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Ethiopia - Introduction

Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 158th out of 162 countries in the UNDP Human Development Report 2001. In May 2014, Alexander Rondos, the EU's special representative for the Horn of Africa, had reportedly said that "The Ethiopian [troops] scare the hell out of everybody... because they deliver". His remark was made during a conference organized by the European Security Roundtable under the auspices of the Presidency of the EU Council.

Ethiopia takes pride in being the oldest independent country in Africa. The modern political landscape of Ethiopia has been shaped by the 1998-2000 border conflict with Eritrea (70,000 Ethiopians and Eritreans killed) and the aftermath of the May 2005 elections, which was marked by civil disobedience, killings of protesters, and the imprisonment of opposition party members. Opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa, party chairman of the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) party, was sentenced to a life sentence in prison. Five members of diaspora opposition party Ginbot 7 received death sentences in December 2009 upon being convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the government after a trial lacking in basic elements of due process. The political space for opposition parties, the media, and civil society was being progressively restricted.

Economically, Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with an annual per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of USD 340. Eighty-five percent of the population works in the agriculture sector. Chronic cycles of drought, high population growth, state and ruling party dominance in numerous commercial sectors, inefficient agricultural markets, and regular power outages all act to limit Ethiopia's economic development. Foreign investment restrictions are widespread, including key sectors such as banking, insurance, and telecommunications. Ethiopia suffers a significant trade deficit, resulting in a severe foreign exchange crisis.

In recent years various attempts have been made to gain a better understanding of the food security situation of the country, quite apart from the annual exercise of counting the number of people receiving food assistance. Most analyses seemto concur that the food-insecure population can be estimated as approximately 50% of the population and that about 15 million people (22% of the total population) receive food aid, although not on a regular basis. Of that total, around 5-6 million people are considered as chronically food-insecure (according to the proxy indicators identified by the Government as households constantly under food aid) while the others are increasingly vulnerable to shocks and subjectto transitory or acute food insecurity at times of drought.

Despite massive quantities of emergency food aid delivered annually (yearly average of742,000 tons between 1993 and 2002), the consumption needs of the Ethiopian population arenot fully covered. In fact, notwithstanding the fact that food security is a key priority ofGovernment and donors, results have been so far disappointing owing to poor co-ordination andthe fact that food insecurity, essentially a structural problem for a large share of the population, ismainly addressed through short-term measures. More recent initiatives however (e.g. Food Security Coalition and the Strategic Framework for Safety Nets) seem to provide an adequate framework for enhanced partnership and for the adoption and implementation of more structural and long-term approaches to food security.

In such a context, given the Ethiopian food balance sheet deficit and existing market failures, there is a widely recognised role and scope for food-aid-based interventions - at least over the medium term - to mitigate short-term transient foodinsecurity and to provide support to specific vulnerable groups. This would, however, call for thedefinition of a food policy that clearly establishes when and how food is required and helps toimprove the effectiveness and efficiency of existing programs.

Abyssinia is often confounded with Ethiopia. Historically, Ethiopia was commonly referred to as Abyssinia, derived from the Arabic name "Al-Habesh". The word "Ethiopia" is actually derived from Greek words meaning "people of burned faces". In classical times the word "Ethiopia" was used to refer to the African landmass to the south of Egypt.

In the 19th Century it appeared that "Ethiopia", more ancient, and comprising more especially the blacks of African origin, whose monarchs were the antagonists of the Pharaohs, extended from Upper Egypt over the provinces of Sennaar and Nubia, and those vast plains between Sennaar and the Bed Sea, now inhabited by roving Arabs, and Shankalla or blacks of African tribes, and perhaps reached the mountains inhabited by the Abyssinians.

Abyssinia, or at least the northern portion of it, was included in the tract of country known to the ancients as Ethiopia, the northern limits of which reached at one time to about Syene. In the 19th Century, possessing the Christian faith, the Empire of Abyssinia, properly speaking, commenced to the southward, where the other ended, from the time of Solomon; the infusion of Jewish institutions being still strongly apparent, however difficult it may be to separate truth from falsehood, in the tales connecting them with that nation.

The natural distinction of the two empires, often loosely confounded, is that the Empire of Ethiopia entirely extended over plains and level countries, whereas that of Abyssmia is a high plateau from 4,000 to 14,000 feet above the sea, well and sharply denned on eveiy border, and which was only quitted when a temporary strength tempted the inhabitants to overrun the neighboring low countries.

Although nationals of Ethiopia are now officially identified as Ethiopians, it is also very common for Ethiopians to use the term 'Habesha' (Abyssinians) as a reference to peoples of Ethiopian origin, though this mostly refers to the Amhara and Tigrayan people.

Ethiopia is located in the Horn of Africa and is bordered on the north and northeast by Eritrea, on the east by Djibouti and Somalia, on the south by Kenya, and on the west and southwest by Sudan. The country has a high central plateau that varies from 1,800 to 3,000 meters (6,000 ft.-10,000 ft.) above sea level, with some mountains reaching 4,620 meters (15,158 ft.). Elevation is generally highest just before the point of descent to the Great Rift Valley, which splits the plateau diagonally. A number of rivers cross the plateau--notably the Blue Nile flowing from Lake Tana. The plateau gradually slopes to the lowlands of the Sudan on the west and the Somali-inhabited plains to the southeast. The climate is temperate on the plateau and hot in the lowlands. At Addis Ababa, which ranges from 2,200 to 2,600 meters (7,000 ft.-8,500 ft.), maximum temperature is 26o C (80o F) and minimum 4o C (40o F). The weather is usually sunny and dry with the short (belg) rains occurring February-April and the big (meher) rains beginning in mid-June and ending in mid-September.

Ethiopia's population is highly diverse. Most of its people speak a Semitic or Cushitic language. The Oromo, Amhara, and Tigreans make up more than three-fourths of the population, but there are more than 77 different ethnic groups with their own distinct languages within Ethiopia. Some of these have as few as 10,000 members. In general, most of the Christians live in the highlands, while Muslims and adherents of traditional African religions tend to inhabit lowland regions. English is the most widely spoken foreign language and is taught in all secondary schools. Amharic is the official language and was the language of primary school instruction but has been replaced in many areas by local languages such as Oromifa and Tigrinya.

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