Ethiopia country profile

Ethiopia is Africa’s oldest independent country and its second largest in terms of population. Apart from a five-year occupation by Mussolini’s Italy, it has never been colonised.

It has a unique cultural heritage, being the home of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church – one of the oldest Christian denominations – and a monarchy that ended only in the coup of 1974.

It served as a symbol of African independence throughout the colonial period, and was a founder member of the United Nations and the African base for many international organisations.

Drought and civil conflict left Ethiopia in a state of turmoil until 1991, when the long authoritarian rule of Meles Zenawi brought a degree of stability.

Since 2018, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has launched a campaign of political liberalisation at home and sought to end disputes with Ethiopia’s neighbours, in particular Eritrea.


Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

Capital: Addis Ababa

Population 102.5 million

Area 1.13 million sq km (437,794 sq miles)

Major languages Amharic, Oromo, Tigrinya, Somali

Major religions Christianity, Islam

Life expectancy 63 years (men), 67 years (women)

Currency Birr


President: Sahle-Work Zewde

Parliament elected Sahle-Work Zewde as the Ethiopia’s first woman president in October 2018.

Ms Sahle-Work, an experienced diplomat, promised to work to make gender equality a reality at her swearing-in to the largely ceremonial post.

She took office a week after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appointed a cabinet with half the posts taken by women.

Prime minister: Abiy Ahmed

Abiy Ahmed was chosen to lead the ruling Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front coalition after the unexpected resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in 2018.

The new leader pledged to try to end longstanding tensions with neighbouring Eritrea, and within months the two countries declared that the state of war between them was over.

Mr Abiy also pledged to bring more transparency to government and reconciliation to a country that had been torn by protests since 2015.

He is Ethiopia’s first leader from the Oromo ethnic group, which has been at the centre of anti-government protests since 2016.


The change of government in 2018 looked set to usher in a new era for the media, which for many years had operated in one of the region’s most restrictive environments.

The state controls most broadcasting outlets, including national broadcasters ETV and Radio Ethiopia.

Internet and mobile services have been restricted during periods of social unrest.

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Some key dates in Ethiopia’s history:

4th century – Christianity becomes the state religion.

1855-1868 – Reign of Emperor Tewodros II, who lays the foundation for the modern Ethiopian state.

1896 – Invading Italian forces are defeated by Ethiopians at Adwa.

1935-1941 – Italy deposes Emperor Haile Selassie and annexes Ethiopia, before being driven out by British, Commonwealth and Ethiopian forces.

1962 – Haile Selassie annexes Eritrea, which becomes an Ethiopian province.

1974 – Haile Selassie overthrown in military coup after government fails to deal with famine.

1977-79 – Thousands are killed in “Red Terror” orchestrated by Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam.

1984-85 – Another serious famine devastates much of the country.

1991 – Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front deposes Mengistu. Meles Zenawi establishes stability and achieves considerable economic progress in his 19-year authoritarian rule.

1993 – Eritrea becomes independent.

1999-2000 – Ethiopian-Eritrean border war.

2018 – Abiy Ahmed becomes prime minister and launches reform programme at home. Ends state of war with Eritrea.

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