The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is a land-locked country in northeast Africa lying between 3.5 and 15°N and 33 and 48°E. Formerly known as Abyssinia it is the oldest independent nation in Africa.
Ethiopia is a rugged country of tall mountains and arid deserts. It has a diverse population, with more than 80 distinct ethnic and linguistic groups.
It was home to the powerful Christian kingdom of Aksum that emerged around the first century AD. It was also the only African country to successfully defend its sovereignty against colonial powers in the 19th century.
Ethiopia is bounded on the north by Eritrea, on the east and southeast by Somalia and Djibouti, on the southwest by Kenya, and on the west and northwest by South Sudan and Sudan. The country is divided into nine regions, one for each of its main ethnic groups. Addis Ababa is the country’s capital and largest city.
It covers an area of 1,133,380 sq km (437,600 sq mi). The country’s landscape is dominated by volcanically formed highlands which are split diagonally in a northeastern to southwestern direction by the Great Rift Valley. In northern Ethiopia the highlands rise to its highest point at Ras Dashen (4,620 m/15,157 ft). The mountain’s jagged surroundings are home to several animal species unique to Ethiopia.
Ethiopia shows a wide climatic variation, ranging from the peaks of Bale which receive periodic snowfall, to daytime temperatures of over 50 °C in the Danakil desert.
The tropical zone below approximately 1,800 m has an average annual temperature of about 27°C (about 80°F) and receives less than about 500 mm (about 20 in) of rain annually. The subtropical zone, which includes most of the highland plateau and is between about 1,800 and 2,400 m (about 6,000 and 8,000 ft) in elevation, has an average temperature of about 22°C (about 72°F) with an annual rainfall ranging from about 500 to 1,500 mm (about 20 to 60 in).
The country’s main rainy season occurs between mid-June and September, followed by a dry season that may be interrupted in February or March by a short rainy season.
The resources of Ethiopia are primarily agricultural. The plateau area is fertile and largely undeveloped. The wide range of soils, climate, and elevations permits the production of a diversified range of agricultural commodities. A variety of mineral deposits exist -- iron, copper, petroleum, salt, potash, gold, and platinum are the principal ones that have been commercially exploited.
The great variations in elevation are directly reflected in the kind of vegetation found in the country. The lower areas of the tropical zone have sparse vegetation consisting of desert shrubs, thorny bushes, and coarse savanna grasses. In the valleys and ravines almost every form of African vegetation grows profusely. The temperate zone is largely covered with grassland. Afro-alpine vegetation is found on the highest slopes.
The larger species of African wildlife are native to most parts of the country. These include the giraffe, leopard, hippopotamus, lion, elephant, antelope, and rhinoceros. The caracal, jackal, hyena, and various species of monkey are common. Birds of prey include the eagle, hawk, and vulture. Heron, parrot, and such game birds as the snipe, partridge, teal, pigeon, and bustard are found in abundance.
Most Ethiopian people live on rural farm communities. About 84 percent (2005) of the Ethiopian population is rural and occupations in agriculture support 78 percent of all Ethiopians. The population is concentrated heavily in the central plateau region, where agricultural resources are most developed. The ethnic composition is extremely diverse, as a result of racial and linguistic integration that began in ancient times.
The population of Ethiopia (according to 2011 estimate) is 90.8 million people which makes it the second-highest population in Africa after Nigeria, yielding an overall density of 70 persons per sq km (181 per sq mi). The Amhara, and Tigreans, both of which are highland peoples of partly Semitic origin, constitute about 32 percent of the total population. They occupy the northwestern Ethiopian highlands and the area north of Addis Ababa. The Oromo, a pastoral and agricultural people who live mainly in central and southwestern Ethiopia, constitute about 40 percent of the population. The Somali, Sidama, Gurage, Afar, Gamo, and Hadya have also a population that goes beyond 1 million. The non-indigenous population includes Yemenis, Indians, Armenians, and Greeks.
Ethiopia is divided into nine states—Tigray, Afar, Amhara, Oromia, Somalia, Benshangul-Gumuz, Gambela, Harari and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples, which comprises about 41 ethnic groups.
Addis Ababa is the largest city in Ethiopia; other major cities include Dirē Dawa, Makalle, Hawassa, Adama and Bahir Dar. In 2005 about 84 percent of the population was classified as rural.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church (Christianity), a Christian sect headed by a patriarch and closely related to the Coptic church of Egypt, was the state religion of Ethiopia until 1974.
About half of the people of Ethiopia are Christians. Christianity is predominant in the north, while the southern regions have Muslim majorities. An Ethiopian Jewish sect known as Bete-Israel existed in the country until the entire community was airlifted to Israel during Ethiopia’s civil war of the 1980s and early 1990s.
Of the 70 or more languages spoken in Ethiopia, most belong to the Semitic and Cushitic branches of the Afro-Asiatic family. The language of the Ethiopian church liturgy, Ge’ez belongs to the Semitic language family. Currently the country has no national language according to the Constitution. Unlike in the previous regimes Amharic is just the official language of the federal government. Afan Oromo is also a widely spoken language in the country. English and Arabic are also spoken by many people.
The country has 31 universities including the Addis Ababa University which was founded in 1950.
The most significant area of Ethiopian culture is in the field of literature, represented predominantly by translations from ancient Greek, Arabic, and other languages into the ancient Ge’ez and modern Amharic. Ethiopian literature goes back to the 5th century by the time it developed its own alphabet and calendar before any African country.
Agriculture by traditional methods, including the raising of livestock, is the most characteristic form of Ethiopian economic activity.
Commercial estates supply coffee, cotton, sugar, fruit, and vegetables to the nation’s processing industries and for export. Legumes and oil seeds are also grown on a commercial scale. The most important food crops grown primarily for local consumption are cereal grains such as wheat, corn, and sorghum. Ethiopian herders raise cattle, sheep, goats, and fowl.
Although many mineral deposits exist in Ethiopia, thick layers of volcanic lava cover the older ore-bearing rock and render exploitation difficult. Outcroppings of iron, copper, zinc, and lead have been mined since ancient times, but deeper reserves of these minerals remain largely unexploited. Gold, limestone, and marble are mined for export.
Ethiopian industry is limited and centered on processing agricultural commodities. Principal manufactured products include fabrics, leather goods, footwear, cement, and beer. The principal manufacturing center is Addis Ababa.
Ethiopia’s unit of currency, the birr, is issued by the National Bank of Ethiopia (18.70 birr equal USD 1 average).
Ethiopia is primarily an exporter of agricultural products and an importer of consumer and capital goods, and typically experiences a very high trade gap. Leading purchasers of exports are Djibouti, Italy, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Germany; chief suppliers of imports are Saudi Arabia, Italy, China, India, and Germany.
The country has one of the best airline companies in the world. The Ethiopian Airlines which provides both domestic and international air service has a remarkable success story of connecting African countries for over five decades.
Ethiopia is the literal cradle of humankind, with bones discovered in eastern Ethiopia dating back 3.2 million years. The country is the oldest independent country in Africa and one of the oldest in the world.