The Horn of Africa


History of Ethiopia

The darkest thing about Africa has always been our ignorance of it.

- George Kimble

Unique among African countries, the ancient Ethiopian monarchy has always maintained its freedom from colonial rule.  The one brief exception was when occupied by the Italians from 1936 until 1941.  Ethiopia has 1,127,127 sq km; the population was estimated in July 2002 to be almost 68 million.  Life expectancy is about 45 years.  Women have about 7 children each.  The country has one internet service provider.

bulletEthiopia is the oldest independent country in sub-Saharan Africa.  The earliest evidence of Ethiopian history was in around 1000BC when the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon.
bulletThe first recorded kingdom in Ethiopia grew around Axum during the 3rd century BC.  Axum was an offshoot of the Semitic Sabeam kingdoms of southern Arabia; it became the greatest ivory market in the north east.
bulletEthiopia influenced the state of Meroe in Sudan.  Over the next few centuries, Axum encroached more and more on Meroe until, when Christianity became the state religion in the 4th century AD, Ethiopia conquered the kingdom.
bulletChristianity was adopted in the country by a Syrian youth named Frumentius who grew up in Axum and converted the King; the youth was later made the first Bishop in 330AD.
bulletAxum conquered parts of Yemen and southern Arabia and remained a great power until the death of the Prophet Mohammed.
bulletIslam was expanding which had the effect of cutting off Ethiopia from its former Mediterranean trading partners and allies, Muslims replaced the Egyptians in the Red Sea ports.  Ethiopians were allowed to consecrate their Bishops in Cairo and pilgrims were allowed to travel to Jerusalem.
bulletUnfortunately, the Ethiopians did not have such a good relationship with the pagan tribes in the south and pressure from these tribes forced the Ethiopian emperors to adopt the life of nomadic military commanders living in makeshift cities.  The priests were forced to become monks and hermits.  After some time these tribes were pacified and Ethiopia recovered enough to take the provinces of Amhara, Lasta, Gojam and Damot.  At a similar time the capital was moved to the south to the Amhara province.
bulletIn the 12th century Muslim expansion began.  As independent trading kingdoms grew up along the coast of the Red Sea they expanded down to the Awash Valley.  Their wealth was based mainly upon a trade in slaves, gold and ivory.
bulletDuring the 13th and 14th centuries the Red Sea Kingdoms became Ethiopian vassal states.
bulletDuring the 15th century with the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, Ethiopian fortunes were reversed.  The Turks who succeeded the Mamelukes in Egypt supported the Muslim kingdoms providing both firearms and artillery; the only thing that saved the Christian empire from collapse was the Portuguese.  In 1542 as a result of this, missionaries from Portugal attempted to persuade the Ethiopians to accept the Pope in Rome as the leader of the Church.
bulletIn the 18th century the empire broke down into constituent provinces, and a hundred years of constant warfare between existing war lords and their successors followed.
bulletRas Kassa had himself crowned as the emperor at Axum under a different name, Tewodros.  This happened in 1855 when he constructed an army to reunite the provinces of Tigre, Amhara and Shoa.
bulletTewodros shot himself because the British, in 1867, blockaded his fortress.  He was succeeded by John the 4th who took power by using British arms and was forced to accept a powerful young vassal king of Shoa as his heir, named Menelik.  He built up large stores of European arms which he used to defeat the Italians in 1896 at Adowa.
bulletJohn the 4th enlarged his empire at the expense of the Afars, the Somalis of Harrar and the Ogadam, and the Gallas.
bulletIn 1916, Haile Selassie, born Prince Ras Tafari Makonnen, led a revolution and became Prince Regent, heir to the throne.  He was proclaimed Emperor in 1930.
bulletMussolini, from Italy overran the country in 1936.  Haile Selassie fled to England where he lived in exile.  He appealed for help, but none was offered although the western nations condemned the action.  The Italians remained present in Ethiopia until 1941.  Haile Selassie returned as Emperor.
bulletAfter World War 2 Ethiopia's course as an independent nation continued although the province of Eritrea remained under British control until 1952 when it was federated with Ethiopia, a result of a plebiscite, organised by the UN.  The Muslims were unhappy about the federation and so in 1962 the federation was dissolved and the province was annexed by Haile Selassie.  The consequence of this was the outbreak of guerrilla warfare, the Muslims against the Christians.
bulletThe Eritreans regarded the annexation as tantamount to being colonised by another African nation and there were many years of inconclusive fighting which also led to mutiny and made more people aware of the revolutionary current which was sweeping through Ethiopian society.  This was one of the principle factors leading to Haile Selassie's downfall.
bulletHaile Selassie was respected as an African statesman and as a key person in the construction of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
bulletWealth went to nobility and the church.  Many thousands of people died due to famine and the war in Eritrea.
bulletIn 1974 amid a wave of demonstrations, mutinies and uprisings, Haile Selassie was deposed and held under armed guard in his palace.  He died several months later.
bulletEthiopia was then plunged into a social revolution and a group of junior army officers imposed a military dictatorship.  The leader was Mengistu Haile Miriam.  He threw out Americans and then instituted a number of radical reforms.  He jailed the opposition; many people were massacred by vigilante groups; opposition arose everywhere; the Eritreans stepped up the guerrilla campaign and the Somalis decided that the time was right to press their claims over the Ogaden desert and invaded in force.
bulletBy 1978 the Somalis had managed to overrun Jijiga which was an important Ethiopian military base and were threatening to take areas through which the vital railway ran.
bulletThe military regime in Addis Ababa was at a point of collapse but then the Russian and Cuban troops intervened with the help from Moscow, Mengistu was able to turn the Somalis back across the border.
bulletMengistu's policies included creating "people's committees" called Kebeles which controlled the everyday lives of the people in great detail.  Large numbers of people were forcibly moved around the country in an attempt to counter famine.  Conscription into the army eventually called on every man from 18 to 70 years old.
bulletMatters went from bad to worse. Mengistu found himself with a discontented population, frequent famine, war in Eritrea, Ogaden and Tigray.  Finally, in 1991, when the rebel forces were about to seize Addis, Mengistu hastily left the country for Zimbabwe.
bulletA new government was led by Meles Zenawi who set out a policy to pursue multi-party democracy.  Eritrea became independent led by Isaias Afwerki, a friend of Zenawi.

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