• Ethiopia country profile
  • Ethiopia country profile

Ethiopia country profile

Ethiopia is Africa's second largest country, with a population of over 100 million people (2019). It is the oldest independent nation on the continent: apart from a five-year occupation by Mussolini's Italy, it was never colonised.

Ethiopians claim an unique cultural heritage. The country is home of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, one of the oldest Christian churches. It was ruled by a monarchy that came to an end by a coup in 1974, terminating the long reign of emperor Haile Selassie.

Not all Ethiopians are christians: there is a large muslim minority, mainly in regions bordering Somalia.

Ethiopia served as a symbol of African independence throughout the colonial period. It was a founder member of the United Nations. Its capital Addis Abeba is now the African base for many international organisations.

Ethiopia has suffered periodic drought and famine that lead to a long civil conflict and a border war with Eritrea. Combined with ill-conceived policies this brought brought millions to the brink of starvation in the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1974 this helped topple Haile Selassie. His regime was replaced by a self-proclaimed Marxist junta led by Mengistu Haile Mariam. Mengistu had many thousands of opponents purged and killed, as property was confiscated and defence spending spiralled.

The overthrow of the junta in 1991 saw political and economic conditions stabilise. The country is regarded as one of Africa's more stable, despite a long border dispute with Eritrea and ethnic and social tensions in other parts of the country.

The Ethiopian government that toppled the junta was led by former rebel leader Meles Zenawi as prime minister from 1995 until his death in 2012. It has been accused of stifling dissent, suppressing opposition and committing human rights abuses.

Social and ethnic unrest has been a feature of Ethiopian society for many years. In late 2015 hundreds of people were killed by police during protests against land grabs in the central highlands surrounding the capital.

Ethiopia is still one of Africa's poorest states, although it has managed to realise substantial economic growth for a number of years.

With a Growth and Transformation Plan the government of new prime minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to power in 2018 amid continuing unrest, aims to nurture a manufacturing sector that will provide jobs for millions of people by 2025.

The Ethiopian economy now still revolves mainly around agriculture. It is one of Africa's leading coffee producers and a developing production hub for roses, which are exported to Europe.

Abiy was awarded the 2019 Nobel peace prize for his efforts to stabilize his country and the region for social and economic development.