk: very high
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A, typhoid fever, and hepatitis E
vectorborne diseases: malaria and cutaneous leishmaniasis are high risks in some locations
respiratory disease: meningococcal meningitis
animal contact disease: rabies
water contact disease: schistosomiasis (2007)
noun: Ethiopian(s)
adjective: Ethiopian
Ethnic groups:
Oromo 40%, Amhara and Tigre 32%, Sidamo 9%, Shankella 6%, Somali 6%, Afar 4%, Gurage 2%, other 1%
Muslim 45%-50%, Ethiopian Orthodox 35%-40%, animist 12%, other 3%-8%
Amharic, Tigrinya, Oromigna, Guaragigna, Somali, Arabic, other local languages, English (major foreign language taught in schools)
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 42.7%
male: 50.3%
female: 35.1% (2003 est.)

Ethnic Groups Of Ethiopia

Ethiopia is a Sub-Saharan country found in the Horn of Africa. According to a 2013 World Bank report, Ethiopia had a population of roughly 94.1 million people. The country enjoys diverse cultures such as world famous cuisines, woven cotton costume (Gabbi), the Rastafarian movement, and Ethiopian Orthodox church among others. These can be attributed to numerous ethnic groups in the Country. Oromo is the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. It takes up 35% of the Ethiopian population. Amhara ranks the second largest ethnic group and takes up 27% of the Ethiopian population. Oromo and Amharic people make up more than half of the Ethiopian population. The other ethnic groups include Somali, Tigray, Sidama, Gurage Wolaytta, Afar, Hadiya, and Gamo.


The Oromo people mainly occupy Oromia, the central region of Ethiopia, and they number 34,216,242 people. It is believed that Oromia is their original homeland, and they speak the Oromo language. They practice subsistence farming and lead a nomadic pastoralist life. Oromos have their calendar that is based on astronomical observations. The Oromos’ system of governance famously known as Gaada- is based on age grades with older people generations ranking higher in the system. They view aging as advancement in wisdom. Elders are consulted in times of disputes and at weddings.


The Amhara are among the second largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, and they speak Amharic, the official language of the Republic of Ethiopia. Their population is approximately 26,855,771 people. It is believed they are descendants of Shem the eldest son of Noah in the biblical story. Amharas use proverbs, myths, and parables to teach moral lessons to their children. They are known for their spicy cuisines which consist of chili peppers, garlic, ginger, basil, and fenugreek. Amharas are ranked among the highest coffee consumers. An interesting aspect of the Amharas is that they do not wear shoes. They have a patriarchal system of governance where the males have authority over the females in the community.


Tigrayans constitute approximately 6.1% of the Ethiopian population, and their numbers total approximately 6,047,522 people in the country. Most Tigrayans live in the northern region of Ethiopia. They use folktales, riddles, and poetry for entertainment. The naming ceremony is an important rite of passage for the Tigyayans as it marks a child’s membership into the community. A child who dies before the naming ceremony is not granted a funeral.


Somalis rank closely with the Tigrayans at 6.1% of the Ethiopian population, and their numbers are approximately 6,186,774 people. They are spread across Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, and Somalia. Somalis are divided into social units known as clans. These clans are a core part of their culture. Islam is the predominant religion among Somalis. Therefore, they borrow a great deal of their social norms from Islam. Men and women do not touch while greeting each other. In Somali culture, the right hand is seen as the clean and polite hand. Left-handedness is a taboo among these ethnic groups.

Inter-Ethnic Relations

Other ethnic groups in Ethiopia, and their population sizes therein, include the Sidana (3,978,633), the Gurage (2,306,539), the Welyata (2,257,874), the Afar (1,720,759), the Hadiya (1,710,812), and the Gamo (1,482,041), while other groups have 12,532,693 residents in the country collectively. Although Ethiopia is a multi-ethnic country, there has always been a conflict between the two largest ethnic groups the Oromo and the Amhara. The conflict has largely been over the control of land, although it is believed it could be politically incited as well. These conflicts have led to the loss of lives and property destruction.


Ethiopia is the oldest independent nation in Africa. The current Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is located on a massive rugged mountainous plateau in Eastern Africa. Ethiopia is a large country, twice the size of Texas or about the size of Spain and France combined. It covers 435,071 kilometers or 1,127,127 square miles in area and is the tenth largest of Africa's 53 countries. Ethiopia's mountainous terrain discouraged many foreign invaders however, this natural fortress posed difficulties for communication and travel, thus contributing to the slow spread of education.

Ethiopia has Africa's fourth largest population at 58,733,000. This number is despite millions who die periodically from some of the world's most devastating famines caused by prolonged cycles of drought. Millions of Ethiopians have fled natural and man-made disasters and live as refugees in Sudan, Kenya, Italy, Great Britain, and the United States. The population is increasing at an annual rate of about 3 percent, and is expected to double in the next 14 years. Almost 73 percent of the population is under 18 years of age. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital city, has 2,431,000 inhabitants and is growing rapidly. The need for new schools increases with the rising youthful population. Ethiopia has a high infant mortality rate of approximately 121 infant deaths per 1,000 births. There is only 1 doctor for every 36,000 Ethiopians. Access to modern medicine outside of the major cities is a problem. Consequently, many people depend upon traditional ethnic medicine. The life expectancy for males is only 45, and for females it is 48 years. High death rates have moderated a massive population explosion. Because they depend on their children to support them in their old age, and, because there is no social security system, Ethiopians typically have large families.

Ethiopia has an ethnically diverse population. Some 40 percent of its population is Oromo, the Christian Amhara and their Tigre allies are 35 percent of the population, 9 percent are of Sidamo descent, and the remaining 19 percent come from small indigenous groups, such as the Mursi, Hamar, Konso, Karo, Surma, and Bumi. A wide variety of physical types are evident, along with many very different languages, religious affiliations, and beliefs. Some observers believe that this diversity holds back modernization and threatens to plunge the nation into divisive conflict. Other observers believe that this diversity is Ethiopia's strength and has enabled it to resist onslaughts from Europe and Asia. For millennia, the monarchy united Ethiopians in loyalty to the emperor, just as it has held Great Britain together.

Amharic (Amarigna) is the language of the dominant Amhara ethnic group. It was the language of the imperial rulers for many centuries and is still widely spoken throughout Ethiopia. This is the principal language of instruction in most Ethiopian schools today. Millions of Ethiopians also speak Tigrinya, Oromo, Somali, Arabic, Italian, or English. The English language is growing in importance as the main language of instruction, especially in universities. Arabic is widely spoken in the north and east, and 40 to 45 percent of the Ethiopian population is Muslim. These people must learn Arabic to read their holy book, the Koran, which is written in ancient Arabic. The latter is very different from modern spoken Arabic, thus many Ethiopians cannot speak modern Arabic fluently. Approximately 35 to 40 percent of Ethiopia's population is Coptic Christian.

For many centuries Muslims refused to attack or invade Christian Ethiopia. Today Muslims are converting four new converts for every one converted to Christianity. They are zealous in their pursuit of converts all over Africa. By contrast, Christians seem to have lost their missionary zeal. Muslims traditionally attend Koran school, rather than state sponsored schools. This puts them at a disadvantage on national examinations for civil service jobs, as well as exams used to select government workers. These national examinations are often written in either English or Amharic. Christian schools use either Amharic or English as the language of instruction. This gives Christians a decisive advantage and helps explain their continued domination of Ethiopia's institutions, despite their minority status. Emperor Yohannes IV (1871-89) sought national unity through religious conformity, while Menelik II (1889-1913) sought centralization of government functions, creation of government health centers, financing of small industries, and spreading education as a means of creating that unity for Ethiopia. Both used church schools to educate Ethiopians.

For several thousand years religion controlled education in Ethiopia. The ancient Axumites created a system of writing that evolved from a Sabean script believed to have been introduced from Arabia. Similar to written Hebrew and related to Phoenician, the system is phonetic. The ancient Ge'ez language descended from such origins. Stone monoliths record the daring feats of ancient kings in Ge'ez, which has been the liturgical language of Ethiopia's Jews for 3,000 years and the Ethiopian Coptic Christian church since A.D. 400. This language was developed by a sophisticated ancient civilization and used not only by priests, but also by rulers who created impressive stone palaces, temples, and tombs, like the obelisks found at Aksum. Writings in Ge'ez, as well as Greek and Sabean, inscribed on these monuments describe military campaigns, the victories of Ethiopian kings, and trade with Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Greece, and India. Gold and silver coins were minted to facilitate commerce and trade.

Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and indigenous African religions have long peacefully co-existed in Ethiopia, but tensions have occasionally erupted in violence. Each major religion created schools for children of its adherents. Christianity is dominant in the north, northwest, and central states. Judaism is limited to the Lake Tana region. Islam is strong in the east, south, and west. Indigenous religions are strong in the southern, eastern, and western regions.

By far, the greatest traditional schools were constructed and managed by the Ethiopian Orthodox Coptic Church. King Erzana started church schools to perpetuate Christianity, but church schools achieved their "golden age" of expansion between A.D. 1200 and 1500. Church education has changed little since that time. Its primary mission has been to train individuals for the priesthood, but the secondary mission has been to spread the faith through Christian culture. Church schools trained not only priests, but monks and debtera (cantors), who were often better educated than the priests they served. The debteras were church scholars, custodians of education, and a privileged elite who helped decide who held power. Many were children of the elite and sought to keep the elite in power. Teachers were also trained in church schools, along with civil servants, such as judges, governors, scribes, treasurers, and administrators of all sorts. Religious schools were the only source of trained personnel.

Prompted by Italy, which militarily occupied Eritrea between 1885 and 1892, Emperor Menelik II began the modernization and secularization of Ethiopian education. The church did not challenge his opening of competing secular schools from 1905 onward. The government was modernized by creating 10 ministries, and the administration of education was left in the hands of the church, which satisfied its leaders. Secular curriculums included the study of French, English, Arabic, Italian, Amharic, Ge'ez, mathematics, physical training, and sports. Tuition, as well as room and board, were paid for by the emperor. From 1905 on, Ethiopians began to associate secular education with national progress. The elite began to discuss the need for universal education and literacy.

Empress Zewditu Menelik declared in 1921:

Every parent is hereby required to teach his child reading and writing through which the child may learn the difference between good and evil. . . . Any parent refusing to do so will be fined 50 dollars. . . . Those of you who are leaders of parishes in rural as well as urban areas, in addition to your regular responsibilities in the churches, teach the children of your respective communities how to read and write. . . . If you fail to teach, you will be deprived of your positions entrusted to you. . . . Every parent, after you have taught your child how to read and write, make him attend your choice of any of the local trade schools, lest your child will be faced with difficulty earning a livelihood. If you fail to do so, you will be considered as one who has deprived another of limbs, and accordingly you will be fined 50 dollars, which money will be used for the education of the poor. This proclamation applies to those between the ages of 7 and 21 years. A parent will not be held responsible for any child of his who is over 21 years old.

In effect, Ethiopia declared war against ignorance and illiteracy with the aim of transforming the country into a literate industrial society.

The evolution of education in Ethiopia can be logically divided into five periods. The first is the Pre-European traditional educational system, which was followed by the initial period of Secular education from 1900-1936, during which Ethiopian monarchs attempted to modernize education. The Italian Colonial educational system began in 1936 and lasted until 1941. The Independence era, which lasted from 1941 to 1974, was characterized by the efforts of a restored Emperor, Haile Selassie, to revive and develop Ethiopia's educational system. Finally, there was the post-Selassie Afro-Marxist and post-Marxist modern educational reform period which continues into 2001.


Ethiopia is located in the Horn of Africa and borders with the Sudan and South Sudan to the west Eritrea to the north and north-east Djibouti and Somaliland to the east Somalia and Kenya to the south.


Ethiopia’s history dates back to the first millennium BCE.The country's curent capital city, Addis Ababa, was founded by Emperor Menelik II in 1887. In 1955, Ethiopia, under Emperor Haile Selassie, got its first constitution and an elected parliament.

The Monarchy was overthrown in 1974 and Ethiopia became a socialist state. This regime was in turn overthrown in 1991 and the current constitution was developed. In 1995 a Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, comprising nine states and two chartered cities was proclaimed.

Ethiopia is a founding member of the United Nations and the African Union, with the latter's headquarters based in Addis Ababa.


Ethiopia has sustained a high annual growth since 2004 and the country is among the fastest growing non-oil producing economies in Africa. The agricultural sector accounts for 80% of employment and remains the major source and focus of the country's growth but other sectors, such as service and indusry, are increasingly gaining importance.

Ethiopia is implementing a five-year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP), which aims to foster high and broad-based growth. The GTP , implemented during 2010/11-2014/15, highlights the vital role of environmental conservation in the sustainable development of the country.

Ethiopia’s vision and strategy for a green economy is articulated in its Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) vision document endorsed by the parliament at the end of 2011.

This initiative, comprising a strategy for climate resilient development and another for a green economy, seeks to improve resilience to climate change, ensure abatement, enhance avoidance of future emissions, as well as foster both economic development and less carbon dependent growth.

Ethiopia's Climate Resilient Development Strategy focuses on adapting to climate change to minimize the potential risks and to maximize the potential benefits.

Ethiopia is working to reduce risk systematically by building resilience through an integrated disaster risk reduction and management system and by executing medium and long-term climate change adaptation measures.

The country also supports conservation and rehabilitation of environmental resources and is embedding climate resilience into its development policies, plans and programmes.

Data Forecast

Population Forcasts (median age of total population)

GDP Per Sector (percentage of GDP)
2008 2013
Agriculture, forestry, fishing & hunting
Mining and quarrying
0.4 1.3
4.1 3.9
Electricity, gas and water
1.5 1.0
5.3 5.0
Wholesale and retail trade, hotels and restaurants 13.5
Transport, storage and communication 4.1
Finance, real estate and business services 9.7
Public administration, education, health and social work,
community, social and personal services
(source Africa Economic Outlook 2014)

Ethiopia National Human Development 2018

History 101: Fiction and Facts About Ethiopia’s Oromos

(ADAMA, Ethiopia) – Recently, the Qatar-based media al Jazeera has published several articles concerning the Oromo people of Ethiopia. ( It is the first international media outlet to extensively report on our people and it should be praised for bringing our cause to the world stage.

One of the benefits of this exposure is it forces Ethiopian authorities to address human rights abuses in the country and to let them know that the world is watching. Oromos and other Ethiopians have been struggling for equal rights and democracy for decades. While it is important to report about Oromo people’ background and historical perspectives, it is however vital that we report accurate information. Instead of benefiting us, reporting inaccurate or biased information can actually harm our struggle for democracy. Instead of creating national consensus and peace, it can instigate bitterness and anger.

One of the reasons al Jazeera reported inaccurate information about Oromo history is because it depended on one-sided sources, especially from members or supporters of Oromo groups outside of Ethiopia (diaspora OLF, OFDM etc). But nobody can blame al Jazeera media because most people inside Ethiopia would be too scared to speak or contribute. The only option al Jazeera or any foreign media has is to use diaspora/refugee/external sources outside Ethiopia. This is a dilemma all foreign media outlets face while reporting about third-world countries like Ethiopia.

For educational purposes, some corrections are provided below to fix inaccuracies reported on al Jazeera media regarding Oromo history and our struggle for democracy. The corrections below are supported by non-political scholars, but they might be rejected by biased politicians (both from ruling party and from opposition party) for the obvious reasons. However, they are based on historical textbooks, European authors and scholarly accounts.

“Between 1868 and 1900, half of all Oromo were killed, around 5 million people”

Fact #1: This is one of the most repeated inaccuracies, usually told by Secessionist Oromos, radical ethno-nationalist politicians outside the country or pro-OLF history revisionist websites like et al. However, the undisputed fact is that even the total Ethiopian population (the sum of dozens of ethnic groups) was much less than 5 million in the late 1800s, let alone one ethnic group being 10 million. So claiming that 5 million ethnic Oromos were killed by Emperor Menelik’s forces does not add up. The truth is several thousand Oromos were in fact killed during battles of that era. It was not a “genocide” as some politicians claim but it was a massacre of the ill equipped southern forces defeated by the Shewan military of Emperor Menelik which had more European weapons. Throughout those decades, the truth is more Oromos were killed by other Oromos than by non-Oromos because competing Oromo Clans often traded for weapons to have an upper hand against their local competitors, who were often their fellow Oromo and Sidama neighbors. And it was not the first lop sided victory of that era in Africa because various communities from all corners of Ethiopia had attacked one another during the “resource battles” and whichever group had more modern weapons had the upper hand. To summarize, Professor Mengistu Paulos of Jimma University said it best when describing right-wing Oromo liberation philosophy:–

“Most fictional accounts of ‘Oromo history’ blindly accepted as facts by some misled people are manufactured by former politicians turned Pseudo-historians like OLF writer Asafa Jalata, who is renowned for abuse of paraphrasing, often with out-of-context citations. For example, while quoting the 19th century Russian Alexander Bulatovich (who provided an ‘educated guess’ of annihilation of almost half Ethiopian population by disease, famine and war, including internal conflict between Oromo clans and with Abyssinians), the OLF-writer Asafa Jalata infamously claimed half Oromo population was killed by ‘evil’ Amharas. This was purposely done by Mr. Jalata to create a foundation for ethnic hatred between Oromos and Amharas. Ironically, even Mr. Bulatovich himself never had the capacity nor the legitimacy to do a reliable census, as he spent just a couple of months walking around Oromia and hunting elephants in 1890s.”

“…. largely Muslim Oromo people”

Fact #2:

This is a phrase seen in some media outlets but not most. Oromo people have never been a predominantly muslim people. In fact, both Christianity and Islam is not our ancestral religion because we have practiced an indigenous traditional religion for centuries before. Gradually, Islam and Christianity were both adopted (during Oromo migrations) by us and imposed (during conquest of our lands by Abyssinian/Christians & Somalis/Islam) on us thru out history. Even today, both the two major religions have equal representation among Oromos. The latest official 2007 census showed that around 48% of Oromos practice Christianity (Both Orthodox & Protestant) while around 47% of Oromos practice Islam. Yet, word on the ground is that the Islam population might soon surpass Christianity among Oromos in the future because Orthodox Christianity is decreasing inside Oromia.

“Abyssinians labelled Oromos the derogatory word ‘Galla’”

For many decades, this false statement has been used by Oromo separatists to create emotional resentment among Oromos against Semitic Abyssinians (Amharas, Tigrayans and Gurages). The fact is the derogatory word “Galla” was first used by Arab and muslim Somalis to describe Oromos as “gal” meaning “outsiders” and “Pagans.” Muslims used this label during Oromo migration because Oromo people had their own religion which the Muslims believed was paganism. Nonetheless, this derogatory word was gradually adopted and used by other Ethiopians.

“Oromos were colonized by Emperor Menelik”

Another popular claim made by secessionist Oromo politicians (and usually repeated by foreign journalists) is the fiction that Oromo people (as a whole ethnic group) were colonized by another ethnic group. Usually, the slogan goes “Abyssinians colonized Oromos” etc. This claim is popular among the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) organization and consequently among some Diaspora Oromo nationalists living in America and Europe. While a different version or a re-arrangement of the wording might still be true…in general, the Oromo nation as a whole was never colonized by another Ethiopian ethnic group. To start with, even a united one Oromo nation did not exist at those times. All non-political historical textbooks show the existence of battles between multi-ethnic BUT monolingual communities for many centuries through out Ethiopia. Even in northern Ethiopia (traditional “Abyssinia”) Oromos have migrated and mixed so much with Tigrayans, Amharas, Afars etc for centuries that the “Abyssinia” state itself was never a one-ethnic state. In fact, even around the 1700s, Rayya Oromos and Yejju Wallo Oromos conquered and dominated a portion of Amharas and Tigrayans and thus made Afan Oromo the official language of Abyssinia for that brief period. Meaning: clans and ethnic groups have mixed up in Ethiopia for over a millennium but the dominant ethnic group always imposed its language since it was convenient. This linguistic domination however was not always as exploitive and as vilified as it is today because many of the ethnic groups living along trade centers and trade routes often spoke the languages of other ethnic groups already, because there was financial or commercial incentive to do so. This is the background of the region. Therefore, when it comes to the Emperor Menelik era, all historians have argued that it is more factual to say a predominantly Amharic language speaking community gradually conquered a predominantly Afan Oromo language speaking community in the 1800s. So this does not mean an Oromo ethnic group was conquered by an Amhara ethnic group. In fact, just like Amharas of the north were divided,Oromos were also divided and in conflict among themselves. The obvious evidence for this comes from the fact that the Amhara Emperor Menelik was imprisoned by other Amhara regional kings when he was younger. And when he was freed, Oromo clans were also in fierce battles amongst each other, so much so that the Tullama Oromo, Limmu and Macha Oromos created an alliance with the Shewan Amharas of Menelik, leading to the infamous battles of 1880s that led to this said alliance easily crushing the non-allied Oromos in various bloody wars. In short, Oromos as a one whole were never colonized by exclusively non-Oromos. In fact, the original founders of the OLF organization themselves never believed it so they did not emphasize the word “colonization” in the beginning. But in the mid-1970s, OLF leaders needed to mobilize Oromos against Emperor Haile Selassie (who was half Oromo himself) and to justify the call for “Oromia independence” from “colonial Ethiopia.” Therefore OLF had to create a bad cop-good cop scenario for their convenience and simplified history for their people to create national resentment. This helped OLF to portray Oromos as suddenly being colonized by this foreign ethnic group (Amhara) that we (Oromos) have never came in contact with before. This is common tactic used by national liberation movements around the world. The truth that most Ethiopians know is that Shewa based Oromos and Amharas (ethnically mixed Ethiopians) were the main creators of modern Ethiopia. In his book “Who are the Shoans,” the historian and anthropologist, Dr. Gerry Salole once summarized that: “In terms of descent, the group that became politically dominant in Shewa (and subsequently in Ethiopia) was a mixture of Amhara and Oromo.”

In Conclusion, the above are 4 of the main issues that create confusion for foreign journalists who report on Oromo people and Oromo politics in Ethiopia. While it is vital that al Jazeera and other media outlets cover the current suffering of Oromos and other Ethiopians, it is necessary to report responsibly. Otherwise, creating confusion and resentment between the younger Ethiopian population causes more problems than solutions. In reality, not just Oromos, but all Ethiopians have suffered under several governments and the only way they can achieve freedom and lasting democracy is when united, not when divided by tribes or not when being polarized by historical lies presented as truth. It is important that foreign media outlets make corrections or report accurate information to avoid inflammatory statements that are destructive and counter productive against Oromos and all Ethiopian people’ ongoing struggle for democracy, development and justice.

8 Ethiopia Facts: Poverty, Progress, and What You Should Know

Ethiopia is making significant progress out of poverty. The people of Ethiopia are becoming more productive, healthy, and educated as the government, local organizations, international nonprofits, and the communities themselves join hands to lift the nation from its status as a developing country.

Although the east African country has seen impressive growth in recent years, there is still much to be done.

Learn eight Ethiopia facts on poverty and progress in 2019.

Ethiopia Fact 1: 2nd Largest Population in Africa

The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is a landlocked country on what’s called “the horn” of Africa. Green hills and mountains surround the mostly rural, agricultural communities, and Ethiopia’s Lake Tana, the “source of the Blue Nile,” has a rich history in Christian tradition.

With 105 million people in 2017 and an estimated 109 million in 2019, Ethiopia is also one of the most highly populated countries in Africa, second behind Nigeria.

In the western world, Ethiopia is often viewed as emblematic of poverty. A history of colonization, political unrest, and a refugee crisis brought on by war-torn countries surrounding Ethiopia have contributed to the country’s poor economic status and global perception.

Despite their challenges, data is showing Ethiopians are working towards a better future.

Ethiopia Fact 2: A Third of the Population is Without Safe Water

Gete, an Ethiopian woman, used to walk 20 minutes to fill her container with contaminated water. Today, her community has safe water. She said, “We thought sickness was normal… I have seen a great change in my village.”

The Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP), a global database for all things water access, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) and the leading source on WASH data, reports that tens of millions of people in the Ethiopia are still relying on contaminated drinking water.

In total, 31.1 percent (a third of the population), rely on unprotected water for their daily needs.

Of that 31 percent, 8.6 percent of the population is drinking water from rivers, lakes, ponds, and other sources that the JMP deems “surface water.” The remaining 22.5 percent are drinking unsafe water from hand-dug wells and natural springs.

The country is experiencing a water crisis, and everyone from the national government to small charities and communities themselves are working to solve it. As a result, Ethiopia has made substantial progress in water access.

In the year 2000, 75 percent of the population relied on unsafe drinking water. That percentage has been cut in half in just 15 years and continues to fall. Today, more Ethiopians drinks safe water than ever before.


Ethiopia Fact 3: Nearly a Quarter are Without a Toilet

The JMP reports that 22.35 percent of people are practicing what’s called “open defecation” (OD), the act of using the bathroom in fields, forests, or along the countryside.

In these communities, human feces are washed by the rain into rivers, springs, ponds, and swamps—places where many people are gathering their drinking water.

Families that drink this contaminated water experience waterborne diseases and pay expensive fees for treatment at local clinics and hospitals.

Open Defecation is a marker of extreme poverty. As OD decreases in developing countries, so do waterborne diseases, and so does poverty.


In the year 2000, nearly 80 percent of Ethiopia was using the restroom outside and in the open. Fifteen years later, that number dropped to 22.35 percent.

To accomplish this, most people built what’s called a “pit latrine,” a structure like an outhouse with walls, a roof, and a door to keep flies out. It’s a simple solution to a large problem, and these structures help keep disease from spreading.

Ethiopia Fact 4: Almost Half Have No Handwashing Facility

A young Ethiopian girl uses a “tippy tap,” a homemade hand washing device that’s becoming increasingly popular in the country.

In all communities (but especially close-knit, rural communities with young children) hand washing is vital in preventing the spread of disease.

JMP regards “basic” hygiene access as the “availability of a handwashing facility on premises with soap and water.”

In Ethiopia, 40.55 percent of households have no handwashing facility at all. Most people, 51.49 percent, have a handwashing facility but no reliable source of water or soap, and the remaining 7.96 percent have “basic” access, meaning they have access to a facility like a sink with soap and safe water.

This makes maintaining healthy hygiene and sanitation extremely difficult for most communities in Ethiopia. With simple, home-made structures called “tippy taps,” more Ethiopians are getting access to hand washing.


Ethiopia Fact 5: The Fertility Rate is Declining

Tibka of Dodola, Ethiopia, is studying to become a veterinarian. “See, I am making these things to pay for this room and college. I am fortunate to have learned an income-producing trade from my mother,” Tibka said.

The “fertility rate” is the average number of children per woman in a given country, and it is directly connected to economic growth or decline.

This is because families with fewer children have fewer costs, resulting in increased resources for every child. On average, children receive better education and better medical care. With fewer children, labor force participation increases, especially for women.

In the year 2000, the average number of children to each woman in Ethiopia was between six and seven. In 2017, there were four children to every woman.

Decreases in fertility are often the result of a modernizing society. The healthier and wealthier a community becomes, the fewer children women bear on average. Similarly, the argument could be made that the fewer children women have on average, the wealthier communities become.

Ethiopia Fact 6: The Average Person Lives to the Age of 65

A grandmother in Ethiopia stifles a laugh.

Life expectancy at birth is an important measure of the overall health of a country. It’s influenced by the following and more:

  • Employment rates
  • Quality of education
  • Access to health care
  • Water access, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH)

In 2000, a person born in Ethiopia could expect to live 50 years. Today, a person born in Ethiopia can expect to live 65 years—15 additional years. In comparison, the United States grew just over one life expectancy year in that time frame, and the United Kingdom just over two years.

What researchers are finding is that the burden of disease in Ethiopia—an illness measurement—is on a steady decline. Ethiopians are less sick than they were nearly two decades ago, and they are living longer because of it.

This growth in life expectancy demonstrates that development strategies for reducing poverty are seeing success.

Ethiopia Fact 7: 1 in 17 Children Die Before Turning 5 Years Old

Closely related to life expectancy is the under-five mortality ratio, which is also an indicator of a country’s overall health.

The most up-to-date information reports that for every 1,000 children born in Ethiopia, 58 die before their fifth birthday. That’s one in every 17 children.

Most under-five deaths are caused by preventable diseases like malaria, diarrhea, and pneumonia. While malaria is caused by infected mosquitoes, diarrhea and pneumonia are connected closely with the following:

Right now, five countries account for half of all the newborn (<1) deaths in the world. Ethiopia is one of them, along with India, Pakistan, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

What researchers are finding is that the burden of disease in Ethiopia—an illness measurement—is on a steady decline.

The prevention of childhood illness and death is perhaps the globe’s most united and urgent mission. Research shows that each one of the top five countries are seeing progress. For Ethiopia, under-five mortality improved from 203 deaths in 1,000 in 1990 (1 in 5 children) to 1 in 17 in 2016.

In the West Arsi zone of Ethiopia, communities who adopted five health and sanitation practices and received safe water successfully decreased instances of childhood diarrheal disease by 98 percent. That’s a virtual elimination of diarrheal disease, the second leading cause of death in children worldwide.


Ethiopia Fact 8: Poverty is Declining

A young girl stands outside her home in a rural village in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is making strides in poverty alleviation efforts. When compared to other African countries, only Uganda has seen higher poverty reduction between 2000 and 2011.

According to the World Bank, agricultural growth has been the biggest driver in reducing poverty in Ethiopia. In 2007, 85 percent of Ethiopia’s population was involved in the agricultural sector. Knowing this, country leaders drove initiatives to support agriculture.

The National Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), was created in 2010 for the purpose of identifying factors that limit agricultural growth and developing solutions and systems to support development projects. The ATA has done just that, and agriculture has improved.

Another contributor to poverty reduction in Ethiopia is the vast provision of safe water access, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) access in the country.

In 2000, the United Nations called for safe water access in their Millennium Development Goals (SDG’s), a global agreement to meet the needs of the world’s poorest communities. In 2015, their call went further, demanding safe water access for all by 2030 in Sustainable Development Goal #6.

WASH provides organic economic growth in countries. It does the following:

  • Frees families from costly waterborne disease
  • Saves people time traveling for water
  • Keep children healthy and in school

In Ethiopia, governmental and nongovernmental organizations worked in concert to train communities in simple but life-saving health practices like handwashing, and safe water sources were constructed across the country. Communities did the difficult work of adopting these health practices and helping to maintain their water source.

As a result of poverty alleviation efforts of all types, the poverty rate has continued to fall. In 1999, 44.2 percent of Ethiopians were living on less than $1.90 a day. By 2010, that number was at 29.6 percent, and in 2015, it fell further to 23.5 percent.

Families in Ethiopia are working to improve their lives. With greater access to education, safe water, food security, and sanitation and hygiene practices, the population still living in poverty can make their way into the middle class.

5. Anuak People

The Anuak people of Ethiopia have a relatively small population size ranging from 250,000-300,000 across the globe.

Even though their numbers are small, the land they inhabit is one of the largest and resource rich in Ethiopia.

The Anuaks of Gambella in Ethiopia are referred to as lowlanders by the highlanders such as the Amharas, Oromos, and Tigrayans.

The Anuak people have land that is rich with fertile soil as the rivers from the highlands all empty out on their land.

The majority of the Anuak people follow Christianity and were one of the first to convert to this religion among those in their areas.



Ethiopia is in east-central Africa, bordered on the west by the Sudan, the east by Somalia and Djibouti, the south by Kenya, and the northeast by Eritrea. It has several high mountains, the highest of which is Ras Dashan at 15,158 ft (4,620 m). The Blue Nile, or Abbai, rises in the northwest and flows in a great semicircle before entering the Sudan. Its chief reservoir, Lake Tana, lies in the northwest.


Archeologists have found the oldest known human ancestors in Ethiopia, including Ardipithecus ramidus kadabba (c. 5.8?5.2 million years old) and Australopithecus anamensis (c. 4.2 million years old). Originally called Abyssinia, Ethiopia is sub-Saharan Africa's oldest state, and its Solomonic dynasty claims descent from King Menelik I, traditionally believed to have been the son of the queen of Sheba and King Solomon. The current nation is a consolidation of smaller kingdoms that owed feudal allegiance to the Ethiopian emperor.

Hamitic peoples migrated to Ethiopia from Asia Minor in prehistoric times. Semitic traders from Arabia penetrated the region in the 7th century B.C. Its Red Sea ports were important to the Roman and Byzantine Empires. Coptic Christianity was brought to the region in A.D. 341, and a variant of it became Ethiopia's state religion. Ancient Ethiopia reached its peak in the 5th century, then was isolated by the rise of Islam and weakened by feudal wars.

Modern Ethiopia emerged under Emperor Menelik II, who established its independence by routing an Italian invasion in 1896. He expanded Ethiopia by conquest. Disorders that followed Menelik's death brought his daughter to the throne in 1917, with his cousin, Tafari Makonnen, as regent and heir apparent. When the empress died in 1930, Tafari was crowned Emperor Haile Selassie I.

Haile Selassie, called the ?Lion of Judah,? outlawed slavery and tried to centralize his scattered realm, in which 70 languages were spoken. In 1931, he created a constitution, revised in 1955, that called for a parliament with an appointed senate, an elected chamber of deputies, and a system of courts. But basic power remained with the emperor.

Fascist Italy invaded Ethiopia on Oct. 3, 1935, forcing Haile Selassie into exile in May 1936. Ethiopia was annexed to Eritrea, then an Italian colony, and to Italian Somaliland, forming Italian East Africa. In 1941, British troops routed the Italians, and Haile Selassie returned to Addis Ababa. In 1952, Eritrea was incorporated into Ethiopia.

Mengistu Leads a Campaign of "Red Terror"

On Sept. 12, 1974, Haile Selassie was deposed, the constitution suspended, and Ethiopia proclaimed a Socialist state under a collective military dictatorship called the Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC), also known as the Derg. U.S. aid stopped, and Cuban and Soviet aid began. Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam became head of state in 1977. During this period Ethiopia fought against Eritrean secessionists as well as Somali rebels, and the government fought against its own people in a campaign called the ?red terror.? Thousands of political opponents were killed. Mengistu remained leader until 1991, when his greatest supporter, the Soviet Union, dismantled itself. In May 2008, Ethiopia?s Supreme Court sentenced Mengistu to death in absentia. He had lived in Zimbabwe since 1991.

A group called the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front seized the capital in 1991, and in May a separatist guerrilla organization, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front, took control of the province of Eritrea. The two groups agreed that Eritrea would have an internationally supervised referendum on independence. This election took place in April 1993 with almost unanimous support for Eritrean independence. Ethiopia accepted and recognized Eritrea as an independent state within a few days. Sixty-eight leaders of the former military government were put on trial in April 1996 on charges that included genocide and crimes against humanity.

War with Eritrea

Since Eritrea's independence, Eritrea and Ethiopia had disagreed about the exact demarcation of their borders, and in May 1998, Eritrea initiated border clashes that developed into a full-scale war that left more than 80,000 dead and further destroyed both countries' ailing economies. After a costly and bloody two-year war, a formal peace agreement was signed in Dec. 2000. The United Nations provided more than 4,000 peacekeeping forces to patrol the buffer zone between the two nations. An international commission defined a new border between the two countries in April 2002. Ethiopia disputed the new border, escalating tensions between the two countries once again. In Dec. 2005, an international Court of Arbitration ruled that Eritrea had violated international law in attacking Ethiopia in the 1998 war.

In 2003, in an effort to solve its chronic shortage of food and to lessen its dependence on international aid, Ethiopia began relocating 2 million farmers from their parched highland homes to areas with more fertile soil in the western part of the country. The largest relocation program in African history, however, has turned into a disaster. The majority of those resettled are still unable to support themselves, and, most alarmingly, much of the fertile regions where the farmers have been resettled are rife with malaria.

Ethiopia Lends Military Support to Neighbor Somalia

In June 2006, an Islamist militia seized control of the capital of neighboring Somalia and established control in much of that country's south. Ethiopia, which has clashed in the past with Somalia's Islamists and considers them a threat to regional security, began amassing troops on Somalia's border, in support of Somalia's weak transitional government, led by President Abdullah. In mid-December, Ethiopia launched air strikes against the Islamists, and in a matter of days Ethiopian ground troops and Somali soldiers regained of Mogadishu. A week later most of the Islamists had been forced to flee the country. Ethiopia announced that its troops would remain in Somalia until stability was assured and a functional central government had been established. Battles between the insurgents and Somali and Ethiopian troops intensified in March, leaving 300 civilians dead in what has been called the worst fighting in 15 years. Amid a growing threat from militant Islamists, Ethiopia began withdrawing troops from Somalia in January 2009. At this point, Somalia was far from stable. Indeed, Ethiopia's presence in Somalia sparked increased guerrilla warfare and even further weakened the transitional government. Many feared that the withdrawal, along with Somalia's political instability, would provide Islamists an opportunity to fill the power vacuum.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front won parliamentary elections by a wide margin in May 2010. The U.S. and the European Union said the vote failed to meet international standards, and the opposition refused to recognize the results. Nevertheless, parliament elected Zenawi to a fourth term.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi Dies

In August 2012, Prime Minister Zenawi died at age 57 after a long illness. Zenawi had been in power since 1995. He is credited with lifting the country out of famine to the point that Ethiopia began exporting food, reducing poverty, increasing economic growth, and improving infrastructure. However, Zenawi was repressive and dictatorial, arresting and imprisoning activists, journalists, and members of the opposition. Relations between the U.S. and Ethiopia improved under Zenawi, with Ethiopia helping the U.S. combat Muslim militants in Africa. The U.S. gives Ethiopia some $800 million in aid annually. Hailemariam Desalegn, the minister of foreign affairs, succeeded Zenawi.

On October 7, 2013, Mulatu Teshome Wirtu became the fourth president of Ethiopia. He previously served as Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Cooperation, Minister of Agriculture, and Speaker of the House of Federation. He also served as the country's Ambassador to China, Japan and Turkey. He was elected president by Parliament. The vote was unanimous. Mulatu Teshome replaces Girma Wolde-Giorgis who could not seek re-election due to term limits.

ISIS Targets Ethiopian Workers Ruling Party Stays in Power

In April 2015, members of the Islamic State killed about 20 migrant workers in Libya. The victims, believed to be Ethiopian Christians, were either shot or beheaded.

Preliminary results of May 2015 elections, gave the Ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) a landslide victory. The opposition accused the EPRDF of voter intimidation. Voter turnout was high, about 90%.

Strategic Focus

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Ethiopia office opened in 2001 and works in partnership with the Government of Ethiopia (GoE) to save lives, prevent new HIV and Tuberculosis (TB) infections, and strengthen health systems. Technical assistance is focused on comprehensive HIV treatment and prevention, TB/HIV, laboratory systems, and strategic information.

Reaching HIV Epidemic Control: CDC is supporting the GoE to reach HIV epidemic control by improving active case-finding, linkage to treatment, viral load testing, and adherence and retention of existing clients on antiretroviral therapy (ART). CDC is providing technical assistance to establish a national HIV case-based surveillance system, linked with a public health response to outbreaks or clusters of new cases. This activity is core to monitoring and sustaining epidemic control.

Building Local Partner Capacity: CDC, through partners, provides assistance with HIV transition strategies to achieve epidemic control. Collaborations with Regional Health Bureaus (RHBs) are building capacity for planning, coordination, execution, performance monitoring, and quality improvement of the HIV program. CDC provides support to the Ethiopia Public Health Institute (EPHI) to strengthen disease detection and response functions for sustaining HIV epidemic control, and for implementation of a national integrated laboratory strategic plan, including workforce development, establishing systems for specimen referral and information exchange, and completing laboratory construction.


Main minority and religious community: Oromo, 34.4 per cent Amhara 27 per cent, Somali 6.2 per cent, Tigray 6.1 per cent, Sidama 4 per cent, Gurage 2.5 per cent, Welaita 2.3 per cent, Hadiya 1.7 per cent, Afar 1.7 per cent, Gamo 1.5 per cent, Gedeo 1.3 per cent, Siite 1.3 per cent, Kefficho 1.2 per cent, and others 8.8 per cent (based on the 2007 census)

Main religions: Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, Protestant Christianity, Islam, indigenous beliefs

Main languages: Amharic (official), Tigrinya, Oromo, Afar, Somali

The total population of Ethiopia in 2017 is approximately 102.37 million. In terms of minority and indigenous representation, Ethiopia is a diverse country made up of a federation of minority groups including ethnic, language, religious, and regional minorities. The Ethiopian census lists more than 90 distinct ethnic groups in the country.

More than 80 languages are spoken, with the greatest diversity found in the south-west. Amharic (a Semitic language), Oromo, Tigrinya and Somali are spoken by two-thirds of the population. About 43.5 per cent of the population adheres to Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity and 33.9 per cent to Islam. The remainder are Protestant, Roman Catholic or followers of traditional religions. Historically the Semitic, Amhara and Tigray peoples of the northern highlands have dominated political life in the region. They are largely Orthodox Christians, while most Muslims and followers of indigenous beliefs tend to live in lowland areas in the country’s south and east.

Ethiopia is a diverse country made up of a federation of groups including ethnic, linguistic, religious, and regional minorities. The Ethiopian census lists more than 90 distinct ethnic groups in the country. The largest ethnic community, the Oromo, constitute just over a third of the population. Approximately 43 per cent of the population is considered to be Ethiopian Orthodox Christian, with a significant Muslim minority making up another 34 per cent of the population. Like many African countries, Ethiopia has a large youth bulge with more than 60 per cent of the population under the age of 24. Its diversity has defined its federalist political structure and its minority rights-friendly Constitution, but lack of effective implementation of Ethiopia’s federalist structure and ongoing marginalization of minorities and indigenous peoples has generated a powder-keg in the country of more than 100 million people.

Years of unrest culminated in demonstrations in February 2018 demanding the release of Bekele Gerba , secretary general of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) who had been in prison since December 2015, and other opposition leaders. While the resignation of Hailemariam Desalegn as Prime Minister and the arrival in April 2018 of reformist Abiy Ahmed in his place has given rise to optimism, Ethiopia faces dire challenges. Ahmed has released thousands of political prisoners, invited former rebel groups to dialogue, and lifted severe restrictions on the country’s television and online media landscape. Yet freeing up political space has energized power struggles between dominant ethnic groups who stand to benefit or lose from wide-ranging reforms. With little constraint on expression of grievances, proliferation of e xtreme views on social media risks inflaming ethnic violence. In the south, deadly conflict between ethnic Oromo and Somalis has intensified, along with clashes between armed groups and the army in the west. Some opposition groups returning from Eritrea have failed to disarm, attacking military and civilian targets and triggering intercommunal violence, notably among Guji and Gedeo . More people were internally displaced in Ethiopia in 2018 than in any other country, totalling nearly 3 million according to some estimates.

Much of the unrest in recent years has been driven by government plans to annex lands held by Oromo farmers to expand the urban areas of the capital. The proposal resonated with a long history of struggle by the Oromo people in Ethiopia, in which they have consistently been marginalized by a government dominated by the minority ethnic Tigray community . Though the government had announced it would cancel the controversial expansion plans, the protests had continued and intensified. In October 2016, the government declared a nationwide state of emergency, with more than 11,000 people reportedly arrested in the first month of the crackdown, and more than 1,000 protestors killed during 2017.

Oromo protests over human rights violations also inspired and spread to other disenfranchised groups, such as the Amhara and Muslim populations, both of which have staged protests demanding respect for their rights. The Muslim community has long accused the government of interfering with their religious practices and recent attempts to use anti-terrorist legislation to prosecute prominent Muslim leaders in the country have exacerbated these grievances. Amhara have been fighting for increased self-determination in their autonomous region. Protests in Gondar in August 2016 saw thousands of people in the Amhara region demonstrate against the government.

Many of Ethiopia’s indigenous peoples residing in the Gambella and Lower Omo regions also have been objecting to the government’s development activities on their traditional lands, particularly the controversial Gibe III dam, officially inaugurated in December 2016. Communities who have lived along the Lower Omo River for centuries – along with environmental and indigenous rights activists from across the region – have long objected to the dam project because of its potentially devastating impacts on the ecosystem and the livelihoods of communities in the region. The dam is designed to more than double Ethiopia’s hydropower output and to support the vast commercial agricultural plantations that the government has been developing.

Creation of these plantations has led to forced displacement of thousands of indigenous people in the region, through a ‘ villagization ’ process that resulted in well-documented human rights violations. Indigenous communities have lost their homes, their grazing territories and their agricultural lands, and have experienced significant disruption of their cultural traditions as a result of the displacement. Moreover, the dam has already had significant impacts on the flow of water through the Lower Omo region, which depends on an annual cycle of flooding. Official data from Turkana’s fisheries department shows that the volume of fish stock caught in the waters has declined from around 17,000 tonnes in 1979 to less than 7,500 tonnes in 2017. The dam also is likely to have significant environmental impacts on indigenous communities and the environment in neighboring Kenya, where water levels in Lake Turkana have dropped by 1.5 meters since the dam reservoir began to fill. Environmentalists have long predicted that Lake Turkana may disappear entirely as a result of the dam, but the Kenyan government has signed up to buy electricity generated by the Ethiopia’s newest hydroelectric plant. In June 2018, UNESCO added Lake Turkana to its World Heritage Site Endangered List, signalling concerns that its survival could be under threat. Despite a decade of protest and attempts to mitigate the impact on local communities, the dam is now fully functional and the Ethiopian government is reportedly planning additional development in the region.


Ethiopia is located in the north-eastern extension of Africa known as the Horn. It is bordered by Eritrea, Somalia , Djibouti, Kenya and Sudan. Ethiopia features geographic diversity: from highland plateaus and mountains, to the Great Rift Valley and arid lowland steppes. The area’s susceptibility to drought and soil erosion has been worsened by widespread deforestation over the past century.


The earliest humans evolved in parts of what is today Ethiopia. Ethiopians are proud of their history of empire – in the ninth century BC, the Kingdom of Axum (centred in present-day northern Ethiopia) dominated the region stretching into Yemen and Somalia – and of resistance to domination by others. Ethiopia was never colonized. In 1896, it defeated Italy in war, six years after the Italians had established a colony in neighbouring Eritrea. In 1936, the Italians tried again, capturing Addis Ababa and ruled Ethiopia as part of Italian East Africa, together with Eritrea and Italian Somaliland. But their rule was short-lived, and in 1941 Ethiopian resistance fighters joined British and Commonwealth forces to restore Emperor Haile Selassie to the throne.

Britain recognized Ethiopia’s full sovereignty in 1944, and in the following year Eritrea became a protectorate of the United Nations. In 1950 the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling for Eritrean autonomy and legislative, executive and judicial authority over its own domestic affairs with all other matters falling under federal, Ethiopian jurisdiction. In September 1952, after a two-year interim period, Eritrea became a semi-autonomous self-governing territory in confederation with Ethiopia. The Haile Selassie regime gradually encroached on Eritrean rule, however, and in 1962 rendered it an Ethiopian province like any other.

From his restoration in 1941 until his fall in 1974, Haile Selassie strove to undermine the identities of non-Amhara nations and nationalities in the name of Ethiopian unity, continuing the subjugation of the south established by his predecessors’ imperial conquest. The Amharic language and Amhara culture became the essential attributes of being Ethiopian. As a result, peoples of the south in particular suffered comprehensive domination – economically, politically and culturally. From 1969, the Ethiopian government also faced a strong armed separatist movement in Eritrea. For much of the population, a sense of Ethiopian identity may never have been stronger, but Selassie’s methods were sowing the seeds for ethnic discord.

While Haile Selassie and his court lived lavishly, his autocratic rule brought only economic ruin to Ethiopia. In the drought of 1973 and 1974, some 250,000 Ethiopians perished in the northern province of Wallo. Many of the victims were Wolloyea Amharas, Tigrayans, Afars and Oromo. During these Cold War years, Haile Selassie enjoyed the strong support of the United States and its western allies. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, domestic opposition to Selassie took the form of pro-Soviet Marxism-Leninism.

Students and the military revolted in 1974 a military junta – the Derg – came to power, led by Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam. Mengistu consolidated his control to become Ethiopian head of state in 1977. He launched a brutal offensive – known as the ‘Red Terror’ – against government opponents, including rival Marxists, as well as a catastrophic programme of forced collectivization and resettlement.

The military dictatorship sought to maintain the imperial state and to modernize and secularize the country by first breaking down the social and economic power of the Church and landed aristocracy. But the breakdown of authority and erosion of the social institutions on which it had rested encouraged the proliferation of regional nationalism directed against the central government in Addis Ababa. The Derg sought to purge all members suspected of harbouring ethnic loyalties, mainly Eritreans. It recognized the right of all nationalities to a form of self-determination, defined not as a right to secession but as regional autonomy. A Somali invasion in 1977 put a quick end to even this concession.

After the Ogaden war against the Somalis in 1978, Mengistu exploited clan differences between the two largest dissident pastoralist communities, Somalis and Afars. A third, smaller group, the Boran in Sidamo, were driven into the arms of the Derg by opposition to Somali expansion. The largest ethnic group, the Oromo, also failed to create an effective national movement despite a history of ethnically based rebellion and the existence of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Other local peoples of the south, such as Gurage and Sidama, also wanted to create separate states, but the complicated patterns of residence would make the drawing of boundaries an insoluble problem.

Mengistu’s fall

Like Haile Selassie before him, Mengistu proved uninterested in acting to mitigate drought-induced famine. In 1984-5, hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians perished as the government instead focused energy and resources on the military campaign against the growing Tigrayan and Eritrean separatist movements. In 1989 a shift occurred in the power balance due to the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front’s (EPLF) defeat of the Derg army at Afabet, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) capture of Mekelle, the low morale of a largely conscript and increasingly teenage Ethiopian army, and an abortive military coup. These factors coincided with the end of the Cold War and, in 1991, the end of Soviet arms shipments to the Mengistu regime. In May 1991 the EPLF took control of Eritrea and, one day after Asmara’s fall, the TPLF entered Addis Ababa with the assistance of Eritrean tanks and soldiers. Mengistu fled to Zimbabwe.

TPLF in power

Meles Zenawi, the TPLF leader, set about organizing the state as an ethnic federation. This was done by ensuring that parties dominated by the TPLF and their allies controlled the political life of each nationality. These co-opted representatives of other ethnicities were organized under a single-party umbrella: the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). This proved a particularly difficult undertaking as Tigrayans comprised only around 6 per cent of the Ethiopian population.

After 1991, EPRDF government forces took control in all rural areas, with few exceptions, putting EPRDF parties in positions of administrative power. Initially offering cooperation with the other liberation movements, the issues of nationality and landownership remained contested and gradually groups other than the TPLF were eased out of the transitional government. There was considerable opposition to EPRDF policies. The government countered with administrative techniques as a weapon of regulation and discipline. In the 1992 elections the EPRDF controlled the electoral commission and allegedly prevented the registration of opposition candidates. That same year, the EPRDF used military force to subdue an uprising by the secessionist OLF, which had been shut out of the political process.

Afar, Oromo, Sidama and Somalis supported secessionism, while the All Amhara People’s Organization and other groups opposed the break-up of the nation state. Many Ethiopians disliked the idea of splitting the country along ethnic lines, and yearned for the kind of unity that had been established under the Amharic emperors Menelik and Selassie. Eritrea’s move towards independence in 1993 increased the burden on Meles and his government to square demands for greater ethnic and regional autonomy with the resentment that Eritrea’s departure caused those favouring unity. The EPRDF was poorly equipped to handle this challenge, both due to its base in the small ethnic Tigrayan community and its rigidity in governing style. Meles had abandoned Marxist-Leninist ideology, but maintained the authoritarianism with which he had espoused it.

After Eritrean independence, a new Ethiopian Constitution was adopted in 1994 with negligible public consultation. It replaced the country’s 14 regions with nine ethnically based states in addition to multi-ethnic Addis Ababa. In theory, these were permitted secession from the federation, but there were no provisions for the protection of minorities and ethnic groups dwelling outside their own administrative regions. A federal council was created to ensure ‘equality’ in the states. In practice, government remained highly centralized, dominated by the EPRDF and Meles.

Ethnic tensions were heightened by government restrictions on political competition. Under the provisions of the new Constitution, multi-party elections were held in 1995. The EPRDF took 548 seats in the Council of Representatives and seven regional state councils, either directly or through EPRDF-sponsored parties. In three out of ten regions where a genuinely ethnically based opposition existed, elections were postponed for security reasons. Despite a façade of multi-ethnicity, most Ethiopians continued to regard the government as being dominated by Tigrayans – a view bolstered by Tigrayan predominance in Ethiopia’s security forces.

Eritrean-Ethiopian border war

Meles quickly fell out with erstwhile EPLF ally and Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki. Clashing personalities sharpened disputes over Ethiopian access to Eritrean ports, the price of Eritrean refined oil to the Ethiopian market, and Ethiopia’s refusal to conduct trade in Eritrea’s new currency. Facing resentment over Tigrayan dominance in Ethiopia, Meles took a hard line against Eritrea, rallying Amhara and other peoples within Ethiopia who were bitter over its loss.

Border tensions developed in late 1997, and in May 1998, Eritrean and Ethiopian border patrols clashed in the desert, at the disputed town of Badme. To the surprise of many in the international community, the conflict rapidly escalated into mutual bombing campaigns and trench warfare. Ethiopia expelled 77,000 Eritreans from its territory, and the fighting displaced hundreds of thousands more at various points during the conflict. By the time Ethiopian forces broke through the Eritrean lines and the conflict ended in 2000 with the Algiers Agreement, some 100,000 Ethiopians and Eritreans had been killed. The agreement led to the deployment of UN peacekeepers and the establishment of a border demarcation commission. The commission ruled in 2003 that Badme lies in Eritrea, but Ethiopia refused to accept that ruling and later called for a dialogue – which Eritrea rejected. As the stand-off continued, Meles remained in power until his death in office in 2012, despite, or perhaps because of the desert border dispute with Eritrea that cost tens of thousands of lives. Occasional clashes have continued to occur, for instance in June 2016, with both sides blaming the other.

The war devastated the economies of both countries, primarily by cutting off cross-border trade and by diverting resources to massive military purchases. It also provided Meles with ample pretext for domestic human rights violations and delays in the implementation of democratic government.

Parliamentary elections in May 2000 exhibited significant flaws. The independent monitoring group Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO) reported election-related incidents of abuse of opposition candidates and supporters, including killings, the arbitrary detention of opposition candidates and their transfer or dismissal from employment, and incidents involving the wounding of opposition supporters by gunshot. Opposition supporters faced harassment and detention, particularly in rural areas, and the media showed heavy bias in favour of the government. The EPRDF won overwhelmingly and elected Meles to a second term as prime minister.

2005 elections: violence, arrests and human rights abuses

Ethiopians returned to the polls on 15 May 2005 to elect a new parliament, but EU observers concluded that, in light of intimidation of opposition officials, as well as irregularities with regard to voter-registration lists and election administration, the elections failed to meet international standards. When preliminary official results were released in June 2005 that indicated significant opposition gains in parliament, but another EPRDF victory, violent protests erupted in Addis Ababa. The opposition felt they had won outright, and were supported particularly by the Amhara diaspora, some of whom sought to turn the protests into a general uprising against Meles.

The government responded with a new crackdown that resulted in the killing of some 40 people by the security forces, the mass arrest of around 4,000 opposition supporters, and the banning of demonstrations. Ongoing protests over the disputed elections flared again in November 2005.

An independent report conducted by Ethiopian judge Wolde-Michael Meshesha later found that election violence in June and November had resulted in the killings of 193 people and the wounding of 763, mostly in the opposition strongholds of Addis Ababa and Oromia. Much of the violence was directed at Amhara and Oromo people, who are prevalent in the opposition. Meshesha termed the violence a government ‘massacre’ after refusing government pressure to amend his findings and receiving death threats, he fled to Europe in 2006. In July 2007, 30 opposition leaders were jailed for life over election protests – but released days afterwards, after being officially pardoned. The government denied the releases had been the result of US pressure.

Meles governed Ethiopia until his death in office in 2012, presiding over a process of continuing centralization and increasing disaffection amongst the diverse communities in the country. The protections of the progressive Constitution were never fully realized under Meles. Moreover, Ethiopia’s various communities continued to experience poverty, displacement and human rights abuses as a result of government development programs that required massive changes in traditional land use patterns. Pastoralists and other indigenous peoples were particularly negatively affected throughout the years, suffering cycles of forced displacement, food insecurity, and loss of cultural and livelihood continuity.

After Meles’ death in August 2012, his deputy, Hailemariam Desalegn, was quickly elevated to acting head of government as Prime Minister, he has largely continued Meles’ policies of centralized decision-making. In 2012, discontent was reportedly growing amongst almost all communities, including religious minorities, marginalized ethnic groups such as the Oromo, and even amongst some members of the Tigray population.

Ethiopia under Hailemariam Desalegn

Despite the change in leadership, controversial villagization and other development schemes continued in many regions of Ethiopia. The villagization program, resulting in forced resettlement of tens of thousands of people, had serious negative impacts on minorities and indigenous peoples in Ethiopia. Although the asserted purpose of the villagization process was to provide enhanced public services, including healthcare, relocated Ethiopians reported that the promised services have not materialized.

The 2015 parliamentary elections further cemented the EPRDF’s hold on power. Together with its allies, it won all the seats in parliament. While the election commission concluded that the vote had been free and fair, opposition parties denounced attacks and intimidation against their supporters during the preceding months.

The years since Desalegn took power have been characterized by increasing unrest in the country, including protests commencing in November 2015 by Oromo students against proposed urban expansion plans for the capital city, Addis Ababa. The protestors objected to plans by the government to annex lands held by Oromo farmers to expand the urban areas of the capital. The plan to appropriate parts of Oromo territory resonated with a long history of struggle by the Oromo people in Ethiopia, in which they have consistently claimed to be marginalized by a government dominated by the minority ethnic Tigray community. In January 2016, in an apparent victory for protestors, the government announced it would cancel the controversial expansion plans. Despite this concession, the protests continued and intensified. Ethiopian Oromo marathon runner Feyisa Lilesa made international news when he expressed solidarity with the Oromo protesters at the Rio Olympics after winning a silver medal. The government crackdown has led to ongoing human rights violations against the protesters and dozens of deaths.

The protests over the capital city expansion plan also resonated with other disenfranchised groups, such as the minority Amhara and Muslim populations, both of which staged protests demanding respect for their legal and human rights. The Muslim community has long accused the government of interfering with their religious practices and recent attempts to use anti-terrorist legislation to crack down on prominent Muslim leaders in the country have exacerbated these grievances. The Amhara have been fighting for increased self-determination in their autonomous region.

In October 2016, the government declared a nationwide state of emergency. It was estimated that more than 500 people had been killed since the protests began in 2015. More than 11,000 people were reportedly arrested in the first month of the crackdown alone. The government sent many detainees to ‘rehabilitation camps’ to try to indoctrinate them through reeducation. The state of emergency was renewed after six months, until the parliament voted to lift it in August 2017.


Ethiopia has traditionally been governed from the centre – one of the reasons for the growth of the Eritrean nationalist movement, which led to the eventual independence of Eritrea. This centralization and dominance over different ethnic groups led to the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coming to power in 1991 with the promise that Ethiopia’s peoples would no longer live under a centralized system.

The new government went on to restructure the state, forming an ethnic federation with regional ethnically-based states, and to create a strikingly progressive Constitution that guarantees ethnic groups a wide range of rights – including secession from the ethnic federation. Yet the government has continuously faced claims from opposition parties, as well as national and international human rights organizations, of widespread human rights violations. Furthermore, many ordinary Ethiopians are sceptical of the government’s agenda, questioning its commitment to promoting the rights of all ethnic groups.

The Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, adopted in 1994, represents a clear divergence from the former Ethiopian Constitutions implemented during the reign of Haile Selassie and the Derg. First, it establishes Ethiopia as a federal state, contrary to the unitary principle of the two former regimes second, the form of government is republican, rather than monarchical under an emperor and third, it sanctions a democratic multi-party system, contrary to the Derg’s single-party regime. Moreover, the Constitution (Article 13.2) gives protection to wide ranging individual and collective human rights, guaranteeing the implementation of the international human rights Covenants and other instruments which Ethiopia has ratified.

The Constitution, however, combines presidential and parliamentary forms of government in a manner that minimizes the separation of powers and the checks and balances found in other federal arrangements. The main constitutional control on government is embedded in the federal provisions and the right to self-determination for ethnic groups. The principle that ‘every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has an unconditional right to self-determination, including the right to secession’, however, is clearly the most radical and controversial element found in the Constitution (Article 39.1). The Constitution establishes that the ‘nations, nationalities and peoples’ of Ethiopia are the minimum component parts of the country, as opposed to individuals. Thus, the preamble to the Constitution does not commence with the familiar ‘We, the people of …’ but ‘We, the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia …’ Furthermore, the Constitution states that ‘all sovereign power resides in the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia’ and that the Constitution ‘is an expression of their sovereignty’ (Article 8.1 and 8.2).

However, the constitutional system denies the existence of any ‘minorities’ in Ethiopia: that is, ethnic, religious or linguistic communities which are politically oppressed or marginalized. Since all are equal and enjoy equal rights, the logic goes, there is no need to define specific minority rights.

The federal government is controlled by two representative bodies, namely the House of Peoples’ Representatives and the House of Federation. The Ethiopian Parliament is not, however, bicameral in the conventional sense. The House of Representatives, which is the highest authority, has full legislative authority and oversight functions, while the House of Federation mainly functions as a constitutional court in case of disputes.

The nine member states within the Ethiopian federation operate on a unitary principle. These states do not have an internal federal structure and the two main administrative levels within the state (woreda and zone) do not have any separate legislative authority. The basic unit of administration within the state is the woreda. Within the multi-ethnic states usually one ethnic group is given a woreda or zone. Where this is not possible, all ethnic groups within the woreda, regardless of their size, are to be guaranteed representation in an elected woreda council. In certain areas special woreda/zone are designed to protect minorities which live within the territory of a dominating group.