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« Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #17 of 54: Eritrea | Main | Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #19 of 54: Gabon »

May 27, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #18 of 54: Ethiopia

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) --- 18. ETHIOPIA Flag of the Republic of Ethiopia

Term for Citizens: Ethiopians.

Capital: Addis Ababa. Population: 2, 753, 000.

Independence Achieved: Ethiopia is the only African country that was not colonized, though Italy briefly gained a foothold in the land.

Major Cities: Addis Ababa.

Geography:

Ethiopia is in East Africa. It is bounded by Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, and Kenya. Ethiopia covers an area of 437, 794 square miles. The center of the country is high plateau, through which runs a depression, the Great Rift Valley. The plateau region has mild temperature and is fertile for agriculture. Southeast of the plateau is dry and desert like. Rainfall is very sparse and drought is quiet common.

Society:

The population of Ethiopia is estimated at 74, 678,000.

Ethnic Groups: Ethiopia has many ethnic groups but the major ones are the Amhara, Oromo, Falasha, Danakils, Gallas, Shankils, Somalis, Arabs, Greeks, and Armenians.

Languages: Each of the ethnic groups speaks its own language. The major languages are Amharic, Geez, Arabic and English.

Religion: Ethiopia is evenly divided between Orthodox Christianity and Islam.

Education: Free primary education is available to all children. Literacy rate is estimated at 42.7%.

Economy: The highlands are fertile and people plant crops for subsistence living. Cattle are raised in the semi arid lowlands. Ethiopia is a very poor country with underdeveloped economy. What money there is seemed squandered in endless wars with its neighbors, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, and ideological wars such as the effort to turn the country into a socialist state? GDP estimate: $50.6 billion; Per Capita GDP: US $110 (World Bank, 2005). Monetary Unit: Birr (ETB).

History and Government:

Ethiopia is the only African country without a history of colonial rule. However, Italy did try to colonize Ethiopia, and after major wars withdrew its ambition. For centuries, Amhara groups and their kings who claimed decent from the biblical Queen of Sheba and King Solomon ruled the highlands of Ethiopia. The last of such rulers was Haile Selassie, who was overthrown in 1974. A series of military and socialistic adventurers then ruled Ethiopia. At present, President Zinawi appears to have restored some stability in the country. However, some restive groups, such as the Oromo, seem poised to separate from the country and may generate another round of political instability. The country is divided into 9 regions, and 2 chartered cities.



CONTEMPORARY HISTORY AND POLITICS

Ethiopia is the pride of black Africa, for it is the only African country that was not ruled by foreign powers, except during a five year interregnum, 1936-1941, when Italy occupied it, and even then, the Ethiopians waged a vigorous war, and with the aid of the British saw the defeat of Italy, a first for an African country. (Africans are so proud of Ethiopia that they selected her as the headquarters of their Africa Union; Ethiopia is a symbol of black people’s independence.)

The history of Ethiopia is long, going as far back as the tenth century BC. However, the ascertainable history of Ethiopia began a century before the Birth of Christ, with the rise of the kingdom of Axum.

In the fourth century AD, Ethiopia was converted to Christianity and has remained so since. However, in 616 AD, some followers of Prophet Mohammed came to Ethiopia, that is, during the life time of the Prophet, and Islam has flourished in parts of Ethiopia ever since. Christianity and Islam have coexisted in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia moved along until its encounter with modern European states. The rulers of Ethiopia, being a Christians, embraced Christian Europe, and the latter supplied their armies with weapons for their ceaseless wars with their neighbors. Indeed, the Catholic Church sent in missionaries who began converting Ethiopians to Roman Christianity until the resentment of the local Coptic Christianity led to conflicts, conflicts that were resolved when foreign missionaries were banned from Ethiopia.

In 1882, Italy tried to colonize Ethiopia and the two countries waged their first war. A peace treaty signed between Italy and Ethiopia in 1896 affirmed Ethiopia’s independence.

The early 20th century Ethiopian history was the history of its emperor, Haile Selassie. He successfully fought off Italy in the 1930s (1936-1941) and with the aid of the British defeated Italy in 1941. The defeat of a European power by an African power, sort of (Ethiopians are mostly Semitic whereas Africans are Negroid) led blacks in the Caribbean’s to adopt Hailie Selassie as their god. The Raftarians movement in Jamaica saw Hailie Selassie as their savior, their Jesus Christ.

Haile Salassie ruled Ethiopia until 1974 when Hailie Mengistu Mariam and his socialist band won control of Ethiopia. These socialists formed a revolutionary ruling council called the “Derg”, and proceeded to nationalize just about everything in Ethiopia. They formed alliance with the Soviet Union and became a Soviet outpost in the horn of Africa.

The United States, perhaps, not to be outdone, after all this was during the cold war era, aligned with Somalia and encouraged the later to attack Ethiopia, and in 1977 the war between Ethiopia and Somalia, supposedly over the Ogaden, a Somali speaking part of Ethiopia, began. America supplied weapons and money to Somalia and the USSR armed Ethiopia. The proxy war between the two superpowers devastated the economy of both Somalia and Ethiopia. Ethiopia had to devote a considerable part of her already meager resources to military purposes. And this enhanced military spending was in the face of famine and starvation in Ethiopia.

Mengistu’s high handed ruling led to opposition to his rule. The various ethnic groups that constitute Ethiopia have traditionally hated the ruling Amhara group. These groups formed militias or armies and started a war against the government of Mengistu. In 1991, these groups finally chased Mengistu out of office and into exile.

In 1993, after a referendum, Eritrea was permitted to secede from Ethiopia. What was left of Ethiopia was reorganized along ethnic lines.

The emergent Meles Zenawi government divided Ethiopia along its ethnic make up: Afar, Amhara, Benishangul-Gumaz, Gambela, Harari, Oromia, Somali, Tigray and Southern Nations. These nine ethnically based regions appear to have, more or less, effectively addressed the ethnic problem that bedeviled Ethiopia. Each region governs itself and levies taxes to do so, but sends representatives to the national government to address their common issues.

Zenawi appears a very realistic and pragmatic new breed of African politician. He was reelected in 2000 and in 2005 (although the later election was challenged by losing opposition parties, who alleged rigging; investigation by both domestic and international organizations did not seem to corroborate the allegation of rigging, so the election holds).

Ethiopia remains a very poor country. The economy is dependent on agricultural produce, such as coffee. Agriculture employs over 80% of the labor force, and generates over 41 percent of the gross domestic product. The income per capita of Ethiopia is US $110 (World Bank, 2005).

Mr. Zenawi appears a breed of realistic politicians that is beginning to emerge in Africa. These politicians understand the need to give the various ethnic groups constituting their countries relative autonomy; if they are to have internal peace and tranquility. He was one of the architects of the 1994 constitution that made Ethiopia over into a Federal Democratic Republic, real Federalism, with each ethnic group essentially semi autonomous, and grouping of the small ethnic groups into a region that they collectively have control over.

Finally, the Zenawi government has instituted freedom of the Press and allowed privately owned newspapers (as opposed to the nationalization of the media by the Mengistu government). One the whole, whereas there is still some subtle repression of the Press, Zenawi, after all was a Marxist-Leninist who, though he has turned a new leaf, is now a capitalist-democratic, is still aware of how the old Leninist apparatchiki worked, and applies it when it suits his desires. During the demonstrations following allegations of rigged elections, several people were shot to death and hundreds arrested and sent to prison camps, where they are still languishing. Old Stalinists seldom become totally (Thomas) Jeffersonian democrats. A loaf of bread, however, is better than none.

ozodi@africainstituteseattle.org

Posted by Administrator at May 27, 2006 11:00 AM

Comments

I am not familiar with who you are but the information you posted here is largely inaccurate and inappropriately represent nations and nationalists in Ethiopia.Might be you are mirror writing after psuedo historians of Abyssian origin or the west who knowingly or unknowingly dwelled for a century and plus on misrepresentation of fact about Ethiopian empire. I suggest you to careful search for balanced information in credilble sources before jumping on characterizing nations in Ethiopia. Since Ethiopia is an empire historically a nation with political supermacy has been engaged in misrepresentation of the history of other nations in Ethiopia. My comments may motivate you to further investigate the history of Ethiopian empire in balanced manner.

An observer.

Posted by: Ora at May 29, 2006 12:08 AM

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