The purpose of this lesson is to give the students background information on Ethiopia. This is the first of four lessons and gives valuable information to help you understand the lessons that follow.
*Please take note that in this activity many different statistics are given, but they may not be completely accurate now due to the time they were taken or recorded- please keep this in mind that these figures may have changed in recent years.
With a history dating back more than 2,000 years Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Africa. Unlike all other African countries, Ethiopia (along with Liberia) was never colonized by a European power. It is also home to one of the world’s oldest known ancient civilizations. The official name for Ethiopia is the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
Location of Ethiopia
Ethiopia can be found in the Horn of Africa. It is located in northeastern Africa. It borders Eritrea on the north, Dijibouti and Somalia on the east, Kenya on the south, and Sudan on the west. It is a landlocked country (since Eritrean independence in 1993).
Climate of Ethiopia
The climate of Ethiopia is varied depending on the location within the country. In the Somali region a hot, dry semi-desert climate exists. In the Sobat lower basin there are hot, swampy tropical climate conditions. The highlands of Ethiopia has an Alpine climate character. The greater part of Ethiopia though is temperate and healthy due to the high lands that dominate much of Ethiopia’s topography. The country itself lies within the tropics and is near the equator. Ethiopia is divided into three seasons: winter (the cold season) which lasts from October to February, which is followed by a hot, dry period from March to June, and after this begins the rainy season from mid-June to September (which is the heaviest in July and August). The rainy season varies from region to region within Ethiopia. The rainy seasons are of great value to Ethiopians and they are very dependent on rainfall as also is the Nile River and other countries like Sudan and Egypt, since the Ethiopian tributaries carry water into the Blue Nile River and subsequently into these countries.
Landscape of Ethiopia
Like the climate of Ethiopia, the landscape also is varied. There are many physical features in the country, such as highlands, plateaus, mountains, lakes, rivers, and hills. If one looks at the satellite image above, many of these features are visible. This landscape has been able to sustain a high population density. Ethiopia has a long agricultural history thanks to the fertile soils from the Great Rift Valley (See East African Region Module 19 for more information). Below are some of the features that make up the landscape of Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian Highlands (or Ethiopian Plateau) are a mass of rugged mountains. It is sometimes called the “roof of Africa” because of their height (15,000-16,000 feet) and the large area (half of the area of Ethiopia) they cover. They also run through Eritrea and Somalia. There are two portions of the highlands, the northwestern and southeastern divided by the Great Rift Valley. The highlands are surrounded by tropical savannahs and grasslands in the lower elevations. In the north, the plateau has been cut by many deep valleys and rivers; and in the area around Lake T’ana, there lie snow-capped mountains. The northeastern part of the plateau is marked by steep escarpments that drop to the coastal plain and Denakil Desert. In the south, the plateau lowers down to another lake, Lake Turkana, on the border with Kenya.
Great Rift Valley
The Great Rift Valley is a geological feature that runs through countries from Syria to Mozambique. The Great Rift Valley was caused by rifting (pulling apart) of the earth’s tectonic plates that were once joined together. The rift valley is home to seven salt lakes that are habitats for exotic flora and fauna, and also many hot springs. It has been home to many great anthropological findings such as “Lucy” due to its favorable environment for preservation.
*Why do you think Ethiopia is so conducive for finding fossil remains?
Lake T’ana is the source of the Blue Nile. It is the largest lake in Ethiopia. A weir (a type of small over-flow dam) has been constructed on the lake to regulate the lake level and the flow to the falls and hydro-electric station. There are 37 islands on this lake. Many of the islands hold monasteries of the Ethiopian Church.
Blue Nile Falls
The Blue Nile Falls are also known as the “Tis Issat” (smoke of fire). It is one of Ethiopia’s most famous tourist attractions. The flow of the falls has changed since 2003 when a hydro-electric station was built. Previously it would only trickle during the dry season and then flow much more heavily during the wet season. Now much of the flow is taken out of the falls, except during the rainy seasons.
Denakil Desert and Denakil Depression (also called the Afar depression)
The Denakil Desert is known as one of the most inhospitable places on earth. Not only is it home to the world’s highest average temperatures but it also hosts yellow sulfur fields and boiling water spouts. The Denakil Depression is a result of faulting and cracking. There are natural beds of salt along with other remnants of past volcanic activity.
Lake Turkana (formerly Lake Rudolph)
Lake Turkana is yet another lake found in the Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia. Lake Turkana is the world’s largest permanent desert lake and the largest alkaline lake in the world. It is home to a variety of wildlife – from Nile crocodiles to scorpions. It is home to Central Island, which is still an active volcano. Much of Lake Turkana is found in Kenya, with the small northern tip crossing the Ethiopian border.
Vegetation of Ethiopia
The vegetation found in Ethiopia is also diverse. The lowlands and valleys have dense populations of vegetation, while the plateaus seem somewhat bare in comparison. In the south, much of the flora is luxurious. Much of the flora found in Ethiopia comes from Afromontane species. This is a species common to mountainous regions of Africa. The many varieties found include: Podocarpus (rich conifers), date palms, wild olive, sycamores, mimosa, junipers and laurels, myrrh and other gum trees, fig, orange, pomegranate, peach, and other fruit trees, as well as blackberry, raspberry, cotton and indigo plants. In the south, valuable timber trees and coffee plants can also be found. There are abundant grasses and flowers found in Ethiopia.
Also see:http://www.pbs.org/wnet/africa/explore/ethiopia/ethiopia_vegetation.html for more on vegetation in Ethiopia.
Fauna of Ethiopia
In Ethiopia there is a variety of fauna that can be found. Depending on where you are in Ethiopia you will find certain types of animals. Native to most of Ethiopia is the elephant, rhinoceros, leopard, lynx, wolf, monkey, baboon, hares, squirrels, gazelle, and jackal. They can be found in many places in Ethiopia. Animals like the hippopotamus and crocodile can be found inhabiting large rivers that flow west, lions are found in the low country, the giraffe is found in western areas, and zebras in the northern low plateaus and rocky hills. There are a variety of birds also found in Ethiopia including the ostrich, eagle, vulture, hawk, duck, partridge, parrot, hummingbird, guinea fowl, and others. Insects such as the bee, locust, butterflies and tsetse fly can be found. There are several poisonous species found in Ethiopia, though they are not numerous. There are also other fauna that are found in Ethiopia that are not mentioned here. Many of the animals of Ethiopia are endangered or threatened. Three species of fauna that are native to Ethiopia are the Gelada Baboon, Lammergeier Vulture, and the Ethiopian Wolf. The Gelada Baboon is found only in Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is an herbivorous primate that can graze in herds of around 600. The Lammergeier Vulture lives on a diet of 90% bone marrow. It carries bones up in the air and then drops it against the mountain rocks to break into the bone marrow. The Ethiopian Wolf is on the endangered animals list. Thousands of years ago this wolf lived in the grassy highlands that were much cooler and full of grassland rodents to thrive upon. With temperatures warming – the grasses are now less plentiful, as are the rodents that eat that grass and the Ethiopian wolf that preys on the rodents, causing the wolf to be endangered. The wolf cannot move elsewhere as its niche is found in these mountainous areas and the animal has lost its ability to hunt in packs.
Go to http://www.pbs.org/wnet/africa/explore/ethiopia/ethiopia_animals.html for more information on the fauna of Ethiopia.
Go to the website: http://www.animalinfo.org/country/ethiopia.htm. Choose an animal off of the list of the critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable list. Create a poster to inform your classmates about the animal you chose but also inform them about why this animal is included on this list. Come up with some ways that this type of animal could be saved. Discuss the impact on the region if it was to go extinct.
Environmental Degradation in Ethiopia
The environment of Ethiopia is facing some devastating conditions. The issues such as soil erosion, overgrazing, and deforestation have caused degradation in Ethiopia. With the large portion of the population relying heavily on farming, a great amount of forest has been cut down to make room for more land to farm as the country’s population continues to grow at a fast rate. Some statistics say that Ethiopia has lost around 98% of its forested land within the last 50 years. The trees are also used or sold as fuel for cooking. Much of the land is also being overgrazed by the largest livestock herds in Africa. The increasing frequent droughts that Ethiopia has experienced over the past half century also contributes to environmental degradation. Soil erosion is also an issue due to the trees (that help protect the soil) being removed for firewood/fuel and to make space for expanding agriculture, then soil gets carried into the waterways, which also lowers the level of nutrients found in the soil. This all means that animal habitats are being destroyed and that certain ecosystems hang in the balance.
Economy of Ethiopia
The economy of Ethiopia is heavily reliant on agriculture. It not only accounts for half of Ethiopia’s Gross Domestic Product, but it also accounts for 60% of exports and 80% of Ethiopia’s employment. Ethiopian’s resources are not fully exploited yet, especially in the industrial and agriculture sector. There is some potential for growth but lack of financial resources limits growth for these sectors in Ethiopia.
Agriculture in Ethiopia
The major primary crop and export of Ethiopia is coffee, which is indigenous to Ethiopia. The other agricultural products include: teff, (Ethiopia’s most important food crop that is used to make injera, a pancake –like bread) flowers, cotton, sugar, fruit, vegetables, oilseeds, cereal grains and pulses (lentils, chickpeas, haricot beans). Other agricultural products also include livestock such as cattle, goats, sheep, poultry, horses, mules, camels and donkeys. There are also mineral resources found in Ethiopia such as iron, gold, marble, limestone, potash, copper and salt. However, minerals play a minor role in Ethiopia’s economy.
The Service Sector and Tourism in Ethiopia
Industry in Ethiopia
Primarily, Ethiopia’s industrial sector is engaged in food processing. This sector also includes the production of beverages, sugar, leather, textiles and cotton, footwear, soap, quicklime and cement. Though it has not been proven that Ethiopia has natural gas and oil reserves, geologists indicate that there is some potential that reserves will be found in the country. A majority of the industrial production is done around the capital city Addis Ababa. Access to ports is a key for Ethiopia’s industrial success. Prior to the border war with Eritrea, their industrial goods passed through Assab (an Eritrean port); now trade has been shifted to Djibouti and other areas. A major objective of the government of Ethiopia is to help privatize companies to improve the industrial sector.
A small percentage of Ethiopians work in the service center (around 12%). It is an important component to Ethiopia’s economy. The sector consists of trade, transport, communications, banking, real estate, insurance, public administration and defense, education, health and other personal services. Tourism is a developing enterprise in Ethiopia. It has a great wealth of historical landmarks, animal life, and culture to attract tourism in Ethiopia. It is an ideal location for visitors looking for historical and cultural expeditions.
Cities of Ethiopia
Addis Ababa (meaning “new flower”)
Addis Ababa is Ethiopia’s capital city (and largest city), and is located in the center of Ethiopia. Addis is the diplomatic capital of Africa having more than 90 embassies and consular representatives. It was also chosen in 1988 as the headquarters for the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. Since 1963 they have also housed the headquarters of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). In 2002 the OAU and the African Economic Community (AEC) joined to become the African Union, which has headquarters in Addis Ababa.
Addis was founded in 1886 by Emperor Menilek II’s wife, Empress Taitu while he was away on military campaign. It was founded on the site of the hot springs. Since its’ founding, the city has grown to a population of 3.5 million people. Many rural refugees have fled into the city looking for security and jobs. Addis Ababa is a city that makes up 24% of the urban population in Ethiopia.
Important Landmarks of Addis Ababa
Addis Ababa is home to many of Ethiopia’s important historical and cultural landmarks. In the city you will find the Ethiopian National Library, Addis Ababa Museum, Ethiopian Natural History Museum, Ethiopian Ethnological Museum (which is a former palace), and much more. There are many notable buildings like St. George’s Cathedral, the National Palace, the Hager Fikir Theatre (oldest indigenous theatre in Africa and was founded in 1935), and others.
Dire Dawa (meaning “place of remedy”)
Dire Dawa is the second chartered city of Ethiopia. It was built in 1902 after the Dijibouti Railroad had been built. It is the second largest city in Ethiopia. The city has a large industrial center and is home to many manufacturers and markets. Dire Dawa’s population is around 400,000 people. In August of 2006, the city faced a devastating flood.
Founded by Emperor Fasilides in 1635, Gondar was the capital of Abbasynia for two centuries. It is now a tourist attraction known for its historical significance and landmarks. Each emperor seemed to have built their own castle; it may have been a way to prove their superiority to their elders – showing their status. Many of those castles are still in Gondar. There are around 195,000 inhabitants as of 2005 in the city. During the Timket Festival Gondar becomes a city for all to celebrate Epiphany and have a mass baptism in the Fasilides Bath.
This ancient city was founded in 1520. Harar (also spelled Hărer) was an important trading center and is a historically important holy city. It contains over 100 mosques within the city walls. It is home to Harari culture, Islamic architecture and much more.
Demographics of Ethiopia
The population of Ethiopia has grown rapidly and this population is diverse. Over 79 million people inhabit Ethiopia. Demographers estimate that more than 80% of the country’s population lives in rural areas, despite fairly rapid urbanization. Whether they are concentrated in the city or in the rural areas of Ethiopia, there are a variety of cultures found within Ethiopia’s borders.
Ethnic Groups – Ethiopia has many ethnic groups that make up their population (Please remember the percentages given here are recorded from a 1994 census and could vary greatly and have been disputed).
- Oromo – the Oromo are indigenous to this part of Africa and make up 32 percent of the population.
- Amhara– the Amhara are a highland people who make up around 30 percent of the population.
- Tigrinya – the Tigrinya have been agriculturalists that make up 6 percent of the population.
- Somali – the Somali are a large ethnic group in Africa and make up around 6 percent of the Ethiopian population
These four ethnic groups make up about three-quarters of the Ethiopian population. But, there are many more ethnic groups within Ethiopia – over 80.
Create a chart or graph based on the statistics given above, or find newer statistics on the demographics and create a chart or graph from those.
Regions of Ethiopia
Ethiopia is split into 9 ethnically divided regions along with two self-governing administrations. They are listed below. The federal government oversees these ethnic based regions. Each region has power to establish a regional government, as stated in the federal constitution. The regional states themselves are also divided into zones, districts and neighborhoods which each have a structure of power.
Pick a specific region and have students either in partners or individually research that region. Discuss climate, economy, culture, religion, history, etc. of the region with your classmates. Create an informational poster, flyer, brochure, presentation, etc. to promote their region to your classmates.You may be able to get more information from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
Languages– As one can imagine, the languages of Ethiopia are as diverse as the population. As many as 84 indigenous languages are spoken in Ethiopia. English is the widely spoken foreign language used in places such as secondary schools and universities. The two main family of languages spoken are: Afro-Asiatic and Nilo-Saharan.
For more on religion in Ethiopia go to Activity 3: Religions of Ethiopia.
Religion– Religion in Ethiopia consists of 60.8% (50.6% Orthodox and 10.2% Protestant) Christians, 32.8% Muslim, 4.6% traditional, and 1.8% other (these are estimates from the 1994 census). Christianity is practiced predominantly in the north, while the southern regions have Muslim majorities. There are also Ethiopian Jews that make up a small percentage of the population.
Use the data given above and make a new type of table, graph, or chart to represent the same data. Look for newly updated statistics on the web – a new census has been taken since then. Compare the data and see how Ethiopia has changed over the past few years. Discuss reasons why these changes might have occurred.
Go on to Activity Two: History of Ethiopia or choose from one of the other activities in this module.