Ethiopia, officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a landlocked country in the Horn of Africa. It shares borders with Eritrea and Djibouti to the north, Somalia to the east and northeast, Kenya to the south, South Sudan to the west, and Sudan to the northwest. Ethiopia has a total area of 1,100,000 square kilometres (420,000 sq mi). It is home to 117 million inhabitants and is the 12th-most populous country in the world and the 2nd-most populous in Africa after Nigeria. The national capital and largest city, Addis Ababa, lies several kilometres west of the East African Rift that splits the country into the African and Somali tectonic plates.
Haile Selassie I era (1916–1974)
The early 20th century was marked by the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie (Ras Tafari). Haile Selassie I was born to parents with ethnic links to three Afroasiatic-speaking populations of Ethiopia: the Oromo and Amhara, the country’s two largest ethnic groups, as well as the Gurage. He came to power after Lij Iyasu was deposed, and undertook a nationwide modernization campaign from 1916 when he was made a Ras and Regent (Inderase) for the Empress Regnant Zewditu, and became the de facto ruler of the Ethiopian Empire. Following Zewditu’s death, on 2 November 1930, he succeeded her as emperor. In 1931, Haile Selassie endowed Ethiopia with its first-ever Constitution in emulation of Imperial Japan’s 1890 Constitution, through which the Central Europe a model of unitary and homogenous ethnolinguistic nation-state was adopted for the Ethiopian Empire.
Fascist Italian occupation
The independence of Ethiopia was interrupted by the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, beginning when it was invaded by Fascist Italy in early October 1935, and by subsequent Italian rule of the country (1936–1941) after Italian victory in the war. During this time, Haile Selassie exiled and appealed to the League of Nations in 1935, delivering an address that made him a worldwide figure, and the 1935 Time Man of the Year. As the majority of the Ethiopian population lived in rural towns, Italy faced continued resistance and ambushes in urban centers throughout its rule over Ethiopia. Haile Selassie fled into exile in Fairfield House, Bath, England. Mussolini was able to proclaim Italian Ethiopia and the assumption of the imperial title by the Italian King Vittorio Emanuele III.
In 1937, the Italian massacre of Yekatit 12 took place, in which as many as 30,000 civilians were killed and many others imprisoned. This massacre was a reprisal for the attempted assassination of Rodolfo Graziani, the viceroy of Italian East Africa. The Italians employed the use of asphyxiating chemical weapons in their Ethiopian invasion. The Italians regularly dropped bombs throughout Ethiopia that carried mustard gas and debilitated the Ethiopian forces. On the whole, the Italians dropped about 300 tons of mustard gas as well as thousands of other artillery. This use of chemical weapons amounted to egregious war crimes.Ras Seyoum Mengesha, Ras Getachew Abate and Ras Kebede Gubret with Benito Mussolini on 6 February 1937 in Rome, Italy, after the Italian occupation of Ethiopia
The Italians made investments in Ethiopian infrastructure development during their rule over Ethiopia. They created the so-called “imperial road” between Addis Ababa and Massaua. More than 900 km of railways were reconstructed, dams and hydroelectric plants were built, and many public and private companies were established. The Italian government abolished slavery, a practice that existed in the country for centuries.
Following the entry of Italy into World War II, British Empire forces, together with the Arbegnoch (literally, “patriots”, referring to armed resistance soldiers) liberated Ethiopia in the course of the East African Campaign in 1941. An Italian guerrilla warfare campaign continued until 1943. This was followed by British recognition of Ethiopia’s full sovereignty, without any special British privileges, when the Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement was signed in December 1944. Under the peace treaty of 1947, Italy recognized the sovereignty and independence of Ethiopia.
On 26 August 1942, Haile Selassie issued a proclamation that removed legal basis for slavery. Ethiopia had between two and four million slaves in the early 20th century, out of a total population of about eleven million.
Post-World War II
In 1952, Haile Selassie orchestrated a federation with Eritrea. He dissolved this in 1962 and annexed Eritrea, resulting in the Eritrean War of Independence. Haile Selassie was nearly deposed from 1960 coup d’état conspired by chiefly progressive opposition group led by brothers Germame and Mengistu Neway whilst state visiting to Brazil. On the evening of Tuesday, 13 December, a group deceived the Ministers of the Imperial Crown and important personages to enter National Palace and taking them as hostage. Fighting began on the next day primarly between the Loyalist imperial army (Kebur Zebegna) and rebels led by General Tsege and Colonel Warqenah. During its start, the Germame and his fellow combatants killed 15 of hostages captived in Genetta Leul Palace. Central of these were officials such as then Prime Minister Ras Abebe Aregai, Makonnen Habte-Wolde and Major General Mulugeta. Heavily subdued by the imperial army, General Tsege was killed in fighting, Colonel Warqenah committed suicide, and the brothers Mengistu and Germame Neway was near Mojo on 24 December, who would soon executed by hanging at church square in Addis Ababa but Germame evaded by commiting suicide. The coup considered one of serious threat to Haile Selassie until 1974 Ethiopian Revolution. In 1963, Haile Selassie played a leading role in the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
Opinion within Ethiopia turned against Haile Selassie owing to the worldwide 1973 oil crisis causing a sharp increase in gasoline prices starting on 13 February 1974. The high gasoline prices motivated taxi drivers and teachers to go on strike on 18 February 1974, and students and workers in Addis Ababa began demonstrating against the government on 20 February 1974. There were resulting food shortages, uncertainty regarding the succession, border wars, and discontent in the middle class created through modernization. The feudal oligarchical cabinet of Aklilu Habte-Wold was toppled, and a new government was formed with Endelkachew Makonnen serving as Prime Minister.
The Derg era (1974–1991)
See also: Ethiopia–Russia relations § 1974 revolution, Derg, People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Ethiopian Civil War, Eritrean War of Independence, and 1983–85 famine in EthiopiaThe Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP) clashed with the Derg during the Red Terror
Haile Selassie’s rule ended on 12 September 1974, when he was deposed by the Derg, a nonideological committee made up of military and police officers led by Aman Andom. After the execution of 60 former government and military officials including Aman in November 1974, the new Provisional Military Administrative Council now led by General Tafari Benti abolished the monarchy in March 1975 and established Ethiopia as a Marxist-Leninist state with itself as the vanguard party in a provisional government. The abolition of feudalism, increased literacy, nationalization, and sweeping land reform including the resettlement and villagization from the Ethiopian Highlands became priorities.
After internal conflicts that resulted in the execution of chairman Tafari Benti and several of his supporters in February 1977, and the execution of vice-chairman Atnafu Abate in November 1977, Mengistu Halie Mariam gained undisputed leadership of the Derg.
The Derg suffered several coups, uprisings, wide-scale drought, and a huge refugee problem. In 1977, Somalia, which had previously been receiving assistance and arms from the USSR, invaded Ethiopia in the Ogaden War, capturing part of the Ogaden region. Ethiopia recovered it after it began receiving massive military aid from the Soviet bloc countries of the USSR, Cuba, South Yemen, East Germany, and North Korea. This included around 15,000 Cuban combat troops.Ethiopian leader Mengistu Haile Mariam (left) with fellow Derg members Tafari Benti (middle) and Atnafu Abate (right). Mengistu was sentenced to death in Ethiopia for crimes committed during his government, which killed up to 500,000 people; he lived in exile in Zimbabwe as of 2018.
In 1976–78, up to 500,000 were killed as a result of the Red Terror, a violent political repression campaign by the Derg against various opposition groups most notably the Marxist–Leninist Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP). The Red Terror was carried out in response to what the Derg termed the ‘White Terror’, a chain of violent events, assassinations, and killings carried out by what it called “petty bourgeois reactionaries” who desired a reversal of the 1974 revolution. In 1987, the Derg dissolved itself and established the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE) upon the adoption of the 1987 Constitution of Ethiopia modeled on the 1977 Constitution of the Soviet Union with modified provisions.
The 1983–85 famine in Ethiopia affected around eight million people, resulting in one million dead. Insurrections against authoritarian rule sprang up, particularly in the northern regions of Eritrea and Tigray. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) merged with other ethnically based opposition movements in 1989, to form the coalition known as the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
Concurrently, under Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union began to retreat from building world communism towards glasnost and perestroika policies, marking a dramatic reduction in aid to Ethiopia from Socialist Bloc countries. This resulted in more economic hardship and the collapse of the military in the face of determined onslaughts by guerrilla forces in the north. The collapse of Marxism–Leninism in general, and in Eastern Europe during the revolutions of 1989, coincided with the Soviet Union stopping aid to Ethiopia altogether in 1990. To garner international support Mengistu embraced a mixed economy and an end to one party rule but it was too late to save his regime.
EPRDF forces advanced on Addis Ababa in May 1991, and the Soviet Union did not intervene to save the government side. Mengistu fled the country and was granted asylum in Zimbabwe, where he still resides.
In 2006, after a trial that lasted 12 years, Ethiopia’s Federal High Court in Addis Ababa found Mengistu guilty of genocide in absentia. Numerous other top leaders of his government were also found guilty of war crimes. Mengistu and others who had fled the country were tried and sentenced in absentia. Numerous former officials received the death sentence and tens of others spent the next 20 years in jail, before being pardoned from life sentences.
Federal Democratic Republic (1991–present)
In July 1991, the EPRDF convened a National Conference to establish the Transitional Government of Ethiopia composed of an 87-member Council of Representatives and guided by a national charter that functioned as a transitional constitution. In June 1992, the Oromo Liberation Front withdrew from the government; in March 1993, members of the Southern Ethiopia Peoples’ Democratic Coalition also left the government. In April 1993, Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia after a national referendum. In 1994, a new constitution was written that established a parliamentary republic with a bicameral legislature and a judicial system.Former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi at the 2012 World Economic Forum annual meeting
The first multiparty election took place in May 1995, which was won by the EPRDF. The president of the transitional government, EPRDF leader Meles Zenawi, became the first Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, and Negasso Gidada was elected its president. In post-Derg Ethiopia’s Constitution (promulgated in 1995), the EPRDF not only took over the Derg’s Soviet-inspired promise of cultural and administrative autonomy for the country’s over 80 ethnic groups but also borrowed the right to independence (secession) from the Soviet Constitution. In this manner, an ethnoterritorial federal model of statehood was adopted for Ethiopia (as originally developed in the Central European empire of Austria-Hungary and in the interwar Soviet Union).
In May 1998, a border dispute with Eritrea led to the Eritrean–Ethiopian War, which lasted until June 2000 and cost both countries an estimated $1 million a day. This had a negative effect on Ethiopia’s economy, but strengthened the ruling coalition.
Ethiopia’s 3rd multiparty election on 15 May 2005 was highly disputed, with many opposition groups claiming fraud. Though the Carter Center approved the pre-election conditions, it expressed its dissatisfaction with post-election events. European Union election observers cited state support for the EPRDF campaign, as well as irregularities in ballot counting and results publishing. The opposition parties gained more than 200 parliamentary seats, compared with just 12 in the 2000 elections. While most of the opposition representatives joined the parliament, some leaders of the CUD party who refused to take up their parliamentary seats were accused of inciting the post-election violence and were imprisoned. Amnesty International considered them “prisoners of conscience” and they were subsequently released.
A coalition of opposition parties and some individuals were established in 2009 to oust the government of the EPRDF in legislative elections of 2010. Meles’ party, which has been in power since 1991, published its 65-page manifesto in Addis Ababa on 10 October 2009. The opposition won most votes in Addis Ababa, but the EPRDF halted the counting of votes for several days. After it ensued, it claimed the election, amidst charges of fraud and intimidation.
In mid-2011, two consecutively missed rainy seasons precipitated the worst drought in East Africa seen in 60 years. Full recovery from the drought’s effects did not occur until 2012, with long-term strategies by the national government in conjunction with development agencies believed to offer the most sustainable results.Former Prime Minister of Ethiopia Hailemariam Desalegn meeting with former US Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in Addis Ababa.
Meles died on 20 August 2012 in Brussels, where he was being treated for an unspecified illness. Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn was appointed as a new prime minister until the 2015 elections, and remained so afterwards with his party in control of every parliamentary seat.
Protests broke out across the country on 5 August 2016 and hundreds of protesters were subsequently shot and killed by police. The protesters demanded an end to human rights abuses, the release of political prisoners, a fairer redistribution of the wealth generated by over a decade of economic growth, and a return of Wolqayt District to the Amhara Region. The events were the most violent crackdown against protesters in Sub-Saharan Africa since the Ethiopian government killed at least 75 people during protests in the Oromia Region in November and December 2015. Following these protests, Ethiopia declared a state of emergency on 6 October 2016. The state of emergency was lifted in August 2017.
On 16 February 2018, the government of Ethiopia declared a six-month nationwide state of emergency following the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. Hailemariam is the first ruler in modern Ethiopian history to step down; previous leaders have died in office or been overthrown. He said that he wanted to clear the way for reforms.
Abiy Ahmed and the Prosperity Party (2018–present)
The new Prime Minister was Abiy Ahmed, who made an historic visit to Eritrea in 2018, ending the state of conflict between the two countries. For his efforts in ending the 20-year-long war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Abiy Ahmed was awarded the Nobel prize for peace in 2019. After taking office in April 2018, 45-year-old Abiy released political prisoners, promised fair elections for 2019 and announced sweeping economic reforms. As of 6 June 2019, all the previously censored websites were made accessible again, over 13,000 political prisoners were released and hundreds of administrative staff were fired as part of the reforms.