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Ethiopia is the oldest independent state in Africa (not counting the period 1936-1941 under Italian rule) and one of the longest, at least 2 000 years, centrally governed states in the world.

Ethiopian civilisation has its origins in the kingdom of Axum. This empire flourished in the third century BC and lasted for ten centuries. Around 330 AD, Syrian monks gained influence at the court of Axum. Christianity, which developed into Ethiopian orthodoxy, thus made its appearance in this trading nation. In the seventh century, Muslims conquered large parts of the Horn of Africa. They founded many port cities (e.g. Berbera, Mogadishu and Mombasa) and thus encircled the kingdom of Axum. Fleeing Afars from the realm of Axum moved southwards and brought Christianity back to great prosperity. They built the rock churches of Lalibela. Yekuno-Amlak seized power in 1268. He claimed to be descended from the biblical Queen of Sheba. Until 1855, present-day Ethiopia consisted of Christian and Islamic states that were regularly attacked by Oromos, Afars and Somalis. In 1855, the Christian nobleman (Ras) Kassa proclaimed himself Emperor Tewodros. He lost against the British, who tried to control the area around the Suez Canal. The opening of this canal in 1869 led to a run on the Red Sea coasts by the British (Aden), Italy (Assab and later Eritrea) and France (Djibouti).

The new Ethiopian ruler Menelik signed a treaty with Italy in 1896 (the Treaty of Wichale), which soon became a source of controversy. His (African) army defeated the Italians, to the dismay of Europe. Italy kept Eritrea. The Ethiopian-Eritrean border was established. This did not prevent Menelik from conquering areas in the east, south and west. In 1887 Addis Ababa ('New Flower') became the new capital of Ethiopia.

After his death in 1908, Menelik was succeeded by his daughter Zawditu under the regency of first Ras Tefema and later Ras Tafari. In 1930 Ras Tafari was crowned Emperor Haile Selassie. His reign until 1974 was interrupted by Mussolini from 1935 to 1941. In 1962, Ethiopia annexed Eritrea, after which the bloody Eritrean War of Secession began. Dissatisfaction grew in Ethiopia as well, partly due to the divide-and-rule policy and the bad policies after the great drought of 1973. This resulted in 1974 in student protests and a successful army coup. However, the Derg military government exercised a reign of terror. This cost many hundreds of thousands of lives and prompted both Tigrayers and Oromos to start their own war of liberation.

The leader of the Derg, Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, was supported by the Soviet Union when Somali President Siad Barre, with the support of the United States, attempted to conquer the Ogaden desert. The end of the Soviet Union and the Eritrean military successes broke up the Derg regime. The Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), at the head of a broad coalition of resistance movements, entered Addis Ababa in May 1991. This movement formed a coalition with the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), the Southern Ethiopia People's Democratic Front (SEPDF) and the Oromo People's Democratic Organisation (OPDO). These various ethnically based parties come under the umbrella of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPDRF). A resistance movement, such as the Oromian Liberation Front (OLF), was initially part of this coalition but later turned against the power of the EPDRF. This has on several occasions led to armed clashes between the government and the OLF hiding in Ethiopian border areas with Kenya. EPDRF has ruled Ethiopia since 1991.

On 24 May 1993, Eritrea, the former Italian colony and Ethiopia's northernmost province, became independent. This was a breakthrough in the 30-year conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. In May 1998, however, a border conflict broke out between Ethiopia and Eritrea. During the first weeks of this conflict, bombings took place on both sides. Despite mediation efforts by the African Union (AU), the United States (US) and Rwanda, the first heavy ground fighting broke out in early 1999. In mid-1999, the conflict reached a stalemate and both sides resumed negotiations under the leadership of the AU. However, these failed. On 12 May 2000, Ethiopia launched another large-scale military offensive, which resulted in considerable gains in territory. Following mediation by the AU in close cooperation with the US, both countries signed a ceasefire agreement on 18 June 2000 and a peace agreement on 12 December 2000. Haile Selassie died in November 2000.

In the period from 2000 to 2008, tensions continued between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Controversial elections were held in 2005, the government claiming enough seats to form another government. Tensions also arose with Somalia from 2006 to 2008. Ethiopian troops fight Islamic militias in Somalia. In January 2009, Ethiopia withdraws all troops from Somalia In August 2009, Ethiopia and Eritrea are ordered to pay compensation to each other for the border war. In May 2010, the EPDRF won the parliamentary elections. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi ran for a fourth term. EU observers noted many irregularities.

In 2011, tensions with Eritea increased and Ethiopia declared its support for the rebels. President Meles Zenawi dies in August 2012 and is succeeded by Hailemariam Desalegn. In June 2013, Egypt and Ethiopia discuss a dispute over a dam on the Blue Nile; Egypt fears a reduced water supply. In May 2015, the ruling EPDRF party won the national elections by an overwhelming majority. In January 2016, the government drops plans to expand Addis Ababa's borders following bloody protests by Oromi farmers. The government declared a six-month state of emergency in October 2016 after continued violent anti-government protests. In 2017, unrest continued, with at least 670 people killed in the protests over the past two years, according to the Human Rights Committee.

Hailemariam resigned in February 2018 and Abiy Ahmed Ali took office in April 2018 as Ethiopia's first ethnic Oromo prime minister. In June 2018, Abiy announced Ethiopia would accept the border ruling of 2000, prompting rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea that was marked with a peace agreement in July 2018 and a reopening of the border in September 2018. In November 2019, Ethiopia's nearly 30-year ethnic-based ruling coalition - the EPRDF - merged into a single unity party called the Prosperity Party, however, one of the four constituent parties (the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front or TPLF) refused to join.

In November 2020, a military conflict erupted between forces aligned with the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Ethiopia’s national military, the Ethiopian National Defense Force. The conflict, which has continued throughout 2021, has exacerbated ethnic violence and has largely centered in Tigray, Amhara, and Afar regional states.


Elmar Landeninformatie

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
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