What Should I Know About Ethiopia?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 September 2019
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Ethiopia is a nation in north-eastern Africa. Although it is landlocked, it is separated from the Red Sea only by a thin strip of land belonging to Eritrea. The country covers 426,000 square miles (1,104,000 sq. km), making it nearly twice the size of Texas. It is bordered by Eritrea to the north, Djibouti to the northeast, Somalia to the east, Kenya to the south, and Sudan to the west.

The country is one of the earliest settled places on Earth, with the ancestors of modern humans first appearing in the archaeological record there nearly six million years ago. Various kingdoms sprang up in the area over time, and there is some evidence to suggest that it was the site of a Jewish pre-settlement sometime around 800 BCE. Some hold that this was the kingdom of the Queen of Sheba, and that the Ark of the Covenant made its way to the country.


During the 1800s, when the European powers were seizing control of large parts of Africa, Ethiopia managed to hold them off. For much of this period it was surrounded by hostile forces: the British controlled the Sudan, British Somaliland, and British East Africa, the Italians controlled Italian Eritrea, and the French controlled French Somaliland. The Italians had come to control Eritrea after a treaty signed by then-Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia, but attempted to use that treaty to lay claim to all of Ethiopia. The Italians eventually released their claim after a resounding defeat in 1896, at which time the country's independence was firmly recognized, making it the only African nation never to undergo colonization by a European power.

In 1930, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selessie I (Ras Tafari Makonnen) took the throne. Within two years he had expanded the country's territory by seizing the Kingdom of Jimma. From 1935 to 1941, his rule was interrupted by the Italian occupation of Ethiopia during World War II, during which time he lived in exile in England. In 1952, the United Nations declared Eritrea to be a "federated unit" of Ethiopia, giving the country direct access to the Red Sea. Haile Selessie I led his country through a period of substantial growth and modernization for the next few decades, until he was deposed in the mid-1970s.

A Marxist group, known as the Derg, deposed the emperor. For the next twenty years the country would be under communist rule, although it was not officially communist until the end of the 1970s. In 1991, a coalition of liberation groups, known collectively as the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) took control of the country, forcing the Communist ruler Mengistu into exile — he would eventually be found guilty of genocide in 2006. Eritrea used the turmoil of the revolution to declare independence, which was eventually won after a violent period of conflict.

Since 2001, Ethiopia has been an important ally of the United States in the War on Terror, and the Ethiopian army has been trained heavily by US forces. In response to a radical Islamic group (the Islamic Courts Union) taking control of much of Somalia, Ethiopia moved their military in to restore order. Ethiopian troops left the country after about two years.

Ethiopia does not have a particularly well-developed tourist infrastructure, and as such is not a destination for the faint of heart. On the other hand, it is a gorgeous country, with a legacy of human habitation that rivals anywhere else on earth. For travelers interested in an off-the-beaten-path destination, it may be the perfect fit. Political violence is still sometimes reported, and it is always a good idea to check government advisories before traveling. For those interested in traveling to the country, Ethiopian Airlines serves 58 international cities from its hub in Addis Ababa.


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Post 6

Ethiopia is the birth place of coffee, too.

Post 5

Just a slice of Ethiopian history.

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