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Ethiopia

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Map of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia, formally the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and formerly known as Abyssinia, is a populous, landlocked country in the Horn of Africa. With a population of over 109 million, Ethiopia is the second-most populous country in Africa, losing the coveted top spot to Nigeria.[1] Its population is one of the fastest-growing in the entire world.

The region was once home to the then oldest-known anatomically modern human remains, dated to roughly 195,000 years ago[2], but has been beaten out by Morocco, which has modern human fossils dating back to 300kya.[3] Additionally, archaeologists have discovered three million year-old skeletal remains of Australopithecus anamensis, an early hominid ancestor, in Ethiopia.[4]

Ethiopian history traditionally holds that the modern Ethiopian state was founded by the Queen of Sheba,[5] a well-known figure from the three major Abrahamic religions.[6] Their legends say that the Queen traveled to Jerusalem to meet King Solomon and got knocked up by him, giving birth to Ethiopia's first king, Menelik I.[7] Ethiopians also claim that Menelik occasionally visited his dear ol' dad in Jerusalem and one time brought back a pretty significant souvenir: the Ark of the Covenant. According to the Ethiopians, the Ark still resides in one of their churches, although nobody is allowed to see it of course.

In modern times, Ethiopia was one of just three nations in Africa that eluded the 19th-century Scramble for Africa (along with Liberia and Darwiish StateWikipedia's W.svg).[8] It was later and briefly conquered by Italy in 1936, shortly before World War II; the country regained its freedom thanks to the Allied victory in East Africa in 1941-1943.[9] In 1974 a Soviet Union-backed military junta called the Derg overthrew the millennia-old Ethiopian monarchy and ruled the country as a provisional government.[10] In 1987 they finally got around to establishing the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, a communist dictatorship, which lasted right up until the Soviet Union died of mostly natural causes in 1991. Absent Soviet aid, the dictatorship collapsed under the pressure of internal rebels. The partly Islamic neighboring region of Eritrea became independent of Ethiopian rule in the early 1990s and went on to become an extremely hostile totalitarian state. Ethiopia became a dysfunctional republic with authoritarian tendencies.

The US State Department maintains a Level 2 Travel Advisory for potential travelers to Ethiopia, citing the risk of crime, civil unrest, and terrorism, as well as the danger that Ethiopia's frequent government-mandated internet and cellular-data shutdowns can impede the US Embassy's ability to communicate with any travelers.[11]

Historical overview[edit]

In many ways unique for an African country, but in others sadly typical, in the last 50 years it has gone from being ruled by the "Messiah", to a war-torn "communist" hellhole, to more war and a kleptocratic and incompetent "republic." So let's rush through a few million years of history.

The ancientest of history[edit]

Ethiopia has been called "the cradle of humankind" because of the major anthropological finds found there, including the skeleton of Lucy (an early Australopithecus afarensis),[12] and Ardi (an even earlier hominid)[13]

Kingdom of Aksum[edit]

Axumite gold coins.

Several not-really notable civilizations rose and fell in the Ethiopian region. Around the Fourth Century BCE, the Kingdom of Aksum arose to become the dominant form of Ethiopian civilization, ruling most of Ethiopia, Eritrea, and often parts of what is now Yemen.[14] The kingdom became quite powerful, being generally recognized alongside Sassanian Persia, the Roman Empire, and Imperial China as being one of the four great powers of the ancient world.[15] Saint Frumentius arrived from the Levant around 316 CE, and he is credited with converting much of the Ethiopian population to Christianity.[16] He became the first bishop of Axum. Axum was one of the first countries to convert to the new religion.

Aksum was gradually weakened by its constant wars with Persia over who would control Yemen, and the Ethiopians finally lost for good around 578 CE.[17] They did, however, remain a force to be reckoned with. Unlike many other Christian powers, Ethiopia remained on good terms with the rising religion of Islam. Ethiopia even famously gave shelter to the followers of Muhammad who fled persecution.[18]

Solomonic dynasty[edit]

Adal troops vs allied forces.

The Axum monarchy eventually fell to be replaced by the Zagwe dynasty, which was then replaced by a new dynasty which styled itself as the successors to King Solomon of Biblical Israel. The Solomonic dynasty used that legend to legitimize its rule and keep people content under them.[19] They also claimed descent from the Axumite rulers, although there isn't any evidence to back that claim up either.[20] With the Solomonic dynasty in power, Ethiopia declared itself to be an empire.

During the Early Modern Era, the Ethiopians started reaching out to other Christian realms in Europe. Correspondence survives between the Emperor of Ethiopia and King Henry IV of England.[21] The Ethiopians also benefited from Portugal's belief in the Prester John myth. The story went that there was a long lost Christian kingdom which had hidden itself from expansionist Islamic powers in the east and would hopefully one day rise up to kick the Muslims out of the Near East. The Portuguese convinced themselves that the Emperor of Ethiopia was Prester John, despite the Ethiopians quite clearly having no idea what the fuck the Portuguese were talking about.[22]

Despite the confusion, Ethiopia ended up being pretty glad to have such a good ally in Portugal. In 1529, the Adal Sultanate, a Muslim state mostly comprised of ethnic Somalis, decided to try conquering the Ethiopians. The Ethiopian emperor lost most of the ensuing battles until some Portuguese musketeers showed up to bail him out.[23]

These good feelings came to an end in the early 1600's. Emperor Susenyos I actually converted to Catholicism after being convinced by the Portuguese, but his conversion caused outrage and revolts among followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.[24] Susenyos' successor responded to the unrest by banning Catholicism and expelling the Jesuits from Ethiopia. Portugal didn't like that very much, and they broke up with Ethiopia.

Scramble for Africa[edit]

The Battle of Adwa, a key Ethiopian victory against Italy.
See the main article on this topic: Scramble for Africa

Between 1755 and 1855, Ethiopia endured a period of isolation and decentralization referred to as the Zemene Mesafint or "Age of Princes". Ethiopian emperors began figureheads controlled by warlords, and the country was fractured into several de facto independent pieces.[25] The period ended when Tewodros II started reclaiming the power of the Ethiopian throne, and Ethiopia rejoined the world.

The world was a quite different place than from when Ethiopia had first fallen into warlordism. When Tewdros imprisoned some Anglican missionaries in 1867, the British government didn't put up with it. Instead, they launched a punitive war against Ethiopia which they won with relative ease.[26] Shortly thereafter, the British protectorate of Egypt declared war on Ethiopia with the aim of annexing the entire length of the Nile River.[27]

Worst of all, the rush of colonialism in Africa convinced Italy that it was time for them to annex some of the continent as well. To that end, Italy launched a full invasion of Ethiopia in 1895. Luckily for Ethiopia and its emperor, Menelik II, the Italians had failed to prepare for the harsh terrain or the logistical effort of war.[28] Victory was costly for Ethiopia, but the country preserved its independence. For a while at least.

Haile Selassie, the Messiah[edit]

Haile Selassie in his palace study.

Haile Selassie became regent to the emperor Menelik II in 1916, and then emperor in 1930. He was revered by the Rastafari movement as the Messiah, God's representative on Earth. Marcus Garvey, a notable African American intellectual who tried to convince black people to return to Africa, became one of the intellectual fathers of the Rastafari movement due to his speeches and advocacy for black self-determination.[29] Garvey had also famously said, "Look to Africa where a black king shall be crowned, he shall be the Redeemer."[30] Rastafarians interpreted this as a prophecy, and they were awed when Haile Selassie came to power shortly after Garvey's prophecy. It also helped things that Selassie claimed lineage from King Solomon.

In reality, Selassie was not the Messiah. He was, however, an emperor who tried his best to modernize the creaking Ethiopian state. He built electrical grids, abolished feudalism, built hospitals, started schools, and established a national bank, among other things.[31] He also abolished slavery in Ethiopia, which was one of the conditions for allowing the country to join the League of Nations.

Unfortunately, that great effort didn't save Ethiopia from what came next.

Italian East Africa[edit]

Mussolini with Ethiopian collaborators.
See the main article on this topic: Benito Mussolini

In 1935, Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini decided that Italy should try taking another crack at the Ethiopian nut. He hoped to avenge Italy's previous loss against Ethiopia, and he also saw the enterprise as a way to acquire extra land for unemployed Italian farmers and acquire mineral resources to aid industrialization.[32] Despite Ethiopia having joined its ranks at cost to itself, the League of Nations was ineffective in halting the violence.

Although Ethiopia had made great modernizing strides, it still lacked some key military technologies which were necessary to resist the Italians such as radio devices and aircraft. Italy also repeatedly committed war crimes, such as bombing hospitals and using chemical weapons.[33] The Ethiopians responded with war crimes of their own. They used expanding bullets in violation of the Hague Conventions, and they also castrated many prisoners of war.[34] Italy successfully annexed Ethiopia in 1937.

Italy merged its holdings in Eritrea and Somalia to form the new colony of Italian East Africa. This act of colonialism was likely Italy's first step to expanding their rule past the Red Sea and into the oil-rich Middle East.[35] The colony was short-lived, however. Ol' Benny-Boy fucked up by declaring war against France and the United Kingdom in 1940, putting Italy in a war that it was not at all prepared for. The UK quickly sent its colonial forces to invade and occupy Italian East Africa, and Italian resistance was effectively over by early 1941.[36] After Italy's full defeat in the war, the country renounced its claim to all of its African colonies. As part of the peace deal and as compensation, the British agreed to hand over Italian Eritrea to Ethiopian control. This would cause problems later.

Haile Selassie back in the saddle[edit]

Haile Selassie escorted out of his palace for the final time in September 1974.

With Mussolini gone, things were back to normal in Ethiopia. Mostly. Although Ethiopia had been previously occupied by a foreign power, they had become themselves the occupying power in neighboring Eritrea. Eritrean rebels rose up, partly for independence and partly due to the fact that Ethiopian Christians tried to suppress Eritrean Muslims by banning the speaking of Arabic and removing Muslims from government jobs.[37] The Eritrean Liberation Front formed in 1961, and the war for independence was on.

About ten years later, domestic opinion among Ethiopians also turned sharply against Selassie due to his mismanagement of the 1973 oil crisis. The crisis crashed Ethiopia's economy, and that financial crash also resulted in critical food shortages which the government also failed to effectively address.[38] As we all know, food shortages and economic crises tend to result in dramatic political shifts. This case was no different.

Communist rule[edit]

Senior members of the Derg dictatorship.

In 1974, Selassie's rule came to an abrupt end. A Marxist-Leninist military group called the Derg arrested Haile Selassie and seized control of the government.[39] Without Ethiopia's absolute monarch to stop them or tell anyone in the government what to do, taking over the country was relatively simple. The new "provisional government" quickly turned Ethiopia into a one-party communist dictatorship, solidifying their rule by 1975.[40] Selassie mysteriously died in the same year.

The Derg government was extremely unstable, suffering several coup attempts against it. In 1977, Somalia invaded Ethiopia with the objective of taking the Ogaden region, which was populated by mostly ethnic Somalis. The Derg resisted and survived the invasion with the help of aid and volunteers from the Soviet Union, Cuba, and East Germany.[41] The war effort included about 11,000 Cuban troops and 1,000 Soviet military advisers.[42]

The communist regime celebrated their victory in the war by launching a so-called "Red Terror", a purge in which they murdered about 500,000 people.[43] One notorious detail of the murder spree was that the communist government would not release the bodies of the slain for burial until the victims' families coughed up enough money to pay for the bullet used to commit the murder. The Derg made no secret of their brutality and even left bodies on display in the streets of Addis Ababa. Strangely, the purge seemed to be most focused on those who you would think the Derg would consider their supporters. Most of those slain were students, trade unionists, and other communists.[44] It seems those people were tortured and murdered for doctrinal differences.

Between 1983 and 1985, Ethiopia also had to endure a brutal famine. It was Ethiopia's worst famine in a century, and it left about 1.2 million people dead.[45] The famine was not only caused by drought and climate conditions, but also by the Derg's ongoing wars against internal dissidents and Eritreans. According to Human Rights Watch, more than half its mortality could be attributed to "human rights abuses causing the famine to come earlier, strike harder and extend further than would otherwise have been the case".[46] The West tried to intervene with well-intentioned but questionably effective charity. One expert suggests that money from Bob Geldof's Live Aid funded the brutal forced resettlement of 100,000 people, although Geldof begs to differ.[47]

After a long and troubled reign, Ethiopian communists finally met their downfall due to Mikhail Gorbachev's decision to sharply decrease the Soviet Union's foreign aid contributions to other communist countries. Having been left out to dry by the Soviets, the communist government fell to rebels in 1991.

Modern era[edit]

UN peacekeepers on the Ethiopia-Eritrea border, 2005.

After the fall of communism, Ethiopia finally decided to figure a way out of the decades-long war against the Eritrean separatists. The government consented to an independence referendum, in which Eritreans voted about 99% in favor of separation.[48] Eritrea declared independence later in 1993, and Ethiopia was once again landlocked.

Ethiopia's first real elections took place in 1995 and were won by the centre-left Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front.[49] This was apparently too many good things for one decade in Ethiopia, because Ethiopia and Eritrea decided to go to war again in 1998. Two of the world's poorest countries spent two years fighting over pieces of land that didn't actually have any material worth.[50] The enemies agreed to stop shooting in 2000, but couldn't agree on where the border should lie until 2018.[51]

In 2015, President Obama of the United States became the first sitting leader of the US to visit Ethiopia, aiming to highlight the country's role in fighting against an Al-Qaeda surrogate active in eastern Africa.[52] The visit was celebrated by Ethiopian human rights activists, but the country unfortunately failed to make any significant liberalizing reforms in the wake of his visit.

In 2016, pro-democracy protesters assembled in the streets to demand that the government stop killing protesters; the government responded by killing about 90 protesters.[53] In 2018, Ethiopia declared a state of emergency for six months after Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn became the first leader in the country's modern history to step down rather than be removed or killed.[54] Later in the same year, Ethiopia's new prime minister traveled to Eritrea to officially declare an end to the 1998 border war.[55]

Ethiopia remains a troubled country. Ethnic violence between Ethiopians and Somalis continues and has displaced hundreds of thousands of people.[56]

Human rights[edit]

File:PM Abiy Ahmed Ali.jpg
The recently-elected Ethiopian PM, Abiy Ahmed Ali, widely seen as a reformer.

Freedom of speech and assembly[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Freedom of speech

Ethiopia restricts free speech on the internet and restricts access to television, but the country seems to be attempting reform as the recently-elected government has released many of the jailed journalists and bloggers.[57] This is also after government forces murdered almost 100 protesters who had been protesting against the government's practice of murdering protesters in 2016.[53] Sadly, that still seems to be happening, as a crackdown against protests in October 2019 resulted in about 86 more deaths.[58] Ethiopia's new "reformist" leader also likes to completely shut down the internet every now and then, which has harmed his image as a human rights supporter.[59]

Torture and inhumane detention[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Torture

Ethiopia is also heavily criticized for the conditions to which it subjects its prisoners. The country's prisons are known for depriving prisoners and the heavy use of torture, and this was recently admitted by Ethiopia's new government.[57] Not helping matters is the fact that Ethiopian police have broad authority to arbitrarily detain people. The US State Department found in 2018 that Ethiopian prisoners were repeatedly beaten, overcrowded, underfed, forced to do labor, and sometimes subjected to even harsher punishments like being immersed in human shit.[60] Luckily, many of the worst prisons were recently closed by the government due to their atrocious conditions.[57]

Religion[edit]

Church in Axum, claimed to hold the Ark of the Covenant.

Christianity[edit]

The roots of Christianity in Ethiopia are ancient, in contrast to much of Africa where the religion was only imposed by 19th century missionaries.

Although it's not known for historical accuracy, the Acts of the Apostles describes how an Ethiopian eunuch was baptised and took Christianity home with him (in practice, the authors of the New Testament weren't too picky about exact nationalities, and he could have been any kind of a darker-skinned person). The Aksumite kingdom became a refuge for Christians persecuted by the Roman Empire in the 3rd century CE, and adopted the religion in the 4th century.[61] Ethiopian Christianity became closely allied with the Egyptian Coptic Church.[62] Christianity survived as state religion despite the rise of Islam to the north, though the church was largely cut off from the rest of the Christian world (it may have been the inspiration for the medieval myth of Prester John, a Christian king rumoured to be hidden in darkest Africa). Much more recently, the Portuguese brought Catholicism in the 17th century, but they were soon driven out.[63]

The patron saint of Ethiopia is St George, who rescued the princess Beruktawit from the dragon.[64] Fact!

Judaism[edit]

Ethiopia also has an indigenous Jewish population, called Beta Israel (or Falasha, which was originally derogatory). [65] Some of the more orthodox and lighter-skinned Jews believe they practice a degenerate folk religion: this caused problems when the Israeli government airlifted them to Israel and gave them citizenship.[66] They were even accused of being fakes.[67]

Aside from contemporary social justice issues (which we all love), there's a lot of historical lore to assess, involving the Ark of the Covenant[68], King Solomon, and Afrocentrism[69].

Yes, the Ethiopians claim to have the original Ark of the Covenant, which they keep carefully hidden from inspection so its authenticity can't be tested for everyone's protection (remember that scene in Raiders?).

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. The 10 Most Populated Countries In Africa. World Atlas.
  2. Ethiopia is top choice for cradle of Homo sapiens. Hopkin, Michael (16 February 2005). Nature.
  3. "World's oldest Homo sapiens fossils found in Morocco" - Science Magazine
  4. Revealing the new face of a 3.8-million-year-old early human ancestor. CNN.
  5. See the Wikipedia article on Queen of Sheba.
  6. In search of the real Queen of Sheba. National Geographic.
  7. See the Wikipedia article on Menelik I.
  8. Gordon, Andrew. "Time after Time in the Horn of Africa". Journal of Military History 74.1 (2010).
  9. See the Wikipedia article on East African campaign (World War II).
  10. See the Wikipedia article on Derg.
  11. Ethiopia Travel Advisory. US State Department. - "Exercise increased caution when traveling in Ethiopia due to sporadic civil unrest and communications disruptions. [...] The Government of Ethiopia has restricted or shut down internet, cellular data, and phone services during and after civil unrest. These restrictions impede the U.S. Embassy's ability to communicate with, and provide consular services to, U.S. citizens in Ethiopia." - Retrieved 23 June 2020.
  12. See the Wikipedia article on Lucy (Australopithecus).
  13. See the Wikipedia article on Ardi.
  14. Phillipson, David W. (1998). Ancient Ethiopia. Aksum: Its Antecedents and Successors. The British Museum Press. pp. 7, 48–50. ISBN 978-0-7141-2763-7.
  15. Munro-Hay, Stuart (1991). Aksum: An African Civilization of Late Antiquity (PDF). Edinburgh: University Press. ISBN 978-0-7486-0106-6. p. 13
  16. Adejumobi, Saheed A. (2007). The history of Ethiopia. Westport, CN: Greenwood Press. p. 171. ISBN 978-0-313-32273-0.
  17. See the Wikipedia article on Aksumite–Persian wars.
  18. See the Wikipedia article on Migration to Abyssinia.
  19. See the Wikipedia article on History of Ethiopia.
  20. See the Wikipedia article on Solomonic dynasty.
  21. Mortimer, Ian (2007) The Fears of Henry IV, p. 111. ISBN 1-84413-529-2
  22. Silverberg, Robert, The Realm of Prester John, Ohio University Press, 1996 (paperback edition) ISBN 1-84212-409-9, p. 189
  23. See the Wikipedia article on Abyssinian–Adal war.
  24. See the Wikipedia article on Susenyos I.
  25. See the Wikipedia article on Zemene Mesafint.
  26. See the Wikipedia article on British Expedition to Abyssinia.
  27. See the Wikipedia article on Ethiopian–Egyptian War.
  28. First Italo-Ethiopian War: Battle of Adwa. ThoughtCo.
  29. Marcus Garvey. BBC.
  30. Haile Selassie I - God of the Black race. BBC
  31. See the Wikipedia article on Modernization under Haile Selassie.
  32. WW2: Italy invades Ethiopia South African History Online 16-Mar-2011
  33. How the ICRC witnessed atrocities during Italy’s Abyssinia campaign and became embroiled in diplomatic controversy International Committee of the Red Cross
  34. Antonicelli, Franco (1975). Trent'anni di storia italiana: dall'antifascismo alla Resistenza (1915–1945) lezioni con testimonianze [Thirty Years of Italian History: From Antifascism to the Resistance (1915–1945) Lessons with Testimonials]. Reprints Einaudi (in Italian). Torino: Giulio Einaudi Editore. OCLC 878595757. p. 79.
  35. Kallis, Aristotle A (2000). Fascist Ideology: Territory and Expansionism in Italy and Germany, 1922-1945. London: Routledge. p. 124. ISBN 9780203170373. OCLC 48139682.
  36. See the Wikipedia article on Italian East Africa.
  37. History of Eritrea. History World.
  38. Valdes Vivo, Raul (1977). Ethiopia's Revolution. New York, NY: International Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7178-0556-3. p. 115
  39. Anatomy of an Overthrow: How an African Leader was Toppled. Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training.
  40. Eur (2002). Africa South of the Sahara, 2003. Psychology Press. p. 383. ISBN 978-1-85743-131-5.
  41. Dagne, Haile Gabriel (2006). The commitment of the German Democratic Republic in Ethiopia: a study based on Ethiopian sources. London: Global Lit. ISBN 978-3-8258-9535-8.
  42. The Superpowers and the Ogaden War. Washington Post.
  43. US admits helping Mengistu escape. BBC News.
  44. Ethiopia's Red Terror - Original Wolde Giorgis Ethiopia's Red Terror - Original Wolde Giorgis. Libcom.org.
  45. Gebru Tareke (2009). The Ethiopian Revolution: War in the Horn of Africa. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-14163-4. p. 20
  46. de Waal, Alex (1991). Evil Days: Thirty Years of War and Famine in Ethiopia. New York & London: Human Rights Watch. ISBN 1-56432-038-3. p. 5
  47. Did Live Aid do more harm than good, David Rieff, The Guardian, 4 Jun 2005
  48. See the Wikipedia article on 1993 Eritrean independence referendum.
  49. Lyons, Terrence (1996). "Closing the Transition: the May 1995 Elections in Ethiopia". The Journal of Modern African Studies. 34 (1): 121–42. doi:10.1017/S0022278X00055233. p. 142
  50. Remembering Eritrea-Ethiopia border war: Africa's unfinished conflict. BBC News.
  51. See the Wikipedia article on 2018 Eritrea–Ethiopia summit.
  52. Obama visit highlights Ethiopia's role in fighting Islamic terrorists. USA Today.
  53. 53.0 53.1 See the Wikipedia article on 2016 Ethiopian protests.
  54. Ethiopia declares national state of emergency. BBC News.
  55. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-44764597 Ethiopia's Abiy and Eritrea's Afwerki declare end of war. BBC News.
  56. Ethnic violence displaces hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians. The New Humanitarian.
  57. 57.0 57.1 57.2 Ethiopia 2018 Report. Human Rights Watch.
  58. Ethiopia 2019 Report. Human Rights Watch.
  59. Ethiopia's leader promised to protect freedom of expression. But he keeps flicking the internet kill switch. CNN.
  60. 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. US State Department. Archived.
  61. Ethiopia: The First Christian Nation?, International Business Times, 2013
  62. See the Wikipedia article on Coptic Orthodox Church in Africa.
  63. See the Wikipedia article on Christianity in Ethiopia.
  64. "The spirit of a pure Christianity: Exploring Ethiopia's stunning subterranean churches", The Independent, 19 April 2014
  65. See the Wikipedia article on Beta Israel.
  66. See the Wikipedia article on Ethiopian Jews in Israel.
  67. "Are Ethiopians "fake" Jews? AfricaIsrael Wordpress.com
  68. Is the Ark of the Covenant at Aksum?, Roderick Grierson, PBS
  69. Beta Israel, BlackPast.org
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