Ethiopia: A Country Study Essay, Research Paper
Ethiopia: A Country Study
Located in northeastern Africa, in an area known as the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is one of the largest and most populous countries in Africa. It is bordered by Djibouti and the former Ethiopian autonomous region of Eritrea on the north, Somalia on the east, Kenya on the south, and Sudan on the west. While influenced and even occasionally occupied by other nations, Ethiopia is one of the few countries in Africa or Asia never truly colonized.
The Ethiopian population is very mixed, with broad differences in cultural backgrounds and traits, languages, and religions. The greatest numbers of people speak either Semitic or Cu*censored*ic languages and their dialects. In the west and southwest some people speak Nilotic languages.
Various religions are represented, with numerous people following Christianity, Islam, and traditional African religions. Christianity was introduced into Ethiopia in the 4th century and was the official state religion until 1974. Christians tend to be the most numerous in the highland areas, Muslims in the lowlands, and Traditional African religions in the south and west.
The diversity of people has always played a significant role in Ethiopia. Disagreements and problems between groups are often tied to differences in language, religion, and other cultural aspects.
The population of Ethiopia is about 54 million. It is most densely concentrated in the highland areas. Like in most other African countries, most people live in rural areas. Only about 10% of Ethiopians live in the cities. The life expectancy is among the world’s lowest at approximately 45 years for males and 49 years for females.
The Ethiopian economy is one of poverty. Average annual incomes are estimated at between 100 and 150 dollars per person in United States dollars. Little is produced that is not needed within the country. Throughout most of Ethiopia there is the raising of both plants and animals. In most areas the major crops include grains such as teff, wheat, barley, sorghum, millet, and corn. Manufacturing forms only a small part of the Ethiopian economy. Processed foods, textiles, and beverages are the major products, mostly for local consumption.
Semitic people from Arabia settled in Ethiopia about 3,000 years ago. Their descendants established an empire at Aksum in northeast Ethiopia before the time of Christ. The empire grew wealthy as trade with other lands poured through its port of Adulis, near what is now Mitsiwa. The people were converted to Christianity in the early A.D. 300’s.
The Aksumite empire declined around the 900’s. A new empire, ruled by the Zagwe dynasty, began 200 years later about 150 miles south of Aksum. In 1270, Yekuno Amlak, a prince claiming descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, overthrew the dynasty. The empire broke into small kingdoms in the 1600’s after a series of wars against invading Muslims.
During this time, anyone accepted as possessing Solomic descent could claim rights to the monarchy. This obviously caused frequent internal problems, civil wars, and wars of succession.
The ruler who laid the foundations of modern-day Ethiopia was Menelik II. Menelik became emperor in 1889. He began to modernize the country, and regained many lost provinces. In the late 1800’s, the Italians invaded Ethiopia but were defeated by Ethiopian armies in the battle of Aduwa in 1896. This was the first major victory of an African country over a European power. This preserved Ethiopia as one of the few noncolonized nations of Africa.
Menelik died in 1913, and his heir Lij Yasu came to the throne. But the people dethroned Lij Yasu in 1916, accusing him of becoming a Muslim. Zauditu, Menelik’s daughter, then became empress. She governed the country with her cousin, Ras Tafari, who was regent and heir to the throne. Ras Tafari assumed the title of Emperor Haile Selassie I in 1930, after Zauditu’s death.
Haile Selassie, planning to modernize Ethiopia, introduced the country’s first written constitution in 1931. But his reforms were halted when Italy invaded Ethiopia again on October 3, 1935. The Ethiopian army was poorly equipped and not prepared for the invasion. By 1936, the royal family had been driven into exile and it became clear that the capital of Ethiopia could not be defended. Emperor Selassie was persuaded to go into exile.
The Italians occupied Ethiopia until 1941 when Ethiopian and British troops defeated them. Emperor Selassie returned to Ethiopia and helped build new roads and schools and started to modernize Ethiopia’s agriculture.
In the early 1960’s, the Ogaden region of southeastern Ethiopia became a trouble spot. Large numbers of Somali people live there, and the government of Somalia claims ownership of the region. Border fighting flared up between Ethiopia and Somalia in the early 1960’s.
In 1974, Emperor Selassie’s long reign came to an end when he was dethroned in a Marxist revolution. After 1974 Ethiopia had a Marxist military government run by the Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC), also called the Derg. The Derg was full of internal power struggles until Lieutenant Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam emerged as the head of state.
Under Mengistu, the Derg enlarged the military tenfold. Beginning in 1975 it also instituted a program of nationalization of industry, banking, insurance, and large-scale trade. Many Ethiopians who opposed military rule supported the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary party, which fought the military regime in the cities until it was destroyed in 1978.
The problems between Somalia and Ethiopia worsened in 1977 when Somali people in Ogaden staged a major revolt against Ethiopian rule, and widespread fighting broke out. Ethiopia shifted its international ties with the United States to an alignment with the Soviet Union, which became its chief source of weapons. Somalia withdrew its troops from Ogaden in March 1978 after a major Ethiopian attack. By the early 1980’s, most of the fighting in Ogaden had ended, but some fighting has continued on a small scale.
In 1987 a new constitution was approved to make the country the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. This constitution established a civilian Communist government. The PMAC was dissolved, members of the new assembly, or Shengo, were installed, and Mengistu became the first president of the republic.
Ethiopia was struck by a major famine in the early 1970’s and two more during the 1980’s. More than 200,000 people may have died in the first of these. Because of these famines, Ethiopia has been heavily dependent upon international donations to overcome starvation in famine areas.
Conflict between Eritrean rebels and the Ethiopian government, which began in the early 1960’s after Eritrea (a former Italian colony) became part of Ethiopia in 1952, continued. By 1991 rebel forces controlled all or parts of seven provinces. Already facing a bankrupt economy and famine, the government saw its army fall apart. Mengistu resigned and fled the country and an unstable transitional government, led by Meles Zenawi, was appointed in August 1991. The government planned a general election for 1993. The Eritreans’ goal, for which they had been fighting for more than 31 years, was finally realized. Eritreans voted overwhelmingly for independence in an April 1993 referendum.
The happier days for Eritrea were limited, though. Today, after over 30 years of fighting and only 5 years of peace and independence, another war is threatening. Ethiopia and Eritrea have quibbled peacefully for years over their border, using colonial maps and more recent surveys to argue their case on who is entitled to a zone named Badme.
However, the dispute turned violent on May 6, 1998 with each accusing the other of invading. A report into the conflict drawn up by the Organization for African Unity (OAU) at the start of July stated that Badme was under Ethiopian administration before its occupation by Eritrean troops on May 12.
In June, Ethiopia’s fighter planes bombed an airport in Eritrea which brought Ethiopia and Eritrea very close to an all-out war. Zenawi tried to avoid a war by producing a peace plan that would allow a third party to rule the 160-square-mile area of Badme.
The United States, The European Union, Russia and others have strongly urged both sides to accept the peace plan, which includes the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from the disputed territory. Eritrean officials have not publicly rejected the proposal, but have not shown any signs toward acceptance either.
By mid-June however, a step was made in the right direction. It seemed that Eritrea and Ethiopia had accepted a United States proposal to immediately halt air strikes. The moratorium against air strikes, as well as threats of air strikes will continue indefinitely or until either country concludes that any hopes for a peaceful resolution has come to an end and provides formal advance notice to the U.S. government that it will no longer respect this moratorium.
If this ending of air raids is a partial form of an ending of hostilities, then there may be some tranquility, at least for a while. Other diplomatic efforts were also made. Five leaders appointed by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) began a mission later on that week. In addition, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was trying to arrange a cease-fire.
The most recent events have not exhibited much change. Although the disputes have been running since May, there have been no reports of border fighting for several weeks and the air raids that characterized the conflict’s early days have remained ceased. The OAU has been working towards its main goal of avoiding a full-scale war. They have been able to make the two parties understand that they must continue to maintain the cease-fire while African leaders pursue their efforts.
However, talks with the foreign ministers of the two states (who are refusing to meet face to face) appeared to have made little progress. The Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seymoun Mestin says he will not meet the Eritrean Foreign Minister Haile Weldensae until Eritrean troops have left Badme. After three hours of talks with OAU representatives things were not looking hopeful. Weldensae stated that Eritrea has not occupied any part of Ethiopian territory and that they are not prepared to withdraw from their own territory. With the Eritrean withdrawal being a key element in Zenawi’s peace plan, the end of this dispute is not drawing near.
Since May hundreds have died in tank and artillery battles on three fronts. Bombing raids have killed at least 48 civilians in northern Ethiopia and four people in the attacks on the airport outside the Eritrean capital, Asmara.
This war is a war between countries that were once friends. The Ethiopians gave Eritrea their independence peacefully and without any struggle. The Eritrean people have just gotten over 31 years of fighting and long for stability. They truly want peace and should be listened to.
I believe that the leaders of these once allied nations should look and listen. They should look back at all the border disputes that have ensued in so many African nations and that have ended up killing millions of civilians and have caused the economic disasters that wars always do. In addition to looking back through history, they should listen to their people. There are loud protests in the streets and quiet protests, in the form of prayers, in the churches throughout these two countries. If the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea would just look and listen to the very people that fill their nation’s controversial borders, they would realize that the issue is simply too trivial to put so many at risk.
I think that the best solution to this problem is the one proposed in the peace plan presented by Zenawi. The Eritrean government should put their stubbornness aside as the Ethiopians are willing to do, and should leave the area. A third party should then be appointed by the OAU to rule over this region.
With war, whether you win or lose, you lose. The people want peace. War will not solve their problems. These two nations pray to the same God and speak the same language. They were once friends and will be again.