U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, 
March 1998
Released by the Office of East African Affairs, Bureau of African 
Affairs.

Official Name: Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

PROFILE

Geography
Area: 1.1 million sq. km (472,000 sq. mi.); about the size of Texas, 
Oklahoma, and 
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.

People
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%.

Government
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 
ethnically based. 
Suffrage: Universal. 
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.

Economy
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 
(unexploited). 
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.

GEOGRAPHY
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-
September.

PEOPLE
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.

HISTORY
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 
Ethiopia (WPE).

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 
insecure.

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
President--Negasso Gidada
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-
1272).

DEFENSE
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.

ECONOMY
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 
chewed.

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 
assistance.

FOREIGN RELATIONS
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 
Somalia.

U.S.-ETHIOPIA RELATIONS
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 
d'Affaires.

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
Ambassador--David Shinn
Deputy Chief of Mission--Martin G. Brennan
Chiefs of Sections
Administrative--Bernie Gross
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 
are
P.O. Box 1014, Entoto Street, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Tel: 251/1/550-666; 
fax: 251/1/552-191.

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 
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and 
security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in 
the country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate 
information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-
term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of 
American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by 
calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-
on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel Warnings and Consular Information 
Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: 
http://travel.state.gov and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). 
To access CABB, dial the modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will 
accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set terminal communications program to N-
8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit); and terminal emulation to VT100. 
The login is travel and the password is info (Note: Lower case is 
required). The CABB also carries international security information from 
the Overseas Security Advisory Council and Department's Bureau of 
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-
4000. 

Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-
day a week automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m. 
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 
of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648) 

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, 
DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy 
information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch, 
the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings; 
Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign 
service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at 
http://www.state.gov.
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published annually by the U.S. 
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) 
512-2250.

National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of 
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information. It is 
available on the Internet (www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the 
NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information. 

[End of document]

 

Return to Africa Background Notes Archive
Return to Background Notes Archive Homepage
Return to Electronic Research Collection Homepage