ῙTYŌṖṖYᾹ: ETHIOPIA

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Country profile: Ethiopia

Map of Ethiopia

Ethiopia is Africa's oldest independent country. Apart from a five-year occupation by Mussolini's Italy, it has never been colonised.

But the nation is better known for its periodic droughts and famines, its long civil conflict and a border war with Eritrea.

Overview

In the first part of the 20th century Ethiopia forged strong links with Britain, whose troops helped evict the Italians in 1941 and put Emperor Haile Selassie back on his throne. From the 1960s British influence gave way to that of the US, which in turn was supplanted by the Soviet Union.

AT-A-GLANCE
Obelisk in Aksum, north of the capital of Addis Ababa
Politics: Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is in his third term. Secessionist groups maintain a low-level armed struggle
Economy: Ethiopia depends heavily on agriculture, which is often affected by drought. Coffee is a key export and vulnerable to price fluctuations
International: Eritrea hived off in 1993 and a border dispute escalated into full-scale war in 1999. Border tensions persist. Ethiopian troops helped oust the Islamists who controlled southern Somalia for six months until the end of 2006

Although largely free from the coups that have plagued other African countries, Ethiopia's turmoil has been no less devastating. Drought, famine, war and ill-conceived policies brought millions to the brink of starvation in the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1974 this helped topple Haile Selassie. His regime was replaced by a self-proclaimed Marxist junta led by Mengistu Haile Mariam under which many thousands of opponents were purged or killed, property was confiscated and defence spending spiralled.

The overthrow of the junta in 1991 saw political and economic conditions stabilise, but not enough to restore investors' confidence.

Eritrea gained independence in 1993 following a referendum. Poor border demarcation developed into military conflict and full-scale war in the late 1990s in which tens of thousands of people were killed.

A fragile truce has held, but the UN says ongoing disputes over the demarcation of the border threaten peace.

Ethiopia is one of Africa's poorest states. Almost two-thirds of its people are illiterate. The economy revolves around agriculture, which in turn relies on rainfall. The country is one of Africa's leading coffee producers.

Many Ethiopians depend on food aid from abroad. In 2004 the government began a drive to move more than two million people away from the arid highlands of the east in an attempt to provide a lasting solution to food shortages.

At the end of 2006 Ethiopia sent between 5,000 and 10,000 troops into Somalia to support forces of the weak transitional government there and helped to oust the Islamists who had controlled southern Somalia for six months.

But, despite initial successes, the Ethiopians were unable to break the power of the Islamists, who gradually began to win back lost territory.

Ehtiopia's presence in Somalia ended in early 2009, when it pulled its troops under an agreement between the transitional Somali government and moderate Islamists.

Facts

  • Full name: Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
  • Population: 85.2 million (UN, 2008)
  • Capital: Addis Ababa
  • Area: 1.13 million sq km (437,794 sq miles)
  • Major languages: Amharic, Oromo, Tigrinya, Somali
  • Major religions: Christianity, Islam
  • Life expectancy: 52 years (men), 54 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 Birr = 100 cents
  • Main exports: Coffee, hides, oilseeds, beeswax, sugarcane
  • GNI per capita: US $220 (World Bank, 2007)
  • Internet domain: .et
  • International dialling code: +251

Leaders

President: Girma Woldegiorgis

Prime minister: Meles Zenawi

Meles Zenawi's Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) won bitterly contested elections in May 2005, despite a swing to the opposition. The win paved the way for his third five-year stint as prime minister.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
Meles Zenawi: From Marxist to free marketeer

But the opposition cried foul and their supporters took to the streets. Around 36 people were killed and hundreds were arrested in the protests; 46 protesters died in further violence in November.

Mr Meles accused the opposition of planning to topple his government; his critics said a campaign against political dissent was under way. Senior opposition figures and journalists were among those detained and charged with treason in the wake of the 2005 protests. Western donors cut direct aid in protest at the crackdown.

Meles Zenawi is a veteran of the guerrilla campaign against the Mengistu regime and was chosen as transitional head of state after the dictator was overthrown in 1991. Once a Marxist-Leninist, by the 1990s he had become a champion of the free market and parliamentary democracy.

He was one of the architects of the 1994 constitution, which provided for a federal republic with ethnically-based regions. In 1995 he became prime minister and won a second five-year term in 2000 in Ethiopia's first multi-party elections.

Media

Radio is the medium of choice, reaching the rural areas where most Ethiopians live.

Although the state controls most of Ethiopia's radio stations and the sole national TV network, the print and broadcast media have seen dramatic changes since the fall of Mengistu in the early 1990s.

Deregulation has been on the cards for some years and in 2006 licences were awarded to two private FM stations in the capital.

Some opposition groups beam radio broadcasts to Ethiopia using hired shortwave transmitters overseas.

The number of privately-owned newspapers has grown; some are available online. Press circulation is largely confined to the literate urban elite.

The private press offers quite different reporting to the state-owned newspapers and is often critical of the government.

The relationship between the press and the authorities has sometimes been difficult. Media rights group Reporters Without Borders cited a "spiral of repression" against the private media after violent protests following the 2005 elections.

"The climate remains bad and self-censorship frequent," the group said in its 2008 report.

There were 291,000 internet users by March 2008 (ITU figure).

The press

Television

Radio

  • Radio Ethiopia - state-owned, operates National Service and External Service and regional stations
  • FM Addis 97.1 - operated by Addis Ababa city administration
  • Voice of Tigray Revolution - Tigray Regional State government radio
  • Radio Fana - founded in 1994 by ruling party

News agencies


Credit: http://news.bbc.co.uk/