Ethiopia: Land and people

The world’s most populous landlocked country

Ethiopia, formerly known as Abyssinia, is an ancient land on the horn of Africa. It has been a melting pot for the civilisations of North Africa, the middle east and sub-Saharan Africa since ancient times. The state that makes up 21st-century Ethiopia is a landlocked country. With a population of around 110 million, it is the second-most populous country on the African continent. In the north, it borders Eritrea, as well as Djibouti in the north east, Somalia in the the east, Kenya in the south, and Sudan and South Sudan in the west. Ethiopia has an area of 1,104,300 square kilometres (somewhat larger than the areas of Germany and France combined).

Ethiopia – the second-oldest Christian nation in the world after Armenia – looks back onto a proud history. It is the only country in Africa never to have been colonised (with the exception of a brutal occupation by fascist Italy during World War 2). With the return of Haile Selassie I in 1941, the allied forces re-established Ethiopia’s independence. Furthermore, pressure from the allies at the time led to the abolition of slavery, which, until then, was commonplace in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s human history reaches far back into the fog of pre-historic times, and Paleontologists believe that ancient Abyssinia is likely to have been the cradle of humanity. Fossils of Australopithecus afarensis, an upright-standing species best known in the shape of the skeleton “Lucy”, is seen as the direct predecessor of Homo Sapiens by many scientists. The fossils of the oldest known prehistoric humans – “Lucy” – believed to be 3.5 million years old – were found in Northern Ethiopia.

Starting in 1923, Ethiopia was a member of the League of Nations, as well as one of the 51 founding members of the United Nations in 1942. Furthermore, it is home to the African UN headquarters, alongside being a founding member of the African Union. In 1974, Haile Selassie’s imperial monarchy was deposed and replaced with a pro-Soviet military junta, which ruled for 17 years until the end of the cold war.


Ethiopia is a one-party state with a centrally planned economy. For over 10 years, its economy has been growing between 8% and 11% annually, one of the fastest growth rates of any of the IMF’s 188 member states.

This growth was achieved through a mix of state investments in infrastructure, as well as sustainable progress in the agricultural and service sectors. Over 70% of the country’s population still work in the agricultural sector, but services have overtaken agriculture as the main contributor to Ethiopia’s GDP. Ethiopia has very low rates of income inequality compared to other African states, and, indeed, has one of the lowest rates in the world.

Despite continuous progress and the widespread elimination of extreme poverty, Ethiopia is nonetheless one of the poorest countries in the world – likely caused by large population growth and a low baseline to begin with. The Ethiopian state is heavily involved in the country’s economy. Current infrastructure projects include electricity production and distribution, roads, railway tracks, airports and industrial parks. Foreign exchange revenue is led by the state-owned Ethiopian Airlines, followed by the export of resources.

While coffee remains the largest source of revenue for commodity exports, other resources are becoming increasingly important. Manufacturing only made up 8% of overall exports in 2016, but it is forecast to increase in the future. Ethiopia has foreign direct investment totalling approximately 8.5 million US dollars, mainly originating from China, Turkey, India and the EU.

In the autumn of 2015, the government passed and published the current five-year-plan (2016-2020) for growth and transformation (aka Growth- and transformation plan II). It emphasises the development of production across sectors in which Ethiopia has a comparative advantage, such as textiles, clothing, leather and processed agricultural goods.

In order to support its industrial development, Ethiopia plans to increase its energy production capacity by 8,320 megawatts by constructing three further dams and investing in renewable energy sources.


Ethiopia is affected by the tropical monsoon in a range of broad topographical variations. As it is a country at much higher altitude than other countries this close to the equator, Ethiopia is significantly cooler than its neighbours. Most of the country’s larger cities are at an elevation of around 2,000-2,500 metres above sea level, including the historical capitals of Gondar and Axum. Addis Ababa, East Africa’s political hub, is situated at 2,400 metres above sea level. The yearly average temperature in Addis Ababa is 16  ° C, whereas the daily average high is between 20 ° C and 25 ° C, and the average nighttime temperature is between 5 ° C and 10 ° C. In the country’s lower regions however, the climate can be significantly warmer and dryer. The dry season lasts from October until February, followed by a mild monsoon season between March and May and a heavy rainy season between June and September. Average yearly precipitation is 1,200 mm.


Ethiopia consists of a high plateau with one central mountain range, separated by the Great Rift Valley, arid lowlands in the east and lush riverlands in the west. The country’s lowest point is the Danakil depression, which, with its -125 metres is one the lowest and hottest spots on planet Earth. The highest point is Mount Ras Dejen, which, with its 4,533 metres, is covered in snow for several months of the year. The Blue Nile, the river Nile’s river Nile’s main tributary, has it’s source in T’ana Hayk (Lake Tana), in the north west of Ethiopia.