|Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia|
Ethiopia is 1,221,900 square kilometers in size. Its topography consists of rugged mountains and isolated valleys. It has four main geographic regions from west to east: the Ethiopian Plateau, the Great Rift Valley, the Somali Plateau, and the Ogaden Plateau.
The diversity of Ethiopia’s terrain determines regional variations in climate. This country has three climatic zones: a very cool area, where temperatures range from near freezing to 16°C; a temperate zone; and a hot area, with both tropical and arid conditions, where temperatures range from 27°C to 50°C. The semiarid part of the region receives fewer than 500 millimeters of precipitation annually and is highly susceptible to drought.
The most important current environmental issues are deforestation, overgrazing, soil erosion, desertification, and water-intensive farming and poor management that contribute to water shortages in some areas. Another problem that the country faces is the constant loss of biodiversity and the threat to the ecosystem and the environment.
Ethiopia’s population is mainly rural and has a high annual growth rate. In 2004 the United Nations estimated Ethiopia’s population at more than 70 million. There are more than 70 distinct ethnic groups in Ethiopia. The principal groups include the Oromo, who account for 40 percent of the population; the Amhara, 25 percent; and the Tigre, 12 percent.
Smaller groups are the Gurage, 3.3 percent; the Ometo, 2.7 percent; the Sidamo, 2.4 percent; and other ethnic minorities. More than half of Ethiopians, 53 percent of the population, are Christians (Orthodox), and around 31 percent are Muslims; there are also other indigenous tribal beliefs.
Ethiopia is one of Africa’s oldest countries. Although Ethiopia was considered a strategically important territory by superpowers during the colonial period, Ethiopia’s monarchy maintained its freedom.
There were exceptions during the Italian invasion in 1895–96 and the occupation during World War II. During the cold war era in 1974, a military junta deposed Emperor Haile Selassie and established a socialist state, which maintained a relationship with the Soviet Union.
After long period of violence, massive refugee problems, famine, and economic collapse, the regime fell in 1991 to a coalition of rebel forces, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). In 1994 a new constitution was approved, and Ethiopia’s first multiparty elections were held in 1995. At the international level Ethiopia engaged in several disputes.
In 1889 Ethiopia granted the control of its colony to Italy, but between 1941 and 1952 this country was put under British administration. An agreement was signed, and both countries formed a federation.
However, 10 years later Haile Selassie abolished it and imposed imperial rule throughout Eritrea, which became a province, causing a series of guerrilla attacks. In 1991 a provisional government was established in Eritrea, and it became an independent nation in 1993. But the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea was never precisely demarcated.
So in 1998 Eritrean forces occupied the disputed Ethiopian town of Badme, and a new war began, lasting until 2000, when both countries signed a treaty. Despite an international commission that delimited the border, the relationship between them remains hostile.
Ethiopia has always sought access to the sea and looked to Somalia for the reunification of its territory. Somalia used to claim the Ogaden region, inhabited for the most part by Somali ethnic groups. During the conflict with Eritrea, Ethiopia controlled almost the whole region, with a consequent breaking off of diplomatic relations.
In 1988, after 11 years of constant confrontation, Ethiopia removed the troops from the border with Somalia, reestablished diplomatic relations, and signed a peace treaty. But the central section of Ethiopia’s border with Somalia was never fully demarcated and is only provisional. Also, Ethiopia and Somalia have always had aspirations to control the territory of Djibouti.
The Nile Basin Dispute
The Nile River runs through nine states: Egypt, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Congo. This river serves as a constant source of water for these countries. It has a vital role in agriculture and it also plays a major role in transportation.
The river is born in Ethiopia’s territory, and Ethiopia controls 85 percent of its water, but Egypt is the country that makes the most profit from its water flow. This country, with its military superiority and economic and political stability, puts pressure on upstream countries. During recent years these countries have not been able to divert the water flow because of the constant tensions.
Though the conflict is still between the main actors—Sudan, Egypt, and Ethiopia—it is probable that all the countries in the Nile basin will be affected while the population continues growing and water needs increase.
Ethiopia’s economy is based on agriculture, and 90 percent of the products obtained are exported. The principal crops are cereals, pulses, oilseed, cotton, sugarcane, beans, and potatoes, but the most important is coffee.
This sector suffers from frequent drought and poor cultivation practices. As a consequence the country has to rely on massive food imports. Ethiopia does not have many mineral resources. It has small reserves of gold, platinum, copper, potash, and natural gas.
For these resources Ethiopia depends on imports too. The leading manufactures in Ethiopia include cement, construction materials, food processing, and textiles. It has extensive hydropower potential. The transportation network is poor.
During the 1990s Ethiopia abandoned its exclusive bilateral policy with the Soviet Union and began to acquire more freedom. It became a decentralized, market-oriented economy with privatization and the cooperation of international financing organs. Agreements were also made to form regional organizations.
But participation in the world economy remained marginal, and dependence on international financing organisms increased Ethiopia’s external debt. In fact, in 2001 Ethiopia qualified for debt relief from the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, and in 2005 the International Monetary Fund voted to forgive Ethiopia’s debt.
Ethiopia is among the poorest countries in the world according to the Human Development Index established by the United Nations. About 50 percent of the population is below the poverty line. Food shortage in Ethiopia has reached alarming levels.
The climate conditions, the lack of means to develop agriculture, displacements, refugees, and AIDS are factors that contribute to worsening the situation. Therefore foreign aid is constantly needed to prevent diseases and famine, particularly in times of drought.