Location/Culture Reports

Location Report – Ethiopia

Setting: People who have been to Ethiopia will tell you there is far more to the country than famine and misery. Situated in eastern Africa (the “Horn of Africa”), Ethiopia is landlocked by Somalia to the east, Kenya to the south, Sudan to the west, and the small countries of Djibouti and Eritrea to the north. The country is approximately twice the land area of Texas with a population of 67.8 million people.
The country of Ethiopia is one of the oldest on Earth; the fossilized remains of “Lucy,” our 3.5 million-year-old ancestor, were found in Ethiopia and can be seen in the Ethiopian National Museum.
History: The country of Ethiopia is one of the oldest on Earth; the fossilized remains of “Lucy,” our 3.5 million-year-old ancestor, were found in Ethiopia and can be seen in the Ethiopian National Museum. Biblical passages refer to Ethiopian events around 1000BC, with a visit from the Queen of Sheba to the court of King Solomon. Ethiopia was largely Jewish until 330AD, when it was converted to Christianity (at that point the region was known as “the Kingdom of Aksum”). A huge attempt was made to convert the country to Islam in 632AD, but it failed. The next historical period lasted 1,000 years and saw raids of the kingdom by local pagan tribes and more attempts to convert the region to Islam. The remnants of the Kingdom of Aksum finally broke down in the 18th century, and 100 years of warfare among rival factions fractured the country.

Europeans never colonized Ethiopia they way they did much of Africa, but Italian troops did briefly control the country during WWII. Ethiopia regained its independence in 1946. Economic instability and a war with neighboring Eritrea led to political unrest and invasions from Somalia over the next 30 years, with a number of dictators passing control of the country. By the 1990s the country was facing a major famine. At the same time, Ethiopia was ready to make steps towards democracy; parliamentary elections were held in 1995.

There is still political unrest in the region, however, including a brief war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. A peace agreement was signed in 2000 that included a UN Peacekeeping force along the border, but since 2002 there have been disputes over boundaries. Negotiations are still turbulent.

Climate & Nature: The weather in Ethiopia is fairly constant all year round, with temperatures in Addis Ababa averaging around 20°C (68°F) no matter what time of year it is. However, if you’ve ever watched any PBS Nature specials, you know the rainy season (kremt) is from mid-June to the end of September.
The country used to be forested, but the environment has been decimated by centuries of over-use for lumber.
The topography is dominated by a high central plateau. The country used to be forested, but the environment has been decimated by centuries of over-use for lumber. The Australian eucalyptus tree was introduced into the area in the early 1900s, but the species has actually made the situation worse because it provides poor forage for wildlife and causes soil erosion. The wildlife has moved on to better food sources, leaving Ethiopia fairly lacking in biodiversity. The birding is good, though, and Ethiopia boasts 17 species of birds that can be found nowhere else on earth.

The People: Because there are about 80 ethnic groups in Ethiopia, all of which speak different languages, it is difficult to draw generalizations about the Ethiopian people. Ethiopia has a Christian Orthodox tradition, despite the fact that many of its neighbors are Islamic. Many of the festivals and events are centered around the Ethiopian Orthodox religion, which celebrates Christmas (Genna or Leddet) on January 6 and New Year (Enkutatash) in early September. Artistic expression is largely devoted to religious themes, as is the literature of the country.

In general, the region is dominated by pastoral and agricultural people. Farming is generally subsistence-only, and in recent years has been stricken by famine and environmental degradation. The country’s major export is coffee, though recent years have seen a drop in coffee prices, leading to further poverty. Many people in the country are uneducated, with literacy rates around 42%. Life expectancy is very low, with average life spans of about 45 years for both men and women.

Interesting fact: The southern region of Kafa alleges to be the origin of coffee, and the java bean has been grown in the region since at least 1000AD.

For further reading:
lonelyplanet.com
Guide to Ethiopia