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  • Country: Ethiopia
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Library of Congress – Fede ral Re searc h Division Country P rofile: E thiopia, April 2005


April 2005


Formal Name: Federal De mocratic Republic of Ethiopia ( Ityop’iya Federalawi Demokrasiyawi
Ripeblik) .

Short Form: Ethiopia.

Term for C itiz en(s): Ethiopian(s).

Capital: Addis Ababa.

Major Cities: Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, Nazret, Hare r, Mekele, Jim a, Dese, Bahir Dar, and
Debre Zeyit (in order of d ecreasing size, 1994 census).

Independence: Ethiopia celebrates May 28 as its National Day, the date of the defeat of the
military gov ernm ent (Derg) in 1991.

Public Holidays: Ethiopians observe the following public holidays: Christm as (January 7,
2005*); Epiphany (January 19, 2005*); Feast of the Sacrifice/Eid al Adha (January 21, 2005*);
Battle of Adowa (March 2, 2005); Birth of th e Prophet/Mou loud (April 2 1, 2005*); Good Friday
(April 29, 2005*); May Day (May 1, 2005); East er Monday (May 2, 2005*); Patriots’ Victory
Day (May 5, 2005); Downfall of the Derg (M ay 28, 2005); New Year’s Day (Septem ber 11,
2005*); Feast of the True Cross (Septem ber 27, 2005*); End of Ra madan/Eid al F itr (Nove mber
4, 2005*). Asterisks indicate holidays with variable dates according to either the Islam ic or
Orthodox calendar.

Calendar: Ethiopia uses a solar calendar, which divides the year into 12 m onths of 30 days each,
the rem aining five days (six in a leap year) c onstituting a short thirteenth month. The Ethiopian
New Year comm ences on Septem ber 11 in the Gr egorian (W estern) calendar and ends on the
following Septem ber 10. In addition, the Ethi opian calendar runs ei ght years behind the
Gregorian (seven years from Septe mber 11 to Decem ber 31). Hence, the Ethiopian year 1997
began on Septem ber 11, 2004, and will end on Sept em ber 10, 2005, in the Gregorian calendar.

Ethiopia’s flag has three equal horizon tal bands of green (top), yellow,

Click to Enlarge Image
and red with a yellow pentagram and single yellow rays em anating from
the angles b etween the p oints on a light blue disk centered on the three
bands. Ethiopia is the oldest independ ent country in Afri ca, and the three
main colors of the flag were so of ten adopted by other African countries
on independ ence that they becam e known as the p an-African colors.


Library of Congress – Fede ral Re searc h Division Country P rofile: E thiopia, April 2005


Prehistory and Aksum: Archaeologists have discovered remains of early hom inids in
Ethiopia’s R ift Valley, including Australopithecus afarensis , o r “Lucy,” th ought to be 3.5 m illion
years old. B y ca. 7000 B. C., Cushitic- and Om otic-speaking peoples were present in Ethiopia,
after which further linguistic di versification gave rise to pe oples who spoke Agew, Sidam o,
Som ali, Oromo, and num erous Omotic tongues. In itially hunters and gathers, these peoples
eventually dom esticated indigenous plants, including the grasses teff and eleusine, and ensete, a
root crop, kept cattle and other anim als, and es tablished agricultural pa tterns of livelihood that
were to be c harac ter istic of the regio n into con temporary tim es. By at le ast the late f irst
millennium B. C., it appears, th e Agew occupied m uch of the northern h ighlands, whereas the
Sidam a inhabited the central and southern highlands. Both played im portant roles in subsequent
historical developm ents.

During the first m illenn ium B. C., Sabaeans from southwest Arabia m igrated ac ross the Red Sea
and settled in the extreme northern plateau. They brought with them their Se mitic speech and
writing sy stem and a knowledge of stone arch itecture. The S abaeans settled am ong the Agew
and crea ted a series of sm all politica l units tha t by the beginn ing of the Christian e ra had been
incorpor ated into th e Aksum ite Em pire, with its capita l at Aks um. The Aksum ite em pire was a
trad ing state that dom inated the Red Sea and co mm erce between the Nile Valley and Arabia and
between the Rom an Em pire and India. Centered in the highlands of pr esent-day Eritrea and
Tigray, it stretched at its hei ght from the Nile Valley in Sudan to Southwest Arabia. T he
Aksum ites used Greek as a trad ing language, but a new Se mitic langu age, Ge’ez, aros e that is
thought to be at least indirectly ancestral to m odern Am haric and Tigrinya. The Aksum ites also
constructed stone palaces and publ ic buildings, erected large f unerary oblelisks, and m inted
coins. In the early fourth centu ry, Christianity was introduced in its Byza ntine Orthodox guise.
Although it took centuries before Christianity gain ed a firm hold, in tim e Orthodoxy becam e the
em bodi ment of Ethiopian identity. D uring th e seventh century A.D., Aks um began a long
decline. By the eleventh centur y, the political center of the ki ngdom had shifted southward into
Agau territory, and a non-Aksum ite dynasty, the Zagwe, had assum ed control. Aksum faded, but
it bequeathed to its successors its Sem itic language, Christian ity, and the concept of a m ulti-
ethnic em pire-state rule d by a “king of kings.”

The Mediev al Period: From Aksum ite tim es, there began a process of cultural and lingustic
fusion between the northern Sem ites and the indi genous Agew that was to continue over the
course of a m illennium . This proces s gave ris e to northern Ch ristian ized Agew, who form ed
them selves into the Tig ray and Am hara ethnic g roups. The Zagwe placed their capital, Lalibala,
far south of Aksum and constr ucted there and els ewhere acro ss their domains a rem arkable
ensem ble of rock-hewn churches. In the late thirteenth century, an Am hara dynasty m oved the
center of the kingdom still farth er sou th into Shew a in the southernm ost part of the northern
highlands. D uring th e su cceeding centuries, the Am hara kingdom , a m ilitary s tate, was often at
war either w ith Sidam a kingdom s to the west or w ith Muslim principalities to the east.

About 1529 a Muslim Afar-Som ali army overran the highlands, and during the 1530s nearly
succeeded in destroy ing the Am hara-Tigray s tate a nd Christianity. At almost the s ame tim e, the
Orom o were in the m idst of a decades-long m igration from their hom eland in the far southern

Library of Congress – Fede ral Re searc h Division Country P rofile: E thiopia, April 2005

lowlands. T he Orom o moved north through the southern highlands, bypasssing the S idam a on
the west, and into the central hi ghlands, where they settled in the center and west on land, som e
of which had for merly belonged to the Am hara. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the
Jesuits arrived to m inister to Portuguese soldiers who had helped defeat the Muslim s in the early
1540s and who had rem ained in the kingdom . As part of their m ission, however, the Jesuits
attem pted to convert the Orthodox Ethiopians to Rom an Catholicism . The y m et with som e initial
success before their crusade set off a religious civil war in the late 1620s that led to their
expulsion and an attem pt to keep out all “F ranks,” as the Ethiopians called Europeans.

Early Modern Times: An era of reconsolidation and cu ltural flowering ensued during the
seventeenth and eighteenth centu ries following the founding of a new capital at Gondar. The
monarchy e ventually be com e a pawn of regional warlords, h owever, and it was not u ntil the m id-
nineteenth century that Tewodros II reunited the kingdom and sought to restore the power of the
throne. Most scholars trace the or igins of the m odern history of Ethiopia to his reign. Menilek II
(1889–1913) defeated the Italians in 1896 when th ey sought to invade Ethiopia, although he
allowed th em to reta in the f rontie r p rovince f acing the Red Sea, which they nam ed Eritrea.
Menilek, in turn, sent arm ies to conquer th e southern highlands and surrounding lowlands,
annexing th em to the tradition al Amhara-T igray kingdom to create the p resent-d ay nation-s tate
of Ethiopia with its capital at Addis Ababa. He also opened the country to W estern influence and
technology, for exam ple, by establishing diplom atic relations with several European powers and
by authorizing construction of a railway from Addis Ababa to Djibouti on the Red Sea.

After serving as regent, Tafari Makonnen, a cous in of Menilek, ascended the throne in 1930 as
Em peror Haile Selassie I. French-educated and aware of Ethiopia’s backwardness, he began to
introduce various W estern-inspired refor ms, but these changes were hardly underway before war
broke out with Italy in O ctober 1935. The em pero r’s dram atic appeal for assistance in m id-1936
before the L eague of Nations, of which Et hiopia was a m ember, went unanswered. Italian
colonization lasted from 1936 to 1941. The Italia ns never controlled large parts of the
countrys ide and at tim es ruled harshly. Nonethel ess, they cons tructed public build ings, built a
rudim entary road system throughout the country, and in general s ought to modernize the country.

The Post-World War II Era: After the war, Haile Selassie pursued a policy of centralization,
but he also continued to intr oduce change in areas such as public education, the arm y, and
governm ent adm inistration. The slo w pace of his reform efforts, however, fostered d isconten t
that led to an attem pted coup in 1960. In ear ly 1974, a m utiny am ong dis gruntled low er-ranking
arm y of ficers set a p roce ss in m otion that led to the fall of the im perial governm ent. The
mutineers w ere jo ined b y urban grou ps disappoin ted by the slow pace of econom ic and political
reform s and aroused by the im pact of a devast ating fa mine that the governm ent failed to
acknowledg e or address. Over a period of severa l m onths, the rebelliou s officers arrested th e
em peror’s ministers and associat es, and in September rem oved the em peror him self. A group of
junior m ilitary officers, s oon known as the Derg (“comm ittee” in Am haric), then assu med power
and initia ted a 17-yea r period of m ilitary ru le.

The Derg pursued a socialis t agenda but governed in m ilitary style, and it looked to th e Soviet
Union as a model and for m ilitary s upport. It na tionalized ru ral and u rban land and p laced local
control in the hands of citizen comm ittees; it also devised cont roversial policies of peasant

Library of Congress – Fede ral Re searc h Division Country P rofile: E thiopia, April 2005

resettlem ent in respons e to another d evast ating d rought in 19 84–85 and of “villag ization,”
ostensibly to im prove security. A Som ali inva sion in 1977–78 to capture the Som ali-inhabited
southeast lowlands was repulsed with Soviet aid, but thereafter res istance agains t the Derg arose
in all parts of the country, m ost notably in the north. In Eritrea the Eritrean People’s L iberation
Front (EPLF) pursued a cam paign against the 196 2 annexation and eventually sought separation
from Ethiopia. In Tigre, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) sought regional autonom y
and the overthrow of the Derg. In the late 1980s, the TPLF and other Ethiopian ethnically based
resistance groups for med the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary De mocratic Front (EPRDF), and,
together with the EPLF, adm inistered defeats on a dem oralized Ethiopian arm y that led to the
collapse of the Derg in May 1991.

The EPRDF Regime: The EPRDF coalition set up a provisi onal adm inistration in Addis Ababa
under the T PLF’s leader, Meles Zenawi. The Orom o Liberation Front and the (Som ali) Ogaden
National L iberation Front soon withdrew and resort ed once more to arm ed insurgency. In April
1993, the Eritreans voted for independence, a decisi on the T PLF leadership and m any Ethiopians
reluctantly accepted. The EPRDF committed its elf to m ulti-party dem ocracy and to econom ic
reconstruction, for which it relied on internat ional donor ass istance. The constitu tion o f the
Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia was adopted in 1994. Nationa l elections in 1995 and
2000 produced EPRDF victories but were widely boycotted by oppositi on parties. Meles Zenawi
has rem ained effective head of governm ent. From 1998 to 2000, Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a
bitter war over their com mon border. Despite intern ational arbitration, the st atus of the border in
mid-2005 rem ained stalem ated and relations between the tw o nations, hostile.

Click to Enlar ge Image

Location: E thiopia is lo cated in eas tern Africa in the southern Red
Sea region. It borders Sudan on th e west, Eritrea on the north,
Djibouti and Som alia on the eas t, and Kenya on the south.

Si ze: The total area of the country is 1,127,127 square kilometers.

Land Bou ndaries: E thiopia’s borders total 5,328 kilom eters. Bordering countries are: Djibouti
(349 kilom eters), Eritrea (912 kilom eters), Kenya (861 kilom eters), Som alia (1,600 kilom eters),
and Sudan (1,606 kilometers).

Disputed Territory: The border between Ethiopia and Eritrea has never been precisely
dem arcated. Between 1998 and 2000, the two count ries fought a war over the issue, which
involves quite sm all enclaves along the northern segm ent of t heir border, including the tiny
village of Badm e and the enclave of the Irob people. In 2002 an international boundary
comm ission delim ited the border. Although both nati ons agreed to accept its decision, Ethiopia
has refused to accept the comm ission ’s findings in full, m uch to th e con sternation of the Eritrean
governm ent. The central section of Ethiopia’s bor der with Som alia also has never been fully
dem arcated and is only provisional . Questions rem ain about the pr ecise location of small parcels
along the border with Sudan as well.


Library of Congress – Fede ral Re searc h Division Country P rofile: E thiopia, April 2005

Length of Coastline: Ethiopia is landlocked, having surre ndered its Red Sea coastline to newly
independent Eritrea in May 1993.

Maritime C laims : None.

Topography: Ethiopia’s topography consists of a centr al high plateau bisected by the Ethiopian
segm ent of t he Great Rif t Valley into north ern and southern highl ands and surrounded by
lowlands, more extensive on the east and sout heast than on the south and west. The plateau
varies from 1,500 to 3,000 m eters above sea leve l and features m ountainous uplands separated
by deep gorges and river valleys, especially in the north. The highest point is Ras Dashen at
4,620 m eters in the northern highlands. In the east, the Denakil Depression, part of the Rift
Valley, is in places 115 m eters belo w sea level a nd is one o f the hottest places on earth. A chain
of lakes lie in the southern Rift Valley, but the largest inland body of water is Lake Tana in the
northwest. T he diversity of Ethiopi a’s terrain determ ines regional va riatio ns in clim ate, natura l
vegetation, soil com position, and settlem ent patterns.

Principal R ivers: All of Ethiopia’s rivers originate in the highlands and drain into the
surrounding lowlands. T he Abay (Blue Nile), E thiopi a’s largest river, the Tekezé, and the Baro
flow west into the Nile River in Sudan, the Blue Nile contributing som e two-thirds of the Nile’s
volum e below Khartoum. The Awash flows east th rough the northern R ift Valley and disappears
into saline lakes in the Dena kil Depression. In the south, th e Genale and Shebele flow
southeas tward into Som alia ; the Omo drains the southwest and em pties into Lake Turkana on the
border with Kenya.

Climate : Ra inf all and te mperature p atte rns va ry widely beca use of Ethio pia’s loca tio n in the
tropics and its diverse topography. In general, the highlands above 1,500 m eters enjoy a pleasant,
tem perate clim ate, with daytim e temperatu res between 16°C and 30°C and cool nights. In areas
below 1,500 m eters, such as large river valleys, the Denakil Depression, the Ogaden in the
southeast, and parts of the southern and wester n borderlands, daytim e te mperatures range from
very warm (30°C) to torrid (upward s of 50°C), som etim es accom panied by high humidity.
Precip ita tion is determ ined by dif ferences in e lev ation and by seasonal shifts in m onsoon winds.
The highlan ds receive b y far the m ost rainfall, most of it between m id-June and m id-Septem ber,
whereas low er elevations receive m uch less. In general, relativ e hum idity and rainf all d ecrea se
from south to north and vary from sc ant to neg lig ible in the e astern a nd southeastern lowlands.

Natural Resources: Ethiopia has sm all reserves of gold, platinum , copper, potash, and natural
gas. It has extensiv e hydropower potential.

Land Use: Of the total land area, ab out 20 percen t is under cultiv ation, although the amount of
potentially arable land is larger. Only about 10 to 15 percent of the land ar ea is presently covered
by forest as a result of rapid deforestation during the last 30 y ears. Of the rem ainder, a large
portion is used as pasturage. Som e land is too ru gged, dry, or infertile for agriculture or any other

Environmental Factors: The Great Rift Valley is geolog ically active and susceptible to
earthquakes. Hot springs and active volcanoes are found in its extrem e east close to the Red Sea.

Library of Congress – Fede ral Re searc h Division Country P rofile: E thiopia, April 2005

Elsewhere, the land is subject to erosion, overgrazing, deforest ation, and frequent droughts.
Water shortages are common in som e areas during the dry season.

Time Z one: Local tim e in Ethiopia is Greenwi ch Mean Tim e plus three hours.


Population: As of early 2004, the United Nations estim ated Ethiopia’s populat ion at more than
70 m illion and growing at rates estim ated as between 2.1 and 2.5 percen t per year. D ensity
averaged about 62 people per squa re kilom eter but varied widely from region to region. The
population is concentrated in the northern and sout hern highlands, the lowla nds in the southeast,
south, and west for the m ost part being far m ore sparsely inhabited. Only about 15 percent of the
population is urbanized, m aking Ethi opia one of the least urbanized countries in the world. There
is little in ternal m igratio n, but the go vernm ent is in the m idst of relocating som e 2 m illion
highland farm ers to land at lowe r elevations to address proble ms of popul ation pressure and
exhausted farm ing plots, a plan sim ilar to the m uch large r re location ef fort that the m ilitary
governm ent undertook in the 1980s for the sam e reas ons. During the last three decades, tens of
thousands of Ethiopians, m any young and educated, have em igra ted to Europe and the United
States. At the end of 2003, Ethiopi a was host to som e 112,000 refug ees, most of them Sudanese,
whereas an estim ated 19,000 Ethiopians were ref ugees or seekers of asylum, m ost of t hem
residing in Kenya, Europe , or the U nited States.

Demography: According to the U.S. Population Refere nce Bureau, in 2003 the num ber of births
per 1,000 population was 41, the number of deaths, 18. The infant m ortality rate per 1,000 live
births was 104.5. Life expectancy at birth was 46 years (47 y ears for females, 45 years for
males). According to the United Nations Popula tion Division, Ethiopia’ s population in 2000 fell
into the following age-groups: ages 1–14, 45.9 percent; ages 15–59, 49.5 percent; and ages 60
and older, 4.6 percent, making Ethiopia a typica l sub-Saharan country with a large proportion of
its population under 15 years of ag e and a large proportion of wo men within the reproductive
years of 15–49 years of age. For the year s 2000–2005, the average num ber of children per
wom an was estim ated at 6.1.

Ethnic Groups and La nguages: Ethnic classification in Ethi opia is difficult because people
categorized on the basis of one criterion, such as language, m ay be divided on the basis of
another, such as ethnic identity. Language, howev er, often is used to cl assify various groups of
peoples. At least 70 languages ar e spoken as m other tongues, but several predom inate. Most
belong to th e Sem itic, Cushitic, or O motic fam ilies of the larger Afro -Asiatic super-language
family; a small num ber belong to the Nilo-Sahar an fa mily of languages. T he larg est Sem itic-
speaking groups are the Am hara, who speak Amharic, form erly the official language that is still
quite widely used, and who constitute perhaps 25 percent of the populatio n; and the T igray, who
speak Tigrin ya and acco unt for perh aps 14 percen t of Ethiopia’s people. The Am hara occupy the
center of the northern highlands, th e Tigray, the far north. Both are plow a gricu ltur alists. Sm aller
groups include the Gurague, Hareri, and Argobba.


Library of Congress – Fede ral Re searc h Division Country P rofile: E thiopia, April 2005

Cushitic-speakers in clud e a large nu mber of groups, m ost of whom live in the south ern
highlands. A mong them is the largest and m ost wi despread of all of Ethiopia’s ethnic groups—
the Orom o, perhaps 40 percent of the population, w ho live in the center-w es t and in the central
southern highlands. Some are agriculturalists and others pastoralists. The Orom o language
consists of a num ber of dial ects. The Som ali occupy the southeastern low lands; they are
pastoralists and are organized into clans and lineages. North of the Som ali are the Afar or
Denakil, pastoralists who inhabit the hot lo wland s between th e Red Sea and the north ern
highlands. In the southw est sout hern highlands are several gro ups who speak related languages
som etimes called S idamo languages. The largest of these are the Sidam a and the Hadya-Libido,
cultivato rs o f ensete and coffee. Finally, in the northern highlands ar e several sm all groups
known as the Agew, Cushitic-sp eaking agricu ltu ralists who successfully preserv ed th eir ethnic
identity in th e face of Amha ra acculturation during the last two m illennia. In 1970 th ey
num bered upwards of 125,000. Among these A gew-s peakers are the Awi, Kim ant, and Beta
Israe l (Fe lasha).

In the far southwest on both sides of the Om o Ri ver are perhaps 80 groups of Om oti c-speakers,
of whom the W elam o are the m ost num erous. They are hoe cu ltiv ator s; so me specializ e in
craftwork and weaving. In the far southwest and western borderlands with Sudan are groups who
speak Nilo- Saharan lan guages. The y are hoe cu ltiv ator s and cattle keep ers. In th e so uth are the
Anuak and the Nuer, who are the m ost num erous. Farther north are sm aller groups, such as the
Gum uz and the Berta, an d, in western Tigray, the Kune ma.

Religion: N o reliable sta tistics exis t on religious a ffiliation in Ethiopia. S till, clea rly, b y far the
larges t faith s are Orthod ox Christian ity and Islam. Each is thought to co nstitu te perh aps 40 to 45
percent of the population. Orthodoxy was introdu ced to the ancient Aksum ites from the
Byzantine w orld in about 340 A. D., thereafter sl owly spreading southwar d into the northern
highlands. Islam was introduced a few centuries la ter by m erchants from Arabia to peoples along
the Red Sea coast, spreading th ereafter into the center and so uth. Orthodoxy is m ost strongly
represented am ong the Tigray and A mhara, Isla m a mong the Som ali, Afar, Orom o, particularly
those in the southern highlands, Gurague, and Si dam a in the southwest. Merchants in m ajor
towns also tend to be M uslim s. In th e east a nd to an extent in the south, Muslim peoples
surround Orthodox Christians. P rotestants num ber perh aps 1 1 m illion, co nstitu ting up to 10
percent of the population. Sm aller groups in clude Rom an Catholic s (about 500,000), Eastern
Rite Catholics, and Ethiopian Jews (Felasha). A large num ber of foreign m issionaries are active,
especially in the south and sout hwest borderlands. Som e Ethiopian s still ad here to trad itional
religious practices and beliefs.

Education and Literacy: Education is free from prim ary through university level and is
com pulsory on the prim ary level for pupils betw een the ages of seven and 13 years of age.
Thereafter, f urther education is a question of access to facilities; whereas a profusion of prim ary
schools are scattered across the countryside, seco ndary facilities are found only in larger urban
areas. Consequently, enrollm ents de cline drastically from the prim ary to the secondary level, and
secondary facilities are severely overtaxed. Th e E ducation and Training P olicy im plem ented in
1994 restructured the education system with the goal of im proving the quality of education,
although results have been m ixed. Prim ary educati on, grades 1–6, begins at seven years of age;
secondary education, grades 7–12, at age 15. Afte r tenth grade, students are separated into

Library of Congress – Fede ral Re searc h Division Country P rofile: E thiopia, April 2005

university -bound candid ates, who receive con cen trated acad em ic instruction, and tho se who
receive comm ercial, polytechnic, teacher, or ot her professional traini ng. According to United
Nations estim ates for 2000–2001, 47 percent of child ren in the appropriate age-group attended
prim ary school. Attendance am ong girls, at 41 pe rcent, lagged significan tly behind boys, at 53
percent. At the secondary level, only 13 percent of children in the appropri ate age-group attended
(15 percent of boys, 10 percent of girls). The m ain university cam pus is Addis Ababa University.
Universities also are found in five regional state capitals. In r ecent years, a num ber of private
schools have sprung up to m eet the dem and for unive rsity-level instruction, especially in Addis
Ababa. In 2001, accord ing to the World Bank, edu cation spending was equivalen t to 4.8 percen t
of gross dom estic product. In 2002 the United Na tions Educational, Scientific, and Cultural
Organization (UNESCO) estim ated that only 41. 5 percent of adults (49.2 percent m ale, 33.8
percen t f emale) in Ethio pia were lite rate.

Health and Welfare: In term s of health and welf are, Ethiopia ranks am ong Africa’s—and the
world’s—poorest nations. The W orld Bank classi fies Ethiopia as a highly underdeveloped
country with an estim ated annual per capita in com e of about US$100. Po verty is widespread,
with slightly less than half the population living below the basic needs poverty line. Health
indicators are generally poor. The health care system is wholly inadequate, even in view of
im provem ents in recen t years.

Throughout the 1990s, the government, as part of its reconstruction program , devoted ever-
increasing amounts of funding to the social and health sector s, which brought corresponding
im prove ments in school enrollm ents, adult lit eracy, and infant m ortality rates. These
expenditures stagnated or declin ed during the 1998–2000 war with Erit rea, but in the years since,
outlays for health have grown steadily, although th ey rem ain far below what is needed. In 2000–
2001, the bu dget allocation for the health s ecto r was ca. US$144 m illion ; health expen ditures per
capita were estim ated at US$4.50, compared with US$10 on average in sub-Saharan A frica. In
2000 the country counted one hospital bed per 4,900 population and m ore than 27,000 people per
prim ary health care facility. The physician to population ratio was 1:48,000, the nurse to
population ratio, 1:12,000. Overall, there were 20 trained health providers per 100,000
inhabitants. These ratios have si nce shown som e improvem ent. Hea lth care is di sproportionately
available in urban cen ters; in ru ral areas where th e vast m ajority of the po pulation res ides, access
to health care varies from lim ited to nonexisten t. As of the end of 2003, the United Nations (UN)
reported that 4.4 percent of adu lts were infected with hum an immunodefi ciency virus/acquired
immune deficiency syndrom e (HIV /AIDS); othe r estim ates of the ra te of infection ranged from a
low of 7 percent to a high of 18 percent. W hatev er the actual rate, the pr evalence of HIV/AIDS
has contributed to falling life expectancy since the early 1990s. According to the Ministry of
Health, one-third of current young adult deaths are AIDS-related. Malnutrition is widespread,
especially among children, as is foo d insecur ity. Because of growing population pressure on
agricu ltu ral and pastoral land, soil degradati on, and severe d roughts that have occurred each
decade since the 1970s, p er cap ita foo d production is declining . According to the United Nations
and the W orld Bank, Ethiopia at present suffers from a structural food deficit such that even in
the m ost productive y ears, at least 5 million Ethiopians requ ire food relief.

In 2002 the governm ent em barked on a poverty re duction program that called for outlays in
education, h ealth, sanitation, and water. A po lio v accination cam paign for 14 m illion children

Library of Congress – Fede ral Re searc h Division Country P rofile: E thiopia, April 2005

has been ca rried ou t, and a program to resettle so me 2 m illion subsistence f arm ers is u nderway.
In Novem ber 2004, the governm ent launched a five -year program to expand prim ary health care.
In January 2005, it began distri buting antiretroviral drugs, hoping to reach up to 30,000 HIV-
infected adu lts.


Overview : Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a gross dom estic product
(GDP) of roughly US$6 billion, a per capita annu al incom e of about US$100, and chronic trade
deficits in the early 2000s. The basis of the economy is rainfe d agriculture, which m eans that
crop production fluctuates widely according to yearly rainfall patterns, leaving the country
subject to recurrent and often catastrophic drought. Droughts have in creased in severity since the
1970s in step not only with shortfalls in crop production but also with burgeoning population
growth. Indeed, the increase in population has outstripped th e productive capacity of the
agricultural sector, crea ting a structural food deficit even in tim es of nor mal or superior
production. Services, including retail trade, public adm inistration, defense, and transportation,
constitute the second largest com ponent of th e econom y. Manufacturing a nd m ining are a distant
third and fourth. W ithin the budget, defense outla ys have been high since the early 1990s, m ost
recen tly because of war with Eritrea from 1998 to 2000, alth ough they h ave declined since then.
The budget has been in deficit since at least the late 1990s, w ith e xpenditures regularly
exceeding revenues. Shortfalls have been covere d by grants and loans from interna tional lend ing
institutions. Ethiopia is heavily dependent on international donor la rgesse, particula rly in tim es
of drought.

Since the early 1990s, the country has received financial support for econom ic reforms from the
International Monetary F und and the World Ba nk. In 2001 it qualified for debt reduction under
these institutions’ heavily indebted poor countries initiative. On the whole, the reform process
has been beneficial; governm ent revenue has ri sen, and outlays have been redirected from
defense to education, health, and infrastructu re. Still, econom ic perfor mance suffers from
hindrances such as public ownership of far mland, low levels of investm ent, corruption in high
levels of the governm ent, and dependence on fore ign finance. The United Nations and the W orld
Bank m aintain that without imm ediate steps to deal with a burgeoning population, large-scale
environm ental degradation, soil exh austion, a nd rural land-ho lding pol icies, Ethiopia will
becom e perm anently reliant upon donor largesse just to feed itself.

Gross Domestic P roduct (GDP): In 2002–3 GDP was US$6.5 billion. Per capita G DP
am ounted to US$94.0, among the lowest in the wo rld. In 2002–3 GDP per sector was estim ated
as follows: agriculture and fishing, 39.4 per cent; industry, 11.9 per cent; and services, 48.7
percen t.

Governmen t Budget: Largely b ecau se of the lon g-term dem ands of econom ic and social
developm ent and the short-term im pa ct of recurrent drought, governm ent expenditures have
regularly ex ceeded revenues since the early 199 0s . Much of the difference has been m ade up by
foreign assistance. Governm ent revenue has been rising steadily since the late 1990s, reflecting,
am ong other m easures, recently im proved tax-coll ection procedures and the substitution of a

Library of Congress – Fede ral Re searc h Division Country P rofile: E thiopia, April 2005

value-added tax in January 2003 for the for mer sales tax on transactions of larger enterprises. On
the spending side, there has been a m arked shif t in funding from defense to econom ic and social
program s since 2000 and the conclusion of the war with Eritrea. For 2003–4, revenue and
foreign gran ts were es tim ated to have reach ed ca. US$1.7 billion, up fro m ca. US$1.5 billion in
2001–2; spending was estim ated at ca. US$2.2 b illion, up fro m ca. US$2 billion in 20 01–2. For
2004–5, revenue was projected to increase by almost 20 percent, reflecting further rises in both
dom estic revenues and foreign grants, whereas sp ending was expected to increase by 14 percent,
reflecting increases in outlays for regional adm inistration, infrastructure , and poverty alleviation.
Deficits for 2003–4 and 2004–5 were in the range of ca. US$500,000.

Inflation: During the early 1990s, inflation averaged about 10 percent per year, but the rate has
fallen in the years s ince. It is h ighly v olatile, being greatly inf luenced by grain prices, which in
turn depend upon annual harvests, which in turn depend largely upon seas onal rains. In 2003, for
exam ple, inflation rose to m ore than 15 per cent following drought and a poor harvest, but when
weather conditions reversed in 2004, the rate fell to less than 5 percent. Excluding volatile grain
and pulses prices, the core rate of inflation has averaged abou t 3 percent in the early 2000s.

Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing: Agriculture is th e m ost im portant sector of Ethiopia’s
econom y, constitu ting n early 40 percent of gross dom estic product. The s ector p rovid es by far
the largest percentage of exports and em ploys up to 80 percent of the population. About 20
percen t of potential a rab le land is ac tually cu ltiva ted, alm ost a ll of it dep endent on ra inf all.
Farm ing is in the hands of peas ants, who cultivate indiv idual plots. All land belongs to the state.
In the highlands, grains (barle y, corn, teff, and wheat) as well as pulses and oilseeds are the
major crops; at lower elevations, sorghum and s ugarcane are favored. Ethiopia is hom e to an
estim ated 7 m illion pastoralists who tend a large num ber of livestock—a survey in 20 03 counted
35 m illion cattle, 25 m illion sheep, and 18 m illio n goa ts. A large portion of them are found in the
dry lowlands of the east, southeast, and south th at are suited to pastor alism but not farm ing. Two
bush crops flourish in the south—coffee, the m ajor export earner, in the southern highlands, and
chat , a m ild stim ulant that is al so exported, in the s outheastern lowlands. The governm ent has
announced plans to boost both grain and livestock pr oduction in an effort to address the problem
of chronic food shortages. Ethiop ia has no signif icant fishing or fo restry industries. Deforestation
and destru ctive farm ing practices have led to increasing soil er osion and degradation during the
last 30 years, especially in th e northern highlands. Recurrent dr oughts and livestock disease have
had a severe im pact on pastoralism in the southeast and south.

Mining and Minerals: The m ining sector is quite sm all in Ethiopia. The country has deposits of
coal, gem stones, kaolin, iron ore, soda ash, a nd tantalum , but only gold is m ined in significant
quantities. In 2001 gold producti on amounted to som e 3.4 tons.

Industry and Manufacturing: This sector constitutes about 4 percent of the overall econom y,
although it has shown som e growth a nd diversification in recent years. Much of it is concentrated
in Addis Ababa. Food and beverages constitute so me 40 per cent of the s ector, but textiles and
leather are also im portant, the la tter especially for the export market. A program to privatize
state-owned enterp ris es h as been underway since the late 1990s.


Library of Congress – Fede ral Re searc h Division Country P rofile: E thiopia, April 2005

Energy: Aside from waterpower and forests, Ethiopi a is not well endowed with energy sources.
The country derives about 90 perc ent of its electricity needs from hydropower, which m eans that
electricity generation, as with ag riculture, is dependent on abunda nt rainfall. Present installed
capacity is rated at about 650 m egawatts, with planned expansion to 1,330 m egawatts. Less than
one-half of Ethiopia’s towns and cities are conn ected to the nationa l gr id. Plans are afoot to
exploit natural gas reserves in the sou theas tern lo wlands, estim ated at 4 trillion cubic feet.
Petroleum requirem ents are m et via im ports of refined products, although som e oil is being
hauled overland from Sudan. Exploration for ga s and oil is underway in th e Gam bela region
bordering S udan. In general, E thiopians rely on forests for nearly a ll of their energy and
construction needs; the result has been deforestat ion of m uch of the hi ghlands during the last
three d ecades.

Services : Aside from wholesale and retail trade, transpo rtatio n, and communications, the
services sector consists alm ost entirely of tourism . Developed in the 1960s, tourism declined
greatly during the later 1970s and th e 1980s under the m ilitary governm ent. Recovery began in
the 1990s, but growth has been constrained by the lack of suitable hotels a nd other infrastructure,
despite a boom in construction of small and m edium -sized hote ls and restaurants, and by the
im pact of drought, the w ar with Eritrea, and th e specter of terrorism . In 2002 m ore than 156,000
touris ts en tered the coun try, m any of them Ethiopians visiting from abroad, spending m ore than
US$77 m illion.

Banking and Finance: In 1974 the m ilitary gov ernm ent na tionalized all private bank s and
insurance companies, leaving retail banking in the hands of the Comm ercial Bank of Ethiopia
(CBE). The National Bank of Ethiopia is a regula tory body that oversees the private sector and
also foreign-exchange mechanism s. In the early 2000s, the CBE has been working with the
International Monetary F und on a restructuring program that involves reducing bad debt and
attacking co rruption. Sin ce the m id-1990s, Ethiop ians have b een perm itted to establish private
banks and insurance companies once more; by 20 02–3, the six largest private banks controlled
som e 20 percent of the loan m arket. Foreign-ow ned f inancia l institu tions are not p ermitted.

Labor: In mid-2002 the United Nations reported that Ethiopia’s labor force totaled m ore than 30
million workers, of whom 24.5 m illion were eng aged in ag ricultu ral pu rsuits. A natio nal survey
in 1999 gave an unem ploym ent rate of 8 percent for those aged 15 years and above, certainly a
misleading figure, given what ar e high rates of unem ploym ent and underemployent in both rural
and urban settings.

Foreign Economic Relations: Eth iopia has lon g m aintaine d commercial re lations with its
imm ediate neighbors, Sudan and Yem en, and with W est European countries, notably Britain,
Germ any, a nd Italy. Recently, however, trading rela tions h ave broadened som ewhat. As of 2002,
Ethiopia’s most im portant m arkets are in Euro pe, especially Germ any, Italy, and the United
Kingdom , now joined by Japan, all of whom purc hase large quantities of coffee, plus Djibouti
and Saudi Arabia. In the past, Et hiopia’s im ports cam e m ostly from Europe, especially Italy and
Germ any, a nd from India. By 2002, China had b ecom e a m ajor source of im ports, along with
Italy and India, but Saudi Arabia, supplying fuel and refined petroleum products, is by far the
largest supplier, provid ing nearly 29 percent of total im ports in term s of value, f ollow ed by

Library of Congress – Fede ral Re searc h Division Country P rofile: E thiopia, April 2005

China and Italy at 6 p ercent each and India at 5 p ercen t. Since about 200 1, Sudan has begun to
supply sm all volum es of petroleum .

In the decade after the re turn to civilian rule in 1991, Ethiopi a established new relationships with
international financial in stitu tion s, securing f unding from the World Bank for econom ic recovery
and reconstruction and implem enting structural adjustm ent pr ogram s with the Inte rnationa l
Monetary F und (IMF). After slackened funding dur ing the war with Eritrea from 1998 to 2000,
the IMF and W orld Bank resum ed assistance aim ed broadly at poverty re duction and financial
reform , with aid disbursem ents tied to define d benchm arks. In 2002 the governm ent produced a
five-year fram ework to guide econom ic devel opm ent, reform, and poverty reduction that
received US$3.6 billion in support from the intern ational donor in stitutions for the period from
mid-2002 to m id-2005. Under these program s, Ethiopi a has m ade substantia l progress in shifting
expenditures from defens e to social and econom ic sectors and in reform ing its banking system ,
and the governm ent has taken steps to deal with poverty. Im portant hurdles rem ain, however, in
achieving further financial reform s and fosteri ng sustainable econom ic growth, and progress to
date has depended on large infusions of inte rnational funding to c over huge budget def icits.

Exports: Coffee is Ethiopia’s m ajor export, accounting for 60 percent or m ore of average annual
export earnings, but its value fluctuates widely depending on worldwide production. Other
im portant exports are hides/skin s/leather, the leav es of the cha t bush (a m ild stim ulant popular in
Som alia and Ye men), gold, and oilseeds. In 2000–2001, the National Bank of Ethiopia estim ated
the largest principal exports by value as: coff ee, US$174.7 million; leathe r and leather products,
US$74 m illion; chat , US$61 m illion ; oilseeds, US$30.7 m illion; and gold , US$28 m illion. In
1999–2000 total expo rts were valued at US$486 m illion. In 2 000–2001, they dropped to US$441
million, but by 2002–3 they had reb ounded to US$468 m illion, variation s caused largely by
fluctuations in world coffee prices. E thiopia’s m ost im portant m arkets are in Europe, especially
Germ any, the United Kingdom , and It aly, and in Japan, all of whom purchase large quantities of
coffee. Djibouti and Sau di Arabia are ot her outlets for Ethi opia’s exports.

Imports: Ethiopia im ports a large range of consum er and capital goods. In 2000–2001, the m ost
im portant imports cons isted of: con sum er goods , US$468 m illion ; transp ort, agricu ltural, and
industrial products, US$445 m illion ; fuel, US $292 m illion ; an d sem i-finished goods, US$284
million. For the year, imports to taled an estim ated US$1.6 billion, nearly identical with the valu e
of i mports in 1998–99 and 1999–2000, but up from US$1.3 billion in 19 96–97, largely because
of increased outlays for purchases of food and fuel. In the past, im ports cam e pri marily from
Europe, especially Italy and Germ any, and from India. In m ore recent years, China has becom e a
major supplier of goods. Saudi Arabia supplies fu el and refined petroleu m products, m aking it by
far the largest supplier in term s of percent of total im ports (near ly 29 percent, follow ed by China
and Italy at 6 percent each in 2002). Since a bout 2001, Sudan has begun to supply small volum es
of petroleum.

Trade Balance: Because of the need to im port large quan tities of food a nd the lack of high-
value exports such as m inerals or petroleum , annual deficits in the m erchandise trade account
have exceed ed US$1 billion since the late 1990 s. The deficit f or 2002–3, the latest year for
which figures from the National Bank of Ethiopia are available, was estim ated at US$1.5 billion.


Library of Congress – Fede ral Re searc h Division Country P rofile: E thiopia, April 2005

Balance of Payments: Ethiopia h as experienced large d eficits in its current accoun t since at leas t
the late 1990s. The services sect or has shown consistent surpluses, reflecting revenues from
Ethiopian A ir Lines and to a lesser extent from tourism and shipping serv ices, having risen from
US$114 m illion in 1998 –99 to an es tim ated US$ 159 m illion in 2002–3. Sim ilarly, transfers of
funds from official don ors and rem ittances fr om nationals living abroad have been s trong,
am ounting to US$502 million in 1998–99 and more than US $1 billion in 2003–3. These
surpluses, however, have not been enough to offs et large shortfalls in m erchandise trade and
debt-service paym ents. In 1998–99, the current account deficit was US$510 m illion. It fell to
US$262 m illion in 2000 –2001 before ris ing to an estim ated US$397 m illion in 2002 –3. These
deficits have been covered by credits and loan s f rom interna tional lend ing institutions and by
debt forgiveness.

External Debt: According to the Intern ational Monetary F und and the World Bank, Ethiopia’s
tota l exte rna l debt, inclu ding debt o wed to m ultilate ral, b ilateral, and private c reditor s, tota led
more than US$10 billion in the late 1990s. By the end of 2001, the debt had fallen to U S$5.7
billion and required the equivalent of alm ost 19 percent of total export earnings in debt-servicing
paym ents. The National Bank of Ethiopia estim ated external debt for 2003–4 at US$6.6 billion.

Foreign Investmen t: Foreign investm ent by private firm s in Ethiopia is quite low. Since com ing
to power in 1991, the Tigrayan-led governm ent ha s been slow to open the country to foreign
investors. Trade liberalization m easures enacte d in the m id-1990s were short-circuited by the
war with Eritrea from 1998–2000. In 2003 the governm ent prom ulgated new regulations to
stim ulate foreign investm ent, a mong them a lo wering of the required investm ent m inim um by
foreign firms from US$500,000 to US$100,000. Cons traints on investm ent include poorly
developed transportation and co mmunications system s and troubled financial institutions. Som e
sectors, such as banking, rem ain wholly or partially off-lim its to foreign investors.

Foreign Aid: During the post-W orld W ar II era, Ethi opia received sm all am ounts of econom ic
developm ent aid from such countries as the Un ited States and Swede n. Such aid disappeared
under the m ilitary regime except for food aid dur ing the m id-1980s. Larg e aid inflow s began in
the early 1990s aim ed at reconstruction and polit ical stabilization but declined during the war
with Eritrea. The post-2000 period, however, has seen a resumption of large disbursem ents of
grants and loans from the United States, indivi dual European nations, and Japan, and from the
World Bank, the European Union, and the Af rican Developm ent Bank. In 2001 these funds
totaled US$1.6 billion. In 2001 Ethiopia qualified for the W orld Bank-International Monetary
Fund-sponsored highly indebted poor countries (HIPC) debt reduction program , whic h is
designed to reduce or elim inate repaym ent of bilateral loans from wealthy countries and
international lenders such as the W orld Bank. In Ethiopia’s case, the program ai ms to help
stabilize the country’s balance of paym ents a nd to free up funds for econom ic developm ent. A
noteworthy advance tow ard these goals cam e in 1999, when the succ essor states to the for mer
Soviet Unio n, includ ing Russia, canc elled US$5 billion in de bt contracte d by the m ilitary
governm ent in and after the later 1970s, a step that cut Ethiopia’s external debt in half. HIPC
relief is expected to total alm ost US$2 billion.

Currency and Exchange Rate: Ethiopia’s currency is the birr, which is divided into 100 cents.
In October 1992, the governm ent in itiated a long, gradual devaluat ion of the birr, allowing its

Library of Congress – Fede ral Re searc h Division Country P rofile: E thiopia, April 2005

value to decline from the old rate of 2.07 birr per US$1 to an average of 8.78 birr per US$1 in
2003. As of late March 2005, the exch ange rate was 8.65 birr per US$1.

Fiscal Year: Ethiopia’s fiscal ye ar (FY) begins on July 8 and ends on July 7.


Overview : By any m easure, Ethiopia’s transporta tion and telecommunica tions networks are
inadequate. For a country of its size, the tran sport network is quite lim ited and needs both
upgrades and expansion. The te lecommunications system is si milarly undeveloped, even by
African stan dards. Serv ice is unreliable and c oncentrated overwhelm ingly in Addis Ababa. A
bright spot is Ethiopian Air Lines, w hich delivers efficient and reliable s ervic e dom estic ally and
internationally and provides m aintenance and training for some other regional carriers.

Roads: Ethiopia has about 24,000 kilom eters of ro adways, of which only 3,300 kilometers are
paved. Almost all prim ary roads are gravel roads, including those that co nnect Addis Ababa with
major cities and towns across th e co untry. Som e 75 percen t of governm ent spending on
infrastructure is targeted at im proving the road network. In 1998 the W orld Bank approved a
US$309 m illion credit to help fund efforts to im prove roads in Ethiopia. In 2003 work began on
the second phase of the Road Sector Developm ent Program me, which is scheduled to upgrade 80
percent of paved and 63 pe rcent of unpaved roads by 2007.

Railroads: Ethiopia has only one railro ad, the 78 1-kilom eter line that con nects Addis Ababa
with the port of Djibou ti. Ethiopia and Djibouti jo intly own and operate the line, which carries up
to 800,000 passengers and 250,000 tons of freight per year. Like the road system , it badly needs
rehabilitation, plans for which ar e underway. In order to reduce its re lian ce on Djibo uti, Eth iopia
announced in 2001 that it had reached an agreem ent with Sudan to build a rail link to Port Sudan.
At a cost of US$1.5 billion, the pro ject is no t likely to be con structed any tim e soon.

Ports: Et hiopi a is landl oc ked and has no ports.

Inland Waterw ays: Ethiopia has no significant navigabl e waterways, although lim ited ferry
service is available on L ake Tana. T he Baro a nd Awash rivers are navi gable only in the rainy
season. The Abay (Blue Nile) is not navigable within E thiopia’s borders.

Civil Aviation and Airports: Eth iopia has two interna tiona l ai rports in Addis Ababa and Dire
Dawa and som e 40 airfields elsewhere. Bole In ternational Airport in Addis Ababa handles 95
percent of all international air traffic and 85 pe rcent of dom estic flights. A m ajor renovation and
expansion of Bole was com pleted in 2002. In 2000–2001, Ethiopian Airlines carried nearly 1
million pass engers.

Pipelines : None.

Telecommunications : In 2003 Ethiopia had som e 435,000 telephon e lines in use. In early 2004,
there were more than 122,000 m obile phone subscr ibers in E thiopia. In late 2004, the Ethiopian

Library of Congress – Fede ral Re searc h Division Country P rofile: E thiopia, April 2005

Telecomm unication Corporation (E TC) signed a cont ract w ith Finn ish a nd Israe li f irms to build
an advanced wireless data and communications ne twork, in itially in Addis Ababa and late r in the
rest of Ethio pia. The ETC hopes to increas e cellular capacity to 1 m illio n by the end of 2005. In
2003 it was estim ated that Ethiopia had 150,000 pe rsonal computers in us e and 75,000 Internet
users. One broadcast television station ope rates in Ethiopia, an d residents have 367,000
telev ision s (accord ing to estim ates from 2000). In 1997 Ethiopia had 11, 750 radio receivers in
use and three radio broadcast stations.


Overview : The Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia was adopted by the
country’s transition al go vernm ent in Decem be r 1994 and came into force in August 1995. At
that tim e, power also was for mally tr ansf erred to the newly e lected legis lature, the Fed eral
Parliam entary Assem bly. The constitution provides for a parliam entary form of governm ent and
an adm inistration based on nine states. It enshri nes the separation of church and state and basic
hum an rights and freedo ms, and gua rantees that all Eth iopian languages will en joy equal state
recognition, although A mharic is sp ecified as the working language of the federal governm ent.
Ethiopia has a tradition of highly personal and strongly centralized governm ent, a pattern the
Ethiopian P eople’s Revolutionary D emocratic Front (the present governm ent) has followed
despite cons titu tiona l lim its on f ederal power.

Constitutio n: Ethiopia’s presen t co nstitu tion w as created and ratified in 1994 by a constituent
assem bly. The constitution establis hes Ethiopia as a federal republ ic with a parliam entary form
of governm ent.

Branches of Government: The leg islative branch is m ade up of a bicam eral parliam ent; the
upper cham ber is the House of the Federation ( 108 seats); the lower chamber is the House of
People’s Representatives (548 seats). Mem bers of the upper cham ber are elected by the states’
parliam entary assem blies, whereas mem bers of the lower chamber are elected by popular vote.
All recognized national groups ar e guaranteed representation in the upper house; representation
in the lower cham ber is on the bas is o f population, with special set-asides f or m inorities. Term s
in both chambers are five years, with elections last held in May 2000 and scheduled next for May
2005. Legislative power is vested in the House of People’s Representatives. The executive
branch includes the president, prim e m inister, Council of State, and Council of Ministers. The
presiden t is elected by b oth leg islative cham bers for a six-year term . The leader of the largest
party in the lower cham ber becom es prim e m inister, who subm its cabinet m inisters for the
cham ber’s approval. All m inisters serve for th e duration of the legislative session. Executive
power is in the hands of the prim e m inister, w ho is also the commander in chief of the arm ed
forces. The curren t president is Girma W olde-Gi orgis, who has served in that position since
2001. The current prim e m inister is Meles Ze nawi, who has served since August 1995. The
judicial branch is com posed of federal and stat e courts. The Federal Suprem e Court is the highest
court and ex ercis es ju ris diction over all f eder al matte rs; less er federal cou rts hear case s from the
states. The p residen t and vice president of th e Fed eral Supreme Court are recomm ended by the
prim e m inister and app roved by the lower cham ber of the leg islatu re.


Library of Congress – Fede ral Re searc h Division Country P rofile: E thiopia, April 2005

Administra tive Div isio ns: Ethiopia is divided into nine et hnically based states: Afar, Am hara,
Banishangul/Gum uz, Ga mbela, Hareri, Orom iya, Som ali, Tigray, and Southern Nations,
Nationalities, and Peoples, as we ll a s two specia l city adm inis trations: Addis Ababa and Dire
Dawa. The states are sub divided into zones, districts, and sub-districts.

Provincial and Local Governmen t: Each of the nine states has its own parliam entary assem bly,
which elects repres entatives to th e up per cham be r of the federal parliam ent, the House of the
Federation. Each has taxing powers and its own b udget, but in practice th e assem blies have had
to rely on the central governm ent for funding.

Judicial an d Legal System: In 2004 the United States Departm ent of State reported that the
judiciary rem ains weak and overburdened, with a significant backlog of cases. Although the
judicial and legal system are be ginning to show signs of independe nce, routine abuses or neglect
by the governm ent of rights afforded under th e E thiopian con stitu tion occu r, and severe
shortages of personnel and funding hamper eff ective operation of the courts. The governm ent
continues to decentralize and rest ructure the judicial sys tem and has estab lished courts at the
state, zonal, district, and local levels. The structure of the stat e judiciary m irrors that of the
federal judiciary. Effort s t o st rengthen the state court system m ean that regional cases now are
more likely to have a local hearing.

Electora l System: Elections for state assem blies and for the House of Pe ople’s Representatives
are by univ ersal suffrage at age 18 an d secret ballot. A National Election Board prepares and
conducts elections for federal and state offices. According to inte rnational and lo cal observers,
the 2000 national elections were generally fair and free in m ost areas, desp ite reports of serious
irregu larities in som e areas.

Polit ics and Polit ical Pa rties : The E thiopian People’s Revo lutiona ry Democratic Fron t
(EPRDF) is a coalition of ethnically based pa rties founded by the Tigray People’s L iberation
Front (TPLF) in 1989 to unite insurg ent groups fighting again st the m ilitary governm ent. The
TPLF was a nd rem ains the dom inant m ember, and since 1991 it has provided m ost of Ethiopia’s
military and politica l le adership. The TPLF’s m ost im portant partne rs a re the Am hara National
De mocratic Movem ent and the Oromo People’s Dem ocratic Organiza tio n. A large num ber of
other parties, sponsored by the TPLF and often labeled “dem ocratic organizations,” are allied
with the EP RDF and hold seats in parliam ent. In the national elections held in 2000, the EPRDF
and affiliated parties carried 519 of 548 seats in the lower ch am ber of par liam ent. The EPDRF
and af filiate d parties a lso contro l all regiona l par liam entary as sem blies by a larg e m argin. A
num ber of opposition parties exist an d are perm itte d to contest elections. T hese include the Join t
Action for Dem ocracy in Ethiopia and the Southe rn Ethiopian People’s Democratic Coalition,
both com posed of several m ember groups united by their opp osition to th e EPRDF.

Mass Media: Radio and television rem ain under the co ntrol of the Ethiopian governm ent. Nine
radio broadcast stations, eight AM and one shortwave, are licensed to operate. The m ajor radio
broadcasting stations (all AM) are Radio Ethiop ia, Radio Torch (private ), Radio Voice of One
Free Ethiopia, and the V oice of the Revoluti on of Tigray. The single television broadcast
network is E thiopian Television. In keeping with governm ent policy, radio broadcasts occur in a
variety of languages. Print m edia, because of hi gh poverty levels, low literacy rates, and poor

Library of Congress – Fede ral Re searc h Division Country P rofile: E thiopia, April 2005

distribution outside of the capit al, serve only a sm all portion of the population. The paucity of
distribution is m irrored by a scar city of diversity in the offi cial press. S ince 1991 private
newspapers and m agazines have started to appear , and this sector of the m edia m arket, despite
heavy-handed regulation, conti nues to grow. The Ethiopian g overnm ent has a history of
restricting the freedom of the pr ess, and during the last few y ears has im pr isoned a number of
independent journalists. In 2003 the governm ent suspended the only independent m edia
organization in the nation, the Ethiopian Free Jour nalists Association, char ging it with failure to
com ply with the state’s onerous bureaucratic regulations. Major daily newspapers include Addis
Zemen , the Daily Mon itor , and the Ethiopian H erald .

Foreign Relations: Ethiopia has engaged in international diplom acy with its neighbors since at
leas t the m id-seventeenth century and with the Eu ropean world since the m id-nineteenth century.
It was a m ember of the League of Nations a nd a founding m ember of the United Nations (UN).
Under Haile Sellassie I, the Or ganization of African Unity, no w the African Union, and the UN
Econom ic Comm ission for Africa located thei r headquarters in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia
participated in UN m issions in Korea (1950–53) and Congo (1960–64) and, m ore recently, in
Burundi, Liberia, and Rwanda. Since 1991, and l eaving aside Eritrea an d Som alia, Ethiopia’s
relations with the African and European comm un ities in general have been constructive and
stable. Relations with Eritrea have been hostile since the peace agreem ent that ended the 1998–
2000 war over their border. An international comm ission—the Eritrean-Ethiopian Boundary
Comm ission—proposed a dem arcati on of the border in April 2002, but Ethiopia has requested
modifications of the findings, a position Eritrea rejects. The issue rem ains unresolved, leading
som e observers to sp eculate abou t a resum ption of hostilities. Since 1998, Ethiopia h as attem pted
to isolate E ritrea from its African neighbors and to m aintain its political dom inance in the Horn
of Africa region. In an effort to develop a regi onal bloc, E thiopia settl ed a long-lasting border
dispute with Sudan, returning som e land in order to secure access to Port Sudan as an alternative
to Djibouti. In Som alia, Ethi opia continues to support groups opposed to the transitional
governm ent, and it has sent its forces into the co untry to track down Ethiopi an dissidents and to
support friendly factions. Ethiopia’s relations with Djibouti, which has handled all of Ethiopia’s
land comm erce sin ce th e loss of Eritrean ports, are by necess ity close, des pite d isagreem ents
over transit fees and policy toward S omalia. Geo politica l eve nts, notab ly the inc eptio n of the
U.S. war on terrorism , have served to strengthen E thiopia’s relations with the United States and
other W estern nations, as the country is now regarded as a k ey ally in th e ef fort to c onstra in the
spread of Islam ic funda mentalism . In 2003 Ethi opia joined Sudan and Ye men in an agreem ent
ostensibly about trade but that has strategic im plications for Eritrea. Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya,
Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda are currently engage d in talks about a new agreem ent to share the
waters of th e Nile.

Membership in Interna tional Orga ni zations: Ethiopia is a m ember of the following
organiz ation s for intern ational coop eration : th e Inter-Governm ental Authority on Developm ent,
the International Civil Aviation Organization, the International Crim inal Police Organization, the
International Federation of Red Cros s and Red Crescent Societies, the International F und for
Agricultural Developm ent, the International Labour Organization, th e Nonaligned Movem ent,
the Organisation for the Prohibi tion of Che mical W eapons, the United Nations (UN) (including
subsidiary UN agencies such as the C onfer ence on Trade and Developm ent, the Food and
Agriculture Organization, the United Nations E du cation al, Scientif ic, a nd Cultura l Organiza tio n,

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the United Nations Hig h Comm issioner for Refugees, and the W orld Health Organization), and
the W orld Trade Organization. E thiopia is also a member of the following international lending
institutions: the In terna tional Bank f or Rec onstruction and Developm ent (W orld Bank), the
International Developm ent Association, the International Finance Corporation, and the
Intern ational Monetary F und. Finally, Ethiopia is a m ember of the followin g m ultilateral African
organizations: the African, Caribbean, and Paci fic Group of States, the African Developm ent
Bank, and the African Union.

Major International T reaties: Ethiopia is a party to the C onvention on Biological Diversity;
Convention on the Prohibition of the Deve lopm ent, Production, and Stockpiling of
Bacteriological (Biol ogical) and Toxin W eapons and on Thei r Destruction; Convention on the
Prohibition of the Developm ent, Production, and Stockpiling of Che mical W eapons and on Their
Destruction; Convention on the International Trad e in Endangered Species of W ild Flora and
Fauna; Protocol for the Prohibi tion of the Use in W ar of As phyxiating, Poisonous, or Other
Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of W arfar e (Geneva P rotocol); Basel Convention on
Hazardous Waste; Mon treal Proto col on Substa nces That D eplete the O zone Layer; United
Nations Convention to Com bat Desertification in Those Countries Expe riencing Serious Drought
and/or Desertification, P artic ularly in Africa; and United Nations Fram ework Convention on
Clim ate Change. Ethiopia has signed, but not ra tified, the African Nuclear-W eapon-Free Zone
Treaty (The Treaty of Pe lindaba ); Co nvention on the Prohib ition of Militar y or Any Other
Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Te ch niques; and United Nations Convention on the
Law of the Sea. Ethiopia is not a party to the Convention on Conventional W eapons.


Armed Forces Overview : After the defeat of the m ilitary go vernm ent in 1991, the provisional
governm ent disbanded the for mer national arm y and relied on its own guerrilla fighters for
national security. In 1993, however , the Tigrayan-led governm ent announced plans to create a
multi-e thnic def ense f orce. This pro cess entailed the cr eation of a new prof essional army and
officer class and the dem obilization o f m any of the irr egula rs who had f ought again st the m ilitary
governm ent, although m any Tigrayan officers rem ained in comm and position s. This
transform ation was still underway when war with Eritrea broke out in 1998, a developm ent that
saw the ranks of the armed forces swell along wi th defense expenditures. During the course of
the war, som e commanders and pilots from the fo rmer arm y and air force were recalled to duty.
These officers helped turn the tide decisively against Eritrea in 2000, the end of a two-year
conflict that resulted in h uge losses o n both side s. Since then, the failu re to secure a peaceful
resolu tion of the borde r c onf lict with Eritrea ha s h ampered efforts to reduce the s ize of the
military and its budget, although som e reductions have been achieved. Sin ce 2001, Eth iopia has
played an increasingly important ro le in U.S. ef forts in the w ar aga inst te rror ism in the Horn of
Af rica regio n, a develop ment that has spurred clo ser re lations between the m ilitarie s of the two

Foreign Military Rela tions: In the late 1990s, following the commencem ent of host ilities with
Eritrea, Ethiopia contracted with several hund red personnel from the for mer Soviet bloc to
procure, repair, and operate stoc ks of weaponry for the arm y and air force. These contractors,

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mostly Russian, are believed to have occupied senior comm and posts, including the head of the
air force. In 2000 most were replaced by Ethiopian personnel, and by early 2004, it appeared the
few re maining Russians were serving in a techni cal cap acity only. There al so have been reports
of Israeli technicians statione d with the air force at Debre Zeit. Military relations with
neighboring Djibouti, which were close in the late 1990s, have c ooled som ewhat, largely over a
dispute betw een the two nations about port tariffs and rum ors of Ethiopian support for a failed
coup attem pt in Djibou ti in Decem be r 2000. In 2 002 the United States establish ed the Com bined
Joint Task F orce-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), a counterterrorism effort headquartered in
Djibouti. Th e CJTF-HOA’s theater of operation s includ es b oth the airsp ace and land of Ethiopia.
In January 2004, as part of the operations of th e CJTF-HOA, soldiers from the U.S. Ar my’s 3d
Infantry Regim ent established a forward base in rural Ethiopia.

External Threat: The unresolved border dispute with ne ighboring Eritrea constitutes the m ajor
extern al th reat to s ecur ity and stab ility in Eth iopia. Ethiopia and Eritrea ha ve been in a state of
“cold peace” since the Decem ber 2000 truce, th e prim ary bones of contention being the status of
the town of Badm e and the Irob en clave. Although it seem s both nati ons have little interest in
renewing a war neither can afford financia lly or politica lly, this consideration has not prevented
continued sabre-rattling and political posturi ng on both sides. About 3,800 troops from the
United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea are deployed on th e Eritrean side of the border
between the two countries in an effort to m ainta in the fragile peace. Relations with Som alia are
of longer-term concern, given th eir ill-defined and porous borde r and irredentist sentiment
am ong Somalis that produced a war in 1977–78. Orom o and to a lesse r degree Som ali insurgents
curren tly op erate f rom Som ali te rrito ry.

Defense Budget: In the last y ears of the m ilitary regi me, def ense spendin g peaked at alm ost
US$1 billio n dollars, or nearly 14 p ercent of gros s dom estic product (GD P). In the m id-1990s,
spending shrank significantly to abo ut US$130 m illi on (or 2 percen t of GDP). The onset of war
with Eritrea in 1998, however, spurred m assive spending to cover capita l investm ents in new
weapons sys tem s, and by 2000 defense expenditures exceed ed US$830 m illion (o r nearly 11
percent of GDP). Military spending during the wa r is thought to have averaged at least US$2
million per day. Since the Decem be r 2000 peace ag reem ent, spending on defense has fallen by
50 percent, but is still quite hi gh, particularly for such a poor na tion. In 2003 a national security
policy paper proposed reducing defense spending to 2 percent of GDP (roughly a quarter of the
7.7 percen t of GDP, som e US$460 m illion, spent in 2002), but in light of continuin g tensions
with Eritrea, im ple mentation of this policy has be en delayed indefinitely. Ethiopia reportedly is
using hard currency fro m rem ittances to fina nce curren t arm s purchases. In 2003 the defense
budget was US$405 m illion.

Major Military Units: The Ethiopian arm ed for ces are undergoing a period of transform ation
from a m ilitia f orce to a nationa l bod y. The Ethio pian Nation al Def ence Force (ENDF) grew out
of a coalition of for mer guerri lla arm ies, m ainly the Tigray People’s L iberation Front (TPLF)
and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Dem ocrat ic Front. Officers connected with the TPLF
have contin ued to dom inate th e m ilitary. Althou gh the arm ed f orces hav e signif icant battlef ield
experience, their m ilitia orien tation h as com plicat ed the trans ition to a stru ctured, integ rated
military. Ranks and con ventional un its were on ly adopted in 1996. A United States -assisted
effort to res tructur e the m ilitary was inte rrupted by m obiliza tion f or the war with Eritrea, when

Library of Congress – Fede ral Re searc h Division Country P rofile: E thiopia, April 2005

the arm ed forces grew in a period of m onths from 100,000 to 250,000 troops, with another
100,000 m ilitiam en serving in support. Dem obilizati on follow ing the ceas e-fire of 200 0 reduced
the arm ed forces to an es tim ated 180,000 in 2004. Under the p lanned reorg anization, th e m ilitary
eventually will have three m ilitary d istricts, each with its ow n headquarters and under the
command of arm y headquarters in A ddis Ababa. On paper, each district will h ave its o wn corps
with two divisions and one m echanized brigade. A strateg ic reserve of six brigades will be
located in A ddis Ababa. According to s ources, forces around Addis Ababa in 2004 (two
divisional form ations, each w ith three brigades) were though t to be well equipped with
serviceable m ain battle tanks and oth er heavy, mechanized equipm ent. There are arm y bases
throughout the country, including in Addis Ababa, Bahir Dar, Debre Zeyit, Dire Dawa, Gondar,
Gore, and Jijiga.

Major Military Equipment: Ethiopia m ade significant purchases of arms from Russia in late
1999 and early 2000 before the May 2000 United Nations arm s embargo went into ef fect. It is
like ly tha t much of that e quipm ent suf fered battle dam age in the war with Eritrea, sugg esting that
raw num ber s alone m ay overstate the capacity of the defense forces. The E thiopian arm y
possesses approxim ately 250 main battle tanks, 400 reconnaissance, arm ored personnel, and
infantry figh ting veh icles , 400 pieces of towe d artillery, 50 m ultip le ro cket launchers, 3 70
surface-to-air m issiles, and a sm all num ber of self-propelled art illery. Th e Ethiopian air force h as
48 com bat aircraft (including 6 Su-27s, 25 MiG-21MFs, and 13 MiG-23BNs), 25 arm ed
helicopters, and 12 transport he licopters. W hen Eritrea gained independence in 1993, Ethiopia
becam e a landlocked nation. Most o f the sm all Ethiopi an nav y was ceded to Eritrea at that tim e.
Ethiopia has no strategic weapons and is a part y to nuclear, chem ical, and biological weapons
treaties. Som e stockpiles of che mical weapons used by Ethiopia in the 1978–79 war with
Som alia rem ain, but the wea pons are probably useless now.

Military Service: The term of service in th e Eth iopian National Defence Force is 16 months, of
which 4 m onths are traini ng. Service is voluntary.

Paramilitary Forces: N one.

Foreign Military Forces: As of early 2005, no known foreign m ilitary forces were in Ethiopia.
The 3,800-m ember United Nations Mission in E thiopi a and Eritrea (UN M EE) is stationed inside
Eritrea. No UNMEE forces are in Ethiopia.

Military Fo rces Abroad: Nearly 900 Ethiopian soldiers are stationed as United Nations
peacekeep ers in Burundi, and som e 1,800 troops serve as p eacekeepers in Liberia.

Police : Reliable estim ates on the size of the Ethi opian police force are not available. The budget
for public order and security, which covers police, doubled between 1997 and 1999 and is
believed to have rem ained at a high level since that tim e.

Internal Threat: Sporadic violence has been reported in the northeas tern Af ar region between
the Iss a-So mali and the Afar. Ethnic clash es be tween the Anuak and the Nuer, which drew in
people from central Ethiopia (know n collectively as “highlanders”) , broke out in 2003 in the far
western Gambella area, displacing 20 percen t of the population and leaving upwards of 1,000

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people dead. Accounts of those responsible for the killings include pos sible involvement of
governm ent forces. Since the cease-f ire with Eritrea, growing dissent within the Tigray-
dom inated m ilitary has increased, leading to th reats of m utiny in 2001 over dispu ted s alary
increases. In order to quell any attem pts at rebellion, arm y units considered loyal to the
leadership in Addis Ababa have been deployed throughout the country. The arm y chief of staff
and comm ander of the air force both were dism issed after a June 2001 cl ash between Ethiopian
arm y units. In 2003 there were unconfirm ed reports of air force personnel de fecting to Eritrea or
seeking asylum in third countries. T he Orom o Liberation Front (OLF), created in 1973, is
thought to be the prim ary insurgent force in E thiopi a. Its stated goal is to cham pion the political
and cultural rights of the Orom o people, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group. E stim ates of the size of
the OLF vary, but active m embers may num ber in the low thousands. The Ogaden National
Liberation Ar my (ONLA), founded in 1984, seeks th e right to self-determ ination for Ethiopian
Som alis in the Ogaden region of the southeast. No estim ates are availa ble on the size of the

Terroris m : Ethiopia is not known to harbor international terrorists. N onetheless, several terrorist
incidents have occurred, m ost notably the atte mpted assassination in 1995 of President Hosni
Mubarak of Egypt at Bole International Air port, for which the Sudanese governm ent was
blam ed. Since 2001, Ethiopia has allied itself with th e United States in its an titerrorism efforts in
the Horn, and its arm ed forces participate in the U.S.-sponsored Com bined Joint Task Force–
Horn of Af rica antite rror ism force ba sed in Djibo uti.

Human Rights: According to the U.S. Departm ent of State’s hum an rights report for 2004 and
sim ilar sources, the E thiopian governm ent’s hu man rights record is poor. The Ethiopian
governm ent does not respect the basic hum an rights of m any of its citizens. Police and security
forces have harassed, ar bitr arily and illegally detained, to rtu red, and in so me cases, killed
members of the political oppositio n, dem onstrators, and susp ected insurg ents. Thousands of
suspects rem ain in detention without charge, an d lengthy pretrial detention continues to be a
problem . Prison conditions are poor. The governm ent often ignores citizens’ privacy rights and
laws regarding search w arrants. Although fewer j ournalists have been arrested, detained, or
punished in 2004 than in past years, the government nevertheless continues to restrict freedom of
the pres s. The government lim its freedom of assem bly, particularly for m embers of oppositio n
groups, and security forces have used excessive force to break up dem ons trations. Violence and
discrim ination against wom en continue to be prob lem s. Fem ale genital m utilation is widespread,
although efforts to curb the practice have had so me effect. The econom ic and sexual exploitation
of children continues, as does tr afficking in persons. Forced labor, particularly am ong children,
is a persistent problem . Low-le vel governm ent interference w ith labor unions continues.
Although the governm ent generally re spects the free exercise of religion, local authorities at
tim es interf ere with r elig ious prac tice .