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Ethiopia country profile

Ethiopia country profile

  • 11 February 2016
  • From the section Africa

Map of Ethiopia

Ethiopia is Africa's oldest independent country and its second largest in terms of population. Apart from a five-year occupation by Mussolini's Italy, it has never been colonised.

It has a unique cultural heritage, being the home of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church – one of the oldest Christian churches – and a monarchy that ended only in the coup of 1974.

It served as a symbol of African independence throughout the colonial period, and was a founder member of the United Nations and the African base for many international organisations.

Ethiopia has suffered periodic droughts and famines that lead to a long civil conflict in the 20th Century and a border war with Eritrea.


Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

Capital: Addis Ababa

  • Population 86.5 million

  • Area 1.13 million sq km (437,794 sq miles)

  • Major languages Amharic, Oromo, Tigrinya, Somali

  • Major religions Christianity, Islam

  • Life expectancy 58 years (men), 62 years (women)

  • Currency Birr

UN, World Bank

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Prime minister: Hailemariam Desalegn

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Hailemariam Desalegn was deputy to long-term leader Meles Zenawi

Hailemariam Desalegn was sworn in as prime minister of Ethiopia in September 2012, ending a period of uncertainty following the death of long-term leader Meles Zenawi.

A Protestant Christian from the small Welayta ethnic group in southern Ethiopia, Mr Hailemariam leads the ruling coalition Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

As a former deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Mr Hailemariam was considered a close ally of Meles Zenawi. He has pledged to continue his "legacy without any change".

Meles Zenawi was praised by many for his success in revitalising Ethiopia's economy but criticised for his human rights record and his failure to allow full democracy.


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Radio is the medium of choice, reaching rural areas where most Ethiopians live.

The state controls most broadcasting outlets, including the sole national TV network, but there is a handful of private radio stations.

The number of privately-owned newspapers has grown; it offers quite different reporting to state-owned newspapers and routinely criticises the government.


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The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are thought to have been built in the 11th and 12th century

Some key dates in Ethiopia's history:

4th century – Coptic Christianity introduced from Egypt.

1855-1868 – Reign of Emperor Tewodros II, who lays the foundation for the modern Ethiopian state.

1896 – Invading Italian forces are defeated by the Ethiopians at Adwa; Italy recognises Ethiopia's independence but retains control over Eritrea.

1935-1941 – Fascist-ruled Italy invades, deposes Emperor Haile Selassie and annexes Ethiopia, before being driven out by British, Commonwealth and Ethiopian resistance forces.

1962 – Haile Selassie annexes Eritrea, which becomes an Ethiopian province.

1974 – Haile Selassie overthrown in military coup. The Marxist Derg regime takes over.

1977-79 – Thousands of government opponents die in "Red Terror" orchestrated by Derg leader Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam.

1984-85 – Worst famine in a decade strikes; Western food aid sent.

1991 – Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front captures Addis Ababa, forcing Col Mengistu to flee the country.

1993 – Eritrea becomes independent following a referendum.

1999-2000 – Ethiopian-Eritrean border war.

Read full timeline

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Crowds bathe to celebrate Timkat – the Ethiopian Orthodox Epiphany – in the ancient capital Gondar

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