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Last Updated: Friday, 9 January, 2004, 18:19 GMT
Ethiopia fact file
Ethiopia is Africa's oldest independent country and, with the exception of a five-year occupation by Mussolini's Italy, has never been colonised.

Country profile

  • With a population of 70.7 million it is the third most populous African country.
    (Source: UN figures 2003)

  • It measures 1.1 million square kilometres in area, twice the size of France.
    (Source: Foreign & Commonwealth Office)

  • It shares its borders with Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan.

  • In 1582 when the Christian world adopted the revised Gregorian calendar, Ethiopia stayed with the Julian calendar. Their year has 12 months of 30 days each and a 13th month of five or six days, depending on whether it is a leap year. The first month of the Ethiopian year is September (or Meskerem), and Christmas is in our January - ironic if you think about the 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' record at the time of the 1984 famine.
    (Source: Ethiopian Embassy)

  • Ethiopian time is 3 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) and is equally divided into day and night, each defined as consisting of 12 hours from 0600 to 1800 and vice-versa.
    (Source: Ethiopian Embassy)

  • Ethiopia is often ironically referred to as the "water tower" of Eastern Africa because of the many (14 majors) rivers that pour off the high tableland. It also has the greatest water reserves in Africa, but few irrigation systems in place to use it. Just 1% is used for power production and 1.5% for irrigation.

  • Over 85% of the Nile waters originate in Ethiopia.

  • Ethiopia is home to more than 80 ethnic groups with a similar number of languages.
    (Source: Lonely Planet Guide)

  • The dominant religions are Christianity and Islam.
    (Source: Lonely Planet Guide)

  • Only 1 in 8 Ethiopians lives in a town - the lowest proportion on earth.

  • The capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, lies at an altitude of 7,546 feet (2,300 metres), making it the third highest capital in the world.
    (Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia)

  • Ethiopia's main exports are coffee, hides, oilseeds, beeswax and sugarcane

  • Only about 12% of land in Ethiopia is used for agriculture.
    (Source: CIA World Factbook)

  • Due to demands for fuel, construction and fencing, at least 77% of the country's tree cover has been cut down in the last 25 years. These have been replaced by plantations of eucalyptus which are soil-depleting.
    (Source: Lonely Planet Guide)


  • According to legend, the Ethiopian queen, the Queen of Sheba, undertook a visit to King Solomon of Israel in the 10th century BC. The king promised his guest that he would not take anything from her if she took nothing from him. After a particularly spicy meal with the king, the Queen of Sheba drank some water he had provided by her beside. The king demanded his side of the deal and she returned carrying his son, Menelik I. Ethiopian tradition suggests this marks the beginning of a dynasty that would reign for the next 3000 years.
    (Source: Lonely Planet Guide)

  • Ethiopians believe Menelik I stole the Ark of the Covenant, a sacred tabot, from Solomon's Temple on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, and replaced it with a replica.

    Discovery of coffee
    The shepherd noticed a herd of goats eating berries from the trees and becoming very frisky

  • Remains of "Lucy", the world's oldest known almost complete hominid skeleton, more than three million-years-old, was discovered in 1974 near Hadar in the far north-east of Ethiopia by American Dr Donald Johanson.
    (Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia)

  • Almost certainly the birthplace of coffee. Legend has it that it was discovered by a herd of goats. The shepherd noticed them eating berries from the trees and becoming very frisky. The word "coffee" is thought to have derived from the coffee-growing region of "Kaffa".
    (Source: PLAN charity in Ethiopia)

  • Unlike most African nations, Ethiopia was never a European colony.

    Government & politics

  • Haile Selassie was Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930-74 and is revered as a god by the Rastafarian movement. In fact, Rastafarians are so-called because Haile Selassie's birth name was Ras (Lord) Tafari.

    Emperor Haile Selassie
    Emperor Haile Selassie established the first Ethiopian constitution in 1931

  • In 1974 Haile Selassie was overthrown by a Marxist military committee known as the Derg. Mengistu Haile Mariam became head of state and led Ethiopia through a period known as the Red Terror. During this time, up to three quarters of the students and intellectuals who helped bring the Derg to power, were executed.

  • In 1991 the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front captured Addis Ababa and Mengistu was forced into exile in Zimbabwe. Meles Zenawi became prime minister and continues to lead the country today.

    Border conflicts

  • Under Mussolini, Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935. They were momentarily successful and Haile Selassie was deposed. However, in 1941, British and Commonwealth forces helped Ethiopian resistance fighters to defeat the Italians and restore Haile Selassie to the throne.

  • Somalia invaded Ethiopia's Ogaden region in 1977. Ethiopia defeated Somali forces one year later with massive help from the Soviet Union and Cuba but the two countries did not sign a peace treaty until 1988.

  • In 1993, after a 30-year guerrilla war, Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia but the countries' borders were never formally agreed.

    Badme village on the Ethiopia/Eritrea border
    Hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea began in dusty Badme

  • In 1998 tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea escalated into full-scale war. It was not until June 2000 that they signed a ceasefire agreement and in December 2000 they signed a peace deal. United Nations peacekeeping forces were used to protect both sides.

  • Even today the UN continues to police the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) between Ethiopia and Eritrea which is 25 km wide and runs along the entire length of the Eritrean side of the border (1,000 km). Low-level conflict persists. UN arbitration recently awarded the key town of Badme to Eritrea but Ethiopia refuses to accept it.


  • Ethiopia gets the most relief aid and the least development aid of any poor country in the world.

  • Twice as many Ethiopians are hungry today than in the 1984/1985 famine.

    Children with aid tins
    A quarter of Ethiopians remain dependent on international aid for day-to-day survival

  • Almost three quarters of Ethiopian people cannot read or write.
    (Source: Foreign & Commonwealth Office)

  • In 1985, the Ministry of Health in Ethiopia reported its first Aids case. In 2004, there are 2-3 million HIV/Aids sufferers. One million children have lost their parents to Aids and more than 250,000 children under five live with the disease.
    (Source: CIA World Factbook)

  • Food production is thought to be a third less than in 1984.

  • Six million Ethiopians would die every year if we didn't feed them.

    Ethiopian baby
    13 percent of all children in Ethiopia are orphans

  • According to Save the Children Fund, 60% of all children are stunted physically and mentally because of malnutrition.
    (Source: Save the Children Fund)

  • The current Ethiopian Government has been accused of some human rights abuses. A National Human Rights Commission was set up in 1998 and Ethiopia also signed up to the African charter on Human and People's Rights.
    (Source: Lonely Planet Guide)

  • Only 28% of children attend primary school and only 15% make it to secondary education.
    (Source: Lonely Planet Guide)

  • Life expectancy is 49 years.
    (Source: Lonely Planet Guide)

  • Ethiopia's population is increasing by 2.7% each year.




Compiled by BBC Monitoring

Ethiopia: A Journey with Michael Buerk
16 Dec 03  |  This World
Ask Michael Buerk: Live discussion
16 Dec 03  |  This World
Your comments and memories
07 Jan 04  |  This World
Charities working in Ethiopia
05 Jan 04  |  This World


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