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Ethiopia, is one of the oldest nations in the world and Africa's second-most populous country.  It has yielded some of the oldest traces of humanity, making it an important area in the process of human evolution.

Ethiopia was not colonized during the Scramble for Africa after defeating Italy at the Battle of Adwa in 1896. However it was occupied by Mussolini's Italy from 1935 to 1941.  Having converted during the fourth century AD, it is also the second-oldest country to become officially Christian, after Armenia, although it has been secular since 1974 and has harboured a considerable Muslim community as well since the earliest days of Islam.

Historically a relatively isolated mountain empire, Ethiopia has more recently become a crossroads of global international co-operation.  It became a member of the League of Nations in 1923; signed the Declaration by United Nations in 1942; was one of the fifty-one original members of the United Nations (UN) and founded the UN headquarters in Africa.  There are more than 60 Ethiopian embassies around the world and Ethiopia currently hosts the headquarters of the African Union (formerly the Organisation of African Unity) of which it was the principal founder.

Ethiopia offers a greater richness in archaeological finds and historical buildings than any other country in Sub-Saharan Africa (including Sudan).  In April 2005, the Obelisk of Axum, one of Ethiopia's religious and historical treasures, was returned to Ethiopia by Italy.  Under the orders of dictator Benito Mussolini, Italian troops seized the obelisk in 1937 and took it to Rome.  Italy agreed to return the obelisk in 1947 in a UN agreement, and it was finally returned in 2005.

As of January 2007 the obelisk has not been erected in Ethiopia.  The monument was returned to Ethiopia in three or four large segments to facilitate easier transport.  The pieces are so large that the Ethiopian government has been unable to erect it or even devise a way it could feasibly be done.  The original site of the obelisk is an unexcavated area that would be damaged by heavy machinery, if that were determined to be an appropriate method of erection.  There have been plenty of significant discoveries including the oldest known, complete fossilized human skeleton, Lucy.  Other discoveries are still being made. Recently, archaeologists uncovered the ruins of the legendary ancient Islamic kingdom of Shewa that included evidence of a large urban settlement as well as a large mosque

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Early History

Evidence of early human settlement has resulted in Ethiopia being credited as “the cradle of humanity”.  Fossilized remains of the earliest ancestors to the human species, discovered in Ethiopia, have been assigned dates as long ago as 5.9 million years.  Together with Djibouti and the south-eastern part of the Red Sea coast of Somalia, it is considered the most likely location of the land known to the ancient Egyptians as Punt (or "Ta Netjeru", meaning land of the Gods); whose first mention dates to the twenty-fifth century BC.

Around the second millennium B. C., the Cushites drove other tribes out of Ethiopia and founded a new civilization.  The Cushitic civilization most likely traded with the Egyptians, as evidenced by Egyptian texts.  The Egyptian name for the Ethiopians was Habashat, from which the name Abyssinia was likely derived.

Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Africa and one of the oldest in the world.  Herodotus, the Greek historian of the fifth century B. C., describes ancient Ethiopia in his writings.  The Old Testament of the Bible records the Queen of Sheba's visit to Jerusalem.

According to legend, Menelik I, the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, founded the Ethiopian Empire in the tenth century B. C., and the country followed Judaism from this time.  Early traders from Arabia influenced the developing culture and customs of Ethiopia having been settling in northern Ethiopia since 500 B. C.

The first documented Ethiopian kingdom is that of Aksum, a kingdom which probably grew up in the second century A. D.  The kingdom of Aksum controlled most of the Red Sea coast and had links with Mediterranean civilizations.  Missionaries from Syria introduced Christianity in the Third Century A. D.

Under its King Ezana, Aksum was converted to Christianity in the fourth century A. D. and the early Ethiopian church was closely tied to the Coptic Church of Alexandria

Following the rise of Islam in the seventh century, the kingdom of Aksum declined, mostly because Ethiopia's land connections with the Byzantine Empire were severed and it no longer controlled Red Sea trade routes

After the seventh century, Aksum was concentrated in the centre of the Ethiopian Plateau, mainly in the regions of Amhara and Shewa, and Ethiopia disintegrated into small, competing political units.

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A Period of Isolation

The Portuguese established contact with Ethiopia in 1493, primarily to strengthen their influence over the Indian Ocean and to convert Ethiopia to Roman Catholicism.  There followed a century of conflict between pro- and anti-Catholic factions, resulting in the expulsion of all foreign missionaries in the 1630s.  This period of bitter religious conflict contributed to hostility toward foreign Christians and Europeans, which persisted into the 20th century and was a factor in Ethiopia's isolation until the mid-19th century.

Ahmad Gragne, a Muslim Somali, conquered most of Ethiopia in 1530-1531.  This Somali War exhausted Ethiopia's resources and ended a period of high cultural development.  It also opened the weakened kingdom to invasions by the Oromos.  For the next 200 years, the Ethiopian kingdom, based in Gondar, was troubled by civil wars among princes, especially princes of Tigray and Amhara, and aggression by the Oromos.

In the 19th century, Lij Kasa began to reunify Ethiopia. He conquered Amhara, Gojam, Tigray, and Shewa; in 1855 he was crowned Emperor Tewodros II.  Despite opposition from local leaders, he began to centralise and modernise the government and legal systems.  Tensions rose between Britain and Ethiopia, and Tewodros imprisoned several British citizens, including the British consul.  Angered, the British sent out a military force under the command of Robert Napier.  The British easily defeated the Ethiopian forces in 1868, and Tewodros committed suicide rather than face capture.

After the suicide of Tewodros, Ethiopia fell into a brief civil war. In 1872, a chieftain of Tigray became Emperor Yohannes IV of Ethiopia.  He attempted further centralization of the government, but met with strong local resistance.  From 1875 to 1876, the Ethiopian empire was threatened by invasions from Egypt.  After 1881, the nation had to deal with raids by the Islamic Mahdis from Sudan. In 1889, Emperor Yohannes was killed fighting the Mahdis, and was succeeded by the king of Shewa, who had Italian support.  The king of Shewa was crowned Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia.

Shortly after his coronation, Menelik II signed the Treaty of Wuchale, a treaty of friendship and cooperation with Italy.  Italy claimed the treaty gave it a protectorate over Ethiopia, and invaded in 1895.  Menelik denied the Italian claim, and defeated the Italian forces at Adwa in March of 1896.  The October 1896 Treaty of Addis Ababa annulled the Treaty of Wuchale and Italy recognised Ethiopia's independence but kept its colony in Eritrea.

During his reign, Menelik expanded Ethiopia's borders, adding the provinces of Harer, Sidamo, and Keffa.  He modernised the military and government and promoted economic development. In 1889, he moved the capital of Ethiopia to Addis Ababa. During his rule, the first Ethiopian railroad was built, financed by French interests.

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The Modern Era

Under the Emperors Tewodros II (1855-68), Johannes IV (1872-89), and Menelik II (1889-1913), the kingdom was consolidated and began to emerge from its medieval isolation.  When Menelik II died, his grandson, Lij Iyassu, succeeded to the throne but he soon alienated Ethiopians by favouring Muslims, and angered the British, French, and Italians by supporting the Central Powers in World War I.

Lij Iyassu was deposed in 1916, and Menelik's daughter, Zawditu, was made empress. Her cousin, Ras Taferi Makonnen (1892-1975), was made regent and successor to the throne.  Empress Zawditu gave Ras Taferi additional powers in 1928, and he became emperor upon her death in 1930.  Ras Taferi was crowned Emperor Haile Selassie I.

The new emperor faced an immediate threat from Italian ruler Benito Mussolini, who desired to establish an Italian empire and avenge the 1896 Italian defeat at Adwa.  On December 5, 1934, a clash along Ethiopia's border with Italian Somaliland increased tensions.  On October 3, 1935, Italy invaded Ethiopia.  The League of Nations imposed mild sanctions on Italy, and France and Britain tried to broker an agreement giving Italy most of Ethiopia to pacify Mussolini's aggression, but neither was effective.  The Italians quickly defeated the Ethiopian army; in May of 1936, Italian forces captured Addis Ababa.

Haile Selassie fled, and on June 1, 1936, the king of Italy was crowned emperor of Ethiopia.  Ethiopia was combined with Eritrea and Italian Somaliland to form the new country of Italian East Africa.  The emperor was forced into exile in England despite his plea to the League of Nations for intervention.

In 1941, British and South African forces drove the Italians from Ethiopia, and Haile Selassie returned to the throne.  Britain continued to exert influence over Ethiopian affairs throughout World War II.  In 1945, Ethiopia joined the United Nations as a charter member.  Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia in 1952, giving Ethiopia direct access to seaports.  Ethiopia received aid from the U. S. and other countries, but wealth continued to be unevenly distributed.  Between 1961 and 1967, border clashes between Ethiopia and Eritrea intensified, and from the late '60s through the early '70s the Ethiopian government fought Eritrean secessionist guerrillas.

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The End of Monarchy

After a period of civil unrest, which began in February 1974, military officers instituted a coup which gradually forced Haile Selassie from power.  The aging Emperor was deposed on September 12, 1974 and a provisional administrative council of soldiers, known as the Derg ("committee"), seized power and installed a government which was socialist in name and military in style.

The new military government suspended the constitution, dismissed the parliament, and placed Lieutenant General Aman Michael Andom at the head of the Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC).  The Derg summarily executed 59 members of the royal family and ministers and generals of the emperor's government; Emperor Haile Selassie was murdered in the basement of his palace on August 22, 1975.

In December 1976, an Ethiopian delegation in Moscow signed a military assistance agreement with the Soviet Union.  The following April, Ethiopia abrogated its military assistance agreement with the United States and expelled the American military missions.

In 1977, Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam assumed power as head of state and Derg chairman, after having his two predecessors killed.  Mengistu instituted a shift away from the original socialist plan and his years in office were marked by a totalitarian-style government and the country's massive militarization, financed by the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, and assisted by Cuba.

The Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party formed and began a campaign of urban guerrilla warfare against the PMAC.

During Mengistu's rule, thousands of political opponents were repressed and property was confiscated.  From 1977 through early 1978 thousands of suspected enemies of the Derg were tortured and/or killed in a purge called the "red terror".

In July 1977, sensing the disarray in Ethiopia, Somalia attacked across the Ogaden Desert and into Bale Province, in pursuit of its irredentist claims to the ethnic Somali areas of Ethiopia.  At the same time, Eritrean secessionists gained control of most of Eritrea.

Ethiopian forces were driven back deep inside their own frontier but, with the assistance of a massive Soviet airlift of arms and Cuban combat forces, they stemmed the attack.  The major Somali regular units were forced out of the Ogaden in March 1978.  Twenty years later, development in the Somali region of Ethiopia lagged.

Communism was officially adopted during the late 1970s and early 1980s with the promulgation of a Soviet-style constitution, Politburo, and the creation of the Workers' Party of Ethiopia (WPE).

Throughout the 1980s, severe droughts led to a devastating famine.  Thousands of Ethiopians fled the country to Djibouti, Somalia, and Sudan.  In 1988, Somalia and Ethiopia signed a peace treaty, but warring within the country increased as Eritrea and the province of Tigray fought bitterly against the central government.

The Derg's collapse was hastened by droughts and famine, as well as by insurrections, particularly in the northern regions of Tigray and Eritrea.  In 1989, the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) merged with other ethnically based opposition movements to form the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).  In May 1991, EPRDF forces advanced on Addis Ababa. Mengistu fled the country for asylum in Zimbabwe, where he still resies.

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Transitional Government

In May 1991, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), led by Isaias Afewerki, assumed control of Eritrea and established a provisional government. This provisional government independently administered Eritrea until April 23-25, 1993, when Eritreans voted overwhelmingly for independence in a UN-monitored free and fair referendum.  Eritrea was with Ethiopia's consent declared independent on April 27, and the United States recognized its independence on April 28, 1993.

In Ethiopia, the TGE pledged to oversee the formation of a multi-party democracy.  The election for a 547-member constituent assembly was held in June 1994 and, in December 1994, the assembly adopted the constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, dividing the country into ethnically-based regions, each of which retained the right of secession.

The elections for Ethiopia's first popularly chosen national parliament and regional legislatures were held in May and June 1995.  Most opposition parties chose to boycott these elections, ensuring a landslide victory for the EPRDF.  International and non-governmental observers concluded that opposition parties would have been able to participate had they chosen to do so.  The Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia was installed in August 1995.

In 1996, around 70 figures of the Mengistu regime were placed on trial, accused of genocide and crimes against humanity.  Many, including Mengistu himself, were tried in absentia.

In May 1998, Eritrean forces attacked part of the Ethiopia-Eritrea border region, seizing some Ethiopian-controlled territory.  The strike spurred a two-year war between the neighbouring states that cost over 100,000 lives, with neither side gaining an advantage until May 2000.  Ethiopian forces launched an offensive, forced the Eritreans out of the disputed territory, and even pushed into Eritrea proper.

A cease-fire agreement signed in June of 2000 called for a 15.5-mile-wide buffer zone between the two nations, which would be patrolled by United Nations peacekeeping troops, and a demarcation of the legal border by a neutral party.  The border was established in 2002 by the Hague Tribunal, and did not heavily favour either country.  Some areas of the border which favoured Eritrea led Ethiopia to refuse to finalise the border.  To date, neither Ethiopia nor Eritrea has taken the steps necessary to demarcate the border.

During this time, Ethiopia continued to face overwhelming problems of drought, famine, and poverty.  A drought from 2000 to 2001 affected around ten million Ethiopians, and another famine in 2003 caused further starvation.

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Parliamentary Elections

Opposition candidates won 12 seats in national parliamentary elections in 2001.  Unfortunately, electoral irregularities and tense campaign rhetoric resulted in a protracted election complaints review process.

Parliamentary elections in 2005 led to further accusations of election irregularities when both the opposition party and the current government suspected each other of unfair play.  Opposition protests occurred in the capital in June despite a ban on demonstrations; 200 demonstrators were killed and several thousand were arrested.  The unrest began to spread across the country. Election board officials awarded the incumbent government a majority.

The National Electoral Board released final results in September 2005, with the opposition taking over 170 of the 547 parliamentary seats and 137 of the 138 seats for the Addis Ababa municipal council.  Opposition parties called for a boycott of parliament and civil disobedience to protest the election results.  In early November 2005, Ethiopian security forces responded to public protests by arresting scores of opposition leaders, as well as journalists and human rights advocates, and detaining tens of thousands of civilians in rural detention camps for up to three months.

In December 2005, the government charged 131 opposition, media, and civil society leaders with capital offenses including "outrages against the constitution", treason and genocide.  In response, many international organizations suspended all aid to Ethiopia.

Key opposition leaders and almost all of the 131 were pardoned and released from prison in the summer of 2007.  The government dropped the genocide and treason charges, but continued to hold more than 80 opposition leaders.

Approximately 150 of the elected opposition members of parliament have taken their seats.  Ruling and opposition parties have engaged in little dialogue since the opposition leaders were freed. Government harassment and intimidation prompted the major opposition parties to withdraw from the April 2008 elections for local officials and 39 seats in parliament.  As a result, the ruling party won over 95% of all the positions, including all but one of the 138 seats of the Addis Ababa city council (a complete reversal of the 2005 results).

 

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    •  Early History
    •  The Modern Era
   
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