U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia,
Released by the Office of East African Affairs, Bureau of African
Official Name: Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Area: 1.1 million sq. km (472,000 sq. mi.); about the size of Texas,
New Mexico combined.
Cities: Capital--Addis Ababa (pop. 2.3 million). Other cities--Dire Dawa
(180,000), Harar (138,000), Dessie (105,000), Nazret (100,000), Bahir
Dar (95,000), Awassa (90,000)
Terrain: High plateau, mountains, dry lowland plains.
Climate: Temperate in the highlands; hot in the lowlands.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Ethiopian(s).
Population (1997 est.): 58 million.
Annual growth rate: 3%.
Ethnic groups (est.): Oromo 35%, Amhara 30%, Tigre 6%-8%, Somali 6%.
Religions: Muslim 40%, Ethiopian Orthodox Christian 45%-50%, Protestant
5%, indigenous beliefs, remainder.
Languages: Amharic (official), Tigrinya, Oromifa, English, Somali.
Education: Years compulsory--none. Attendance (elementary) 46%.
Literacy--25%. Health: Infant mortality rate-112/1,000 live births.
Work force: Agriculture--80%. Industry and commerce--20%.
Type: Federal Republic.
Constitution: Ratified 1994.
Branches: Executive--President, Council of State, Council of Ministers.
Executive power resides with the prime minister. Legislative--bicameral
parliament. Judicial--divided into Federal and Regional Courts.
Administrative subdivisions: 10 regions.
Political parties: Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front
(EPRDF) and 50 other registered parties, most of which are small and
Central government budget: $1.76 billion.
Defense: $128 million (7.3%).
National holiday: May 28.
Flag: Green, yellow and red horizontal stripes from top to bottom, with
gold five-pointed star and rays on a blue circular background.
Real GDP: $6.1 billion.
Annual growth rate (last 5 years): 8%.
Per capita income: $110.
Average inflation rate (last 3 years): 3.5%.
Natural resources: Potash, salt, gold, copper, platinum, natural gas
Agriculture (40% of GDP): Products--coffee, cereals, pulses, oilseeds,
khat, meat, hides and skins. Cultivated land--67%.
Industry (13.7% of GDP): Types--textiles, processed foods, construction,
cement, hydroelectric power.
Trade (1996): Exports--$783 million. Imports--$1.65 billion.
Official exchange rate (Feb. 1998): 6.92 Ethiopian Birr=U.S.$1.
Fiscal year: July 8-July 7.
Ethiopia is located in the Horn of Africa and is bordered on the north
and northeast by Eritrea, on the east by Djibouti and Somalia, on the
south by Kenya, and on the west and southwest by Sudan. The country has
a high central plateau that varies from 1,800 to 3,000 meters (6,000-
10,000 ft.) above sea level, with some mountains reaching 4,620 meters
(15,158 ft.). Elevation is generally highest just before the point of
descent to the Great Rift Valley, which splits the plateau diagonally. A
number of rivers cross the plateau--notably the Blue Nile rising from
Lake Tana. The plateau gradually slopes to the lowlands of the Sudan on
the west and the Somali-inhabited plains to the southeast.
The climate is temperate on the plateau and hot in the lowlands. At
Addis Ababa, which ranges
from 2,200 to 2,600 meters (7,000-8,500 ft.), maximum temperature is 26o
C (80o F) and
minimum 4o C (40o F). The weather is usually sunny and dry with the
short (belg) rains
occurring February-April and the big (meher) rains beginning in mid-June
and ending in mid-
Ethiopia's population is highly diverse. Most of its people speak a
Semitic or Cushitic language. The Oromo, Amhara, and Tigreans make up
more than three-fourths of the population, but there are more than 80
different ethnic groups within Ethiopia. Some of these have as few as
10,000 members. In general, most of the Christians live in the
highlands, while Muslims and adherents of traditional African religions
tend to inhabit lowland regions. English is the most widely spoken
foreign language and is taught in all secondary schools. Amharic was the
language of primary school instruction but has been replaced in many
areas by local languages such as Oromifa and Tigrinya.
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. Missionaries from Egypt and Syria
introduced Christianity in the fourth century A.D. Following the rise of
Islam in the seventh century, Ethiopia was gradually cut off from
European Christendom. The Portuguese established contact with Ethiopia
in 1493, primarily to strengthen their hegemony 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.
Under the Emperors Theodore II (1855-68), Johannes IV (1872-89), and
Menelik II (1889-1913), the kingdom began to emerge from its medieval
isolation. When Menelik II died, his grandson, Lij Iyassu, succeeded to
the throne but soon lost support because of his Muslim ties. He was
deposed in 1916 by the Christian nobility, and Menelik's daughter,
Zewditu, was made empress. Her cousin, Ras Tafari Makonnen (1892-1975),
was made regent and successor to the throne.
In 1930, after the empress died, the regent, adopting the throne name
Haile Selassie, was crowned emperor. His reign was interrupted in 1936
when Italian Fascist forces invaded and occupied Ethiopia. The emperor
was forced into exile in England despite his plea to the League of
Nations for intervention. Five years later, the Italians were defeated
by British and Ethiopian forces, and the emperor returned to the throne.
After a period of civil unrest which began in February 1974, the aging
Haile Selassie I was deposed on September 12, 1974, and a provisional
administrative council of soldiers, known as the Derg ("committee")
seized power from the emperor and installed a government which was
socialist in name and military in style. The Derg summarily executed 59
members of the royal family and ministers and generals of the emperor's
government; Emperor Haile Selassie was strangled in the basement of his
palace on August 22, 1975.
Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam assumed power as head of state and Derg
chairman, after having his two predecessors killed. Mengistu's 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. From 1977 through early 1978 thousands of
suspected enemies of the Derg were tortured and/or killed in a purge
called the "red terror." 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
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 July 1977,
sensing the disarray in Ethiopia, Somalia attacked across the Ogaden
Desert in pursuit of its irredentist claims to the ethnic Somali areas
of Ethiopia. Ethiopian forces were driven back far inside their own
frontiers 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, the Somali region of Ethiopia remains under-developed and
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 and was
granted asylum in Zimbabwe, where he still resides.
In July 1991, the EPRDF, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and others
established the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE) which was
comprised of an 87-member Council of Representatives and guided by a
national charter that functioned as a transitional constitution. In June
1992 the OLF withdrew from the government; in March 1993, members of the
Southern Ethiopia Peoples' Democratic Coalition left the government.
In May 1991, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), led by
Isaias Afwerki, 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
declared independent on April 27, and the U.S. recognized Eritrean
independence on April 28.
In Ethiopia, President Meles Zenawi and members of 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 this assembly
adopted the constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
in December 1994. 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. The EPRDF-led government of Prime Minister
Meles has promoted a policy of ethnic federalism, devolving significant
powers to regional, ethnically based authorities. Ethiopia today has 10
semi-autonomous administrative regions which have the power to raise and
spend their own revenues. Under the present government, Ethiopians enjoy
greater political participation and freer debate than ever before in
their history, although some fundamental freedoms, including freedom of
the press, are in practice somewhat circumscribed.
Principal Government Officials
Prime Minister--Meles Zenawi
Deputy Prime Minister--Kassu Ilala
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Defense--Tefera Waluwa
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Seyoum Mesfin
Ethiopia maintains an embassy in the U.S. at 2134 Kalorama Road, N.W.,
Washington, D.C. 20008 (tel. 202/234-2281) headed by Ambassador Berhane
Gebre-Christos. A separate trade and commercial office is located at
1800 K Street, N.W., Suite 824, Washington, D.C. 20006 (tel. 202/452-
The Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) has approximately 100,000
personnel, which makes it one of the largest military forces in Africa.
This number is significantly smaller than the 250,000 plus troops that
existed during the Derg regime that fell to the rebel forces in 1991.
The U.S. was Ethiopia's major arms supplier from the end of World War
until 1977, when Ethiopia began receiving massive arms shipments from
the Soviet Union. These shipments, including armored patrol boats,
transport and jet fighter aircraft, helicopters, tanks, trucks,
missiles, artillery, and small arms have incurred an unserviced
Ethiopian debt to the former Soviet Union estimated at more than $3.5
billion. Since the early 1990s, the ENDF has been in transition from a
rebel force to a professional military organization with the aid of the
U.S. and other countries. Training in demining, humanitarian and peace-
keeping operations, professional military education, and military
justice are among the major programs sponsored by the U.S.
The current government has embarked on a program of economic reform,
including privatization of state enterprises and rationalization of
government regulation. While the process is still ongoing, the reforms
have begun to attract much-needed foreign investment.
The Ethiopian economy is based on agriculture, which contributes 45% to
GNP and more than 80% of exports and employs 85% of the population. The
major agricultural export crop is coffee, providing 65%-75% of
Ethiopia's foreign exchange earnings. Other traditional major
agricultural exports are hides and skins, pulses, oilseeds, and the
traditional "khat," a leafy shrub which has psychotropic qualities when
Ethiopia's agriculture is plagued by periodic drought, soil degradation
caused by overgrazing, deforestation, high population density, and poor
infrastructure, making it difficult and expensive to get goods to
market. Yet it is the country's most promising resource. A potential
exists for self-sufficiency in grains and for export development in
livestock, grains, vegetables, and fruits.
Gold, marble, limestone, and small amounts of tantalum are mined in
Ethiopia. Other resources with potential for commercial development
include large potash deposits, natural gas, iron ore, and possibly oil
and geothermal energy. Although Ethiopia has good hydroelectric
resources ,which power most of its manufacturing sector, it is totally
dependent on imports for its oil. A landlocked country, Ethiopia uses
the seaports of Assab and Massawa in Eritrea. Ethiopia also uses the
port of Djibouti, connected to Addis Ababa by rail, for international
trade. Of the 23,812 kilometers of Ethiopia's all-weather roads, 15% are
asphalt. Mountainous terrain and the lack of good roads and sufficient
vehicles make land transportation difficult. However, the government-
owned airline is excellent. Ethiopian Airlines serves 38 domestic
airfields and has 42 international destinations.
Dependent on a few vulnerable crops for its foreign exchange earnings
and reliant on imported oil, Ethiopia lacks sufficient foreign exchange.
The financially conservative government has taken measures to solve this
problem, including stringent import controls and sharply reduced
subsidies on retail gasoline prices. Nevertheless, the largely
subsistence economy is incapable of supporting high military
expenditures, drought relief, an ambitious development plan, and
indispensable imports such as oil and, therefore, must depend on foreign
Ethiopia was relatively isolated from major movements of world politics
until the 1895 and 1935 Italian invasions. Since World War II, it has
played an active role in world and African affairs. Ethiopia was a
charter member of the United Nations and took part in UN operations in
Korea in 1951 and the Congo in 1960. Former Emperor Haile Selassie was a
founder of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Addis Ababa is the
host capital for the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the OAU.
Although nominally a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, after the 1974
revolution, Ethiopia moved into a close relationship with the Soviet
Union and its allies and supported their international policies and
positions until the change of government in 1991. Today, Ethiopia has
very good relations with the U.S. and the West, especially in responding
to regional instability and, increasingly, through economic involvement.
Ethiopia's relations with Eritrea are extremely close, reflecting the
shared revolutionary struggle against the Derg. Continuing instability
along Ethiopia's borders with Sudan and Somalia contributes to tension
with the National Islamic Front regime in Sudan and several groups in
U.S.-Ethiopian relations were established in 1903 and were good
throughout the period prior to the Italian occupation in 1935. After
World War II, these ties strengthened, on the basis of a September 1951
treaty of amity and economic relations. In 1953, two agreements were
signed: a mutual defense assistance agreement, under which the U.S.
agreed to furnish military equipment and training, and an accord
regularizing the operations of a U.S. communication facility at Asmara.
Through fiscal year 1978, the U.S. provided Ethiopia with $282 million
in military assistance and $366 million in economic assistance in
agriculture, education, public health, and transportation. A Peace Corps
program emphasized education, and United States Information Service
educational and cultural exchanges were numerous.
After Ethiopia's revolution, the bilateral relationship began to cool as
a result of the Derg's identification with international communism and
U.S. revulsion at the Derg's murderous means of maintaining itself in
power. The U.S. rebuffed Ethiopia's request for increased military
assistance to intensify its fight against the Eritrean secessionist
movement and to repel the Somali invasion. The International Security
and Development Act of 1985 prohibited all U.S. economic assistance to
Ethiopia with the exception of humanitarian disaster and emergency
relief. In July 1980, the U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia was recalled at
the request of the Ethiopian Government, and the U.S. Embassy in
Ethiopia and the Ethiopian Embassy in the U.S. were headed by Charges
With the downfall of the Mengistu regime, U.S.-Ethiopian relations
improved dramatically. Legislative restrictions on assistance to
Ethiopia other than humanitarian assistance were lifted. Diplomatic
relations were upgraded to the ambassadorial level in 1992. During FY
1997, the U.S. provided about $77.2 million in assistance to Ethiopia,
of which $39.9 million was food aid ($6.4 million in emergency food
assistance). U.S. development assistance to Ethiopia is conditional on
progress in democracy and human rights as well as economic reforms. Some
in military training funds, including training in such issues as the
laws of war and observance of human rights, also are provided. The Peace
Corps returned about 3 years ago to Ethiopia where, in the past, it had
one of its largest programs. In FY 1999, the Peace Corps expects to have
more than 100 volunteers in-country.
Principal U.S. Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--Martin G. Brennan
Chiefs of Sections
Consular-- Raymond Baca
Political/Economic-- Herb Thomas
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)--Keith Brown
Defense Attache Officer--Lt. Col. Kevin Kenny
U.S. Information Service (USIS)--Michael Seidenstricker
Peace Corps Director--Lis A. Doane
The address and telephone/fax numbers for the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia
P.O. Box 1014, Entoto Street, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Tel: 251/1/550-666;
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are
issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency
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security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in
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term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of
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on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel Warnings and Consular Information
Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page:
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To access CABB, dial the modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will
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The login is travel and the password is info (Note: Lower case is
required). The CABB also carries international security information from
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Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication
series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a
safe trip abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents,
U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-
7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-
Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-
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to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-
225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate
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Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at
(404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization
recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water
safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information
for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is
available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC
20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal
Government Officials" listing in this publication).
U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas
are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country
(see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication).
This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information:
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet,
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Department of State, USFAC archives information on the Department of
State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of official foreign
policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact the Superintendent
of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954,
Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202)
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of
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available on the Internet (www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the
NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.
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