About Ethiopia

About Ethiopia
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About Ethiopia

Ethiopia's Rift Valley is known as the cradle of humanity - fossils of the oldest known upright hominid, the 3.5-million-year-old 'Lucy', were found here in 1974. Ethiopians have a record of their rulers that stretches back 5000 years, and although this is not supported by other records, you can find Biblical passages which record Ethiopian episodes around 1000 BC. The Queen of Sheba's son, Menelik I, is regarded as the first emperor of Ethiopia - his dynasty ended with Haile Selassie, who ruled from 1930 until 1974.

According to local tradition, ancient Ethiopians were Jews, and a community of Ethiopian Jews lived in the country until the late 1980s, when the last of them moved to Israel. Christianity was brought to the then Kingdom of Axum by St Frumentius, who was consecrated as the first bishop in 330AD. Axum was slap-bang in the path of the armies of Islam, which set out from Mecca on a holy war of conversion in 632AD, and although the Christian kingdom was cut off from the rest of Christendom, Islam never really took hold.

Over the next thousand years, the kingdom came under attack from various forces - pagan tribes forced the Ethiopian emperors to abandon their cities and become nomads for a time, Muslims moved into the east of the country in the 12th and 14th centuries, and in the 16th century the Islamic kingdoms gained the support of the Ottoman Empire, seriously threatening the power of the Kingdom of Axum.

After a remarkable life span, the Axum empire broke down into its constituent provinces in the 18th century, triggering 100 years of warfare between rival warlords. The shattered empire was eventually reunified by Ras Kassa, who crowned himself Emperor Tewodros in 1855, but later shot himself when his fortress was beseiged by a British military expedition. Subsequent emperors invested the privy purse in European arms and expanded the empire.

In 1936 the country was overrun by Mussolini's Italian troops, who hung around until 1941, when Italy surrendered to the Allies and Ethiopia regained its independence. In 1962 emperor Haile Selassie annexed Eritrea, sparking a guerilla fightback by the disgruntled Eritreans which would last 30 years.
Although Haile Selassie was seen as a national hero, opinion turned against him as nobility and the church filled their pockets while millions of landless peasants went hungry. In 1974, as students, workers, peasants and the army rose against him, Selassie was deposed and a military dictatorship took over.
Under the leadership of Mengistu Haile Mariam, the new government, the Derg, threw out Americans, jailed trade union leaders, banned the church and turned to the USSR for economic aid. Upheaval was the last thing the already unstable country needed, and the Eritreans and invading Somalis took full advantage of the chaos. Soviet and Cuban troops intervened to fight back both forces, but did not succeed in defeating the Eritrean guerrillas.

Mengistu tried to tighten his grip on the country by instituting conscription, curfews, population transfers - a disastrous initiative which herded people around the countryside in an effort to avoid famines - and people's committees, a sinister form of neighbourhood watch. But it was all to no avail - the Eritreans took Ethiopia's main port, the Tigray People's Liberation Front joined in the fighting, the Soviets pulled out, coffee prices fell and a major famine ravaged the country. In May 1991 Mengistu fled and a rebel coalition under Tigrayan Meles Zenawi took over.
They inherited six million people facing famine, a shattered economy and moribund industrial and agricultural sectors, but decided to make moves toward democracy anyway.

A new constitution was ratified in 1994, notably allowing any of Ethiopia's nine regions to become independent if they wish to. The country's first parliamentary elections were held in 1995, with the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front winning 98% of the vote - all the major opposition parties boycotted the poll. Meles Zenawi became prime minister and appointed a predominantly Tigrayan cabinet. The government's priorities include expanding the private sector and improving food security.
Relations with Eritrea deteriorated in recent years and in June 1998 armed conflict broke out and borders were closed. Two years later, in 2000, the border war came to a close when Ethiopia defeated Eritrea and a peace agreement was signed. The plan called for the creation of a 25km buffer zone along the border, to be patrolled by a UN peace-keeping force. The construction of boundary posts began in May 2003. Relations with Eritrea will remain tense until the border demarcation is completed.

National Parks in Ethiopia
  • Semien Mountains National Park (North)
  • Bale Mountains National Park (Southeast)
  • Nech SAR National Park (South)
  • Mago National Park (South)
  • Omo National Park (South)
  • Awash National Park (East)
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