Ethiopia is an encyclopedia of geology and geography open for all to read under the intense blue of African sky. More than this, it is a living book in which the whole story of man from his first beginnings millions of years in the past, through all the stage of his evolution and development, may be studied with awe and wonder. The traveller in Ethiopia voyage in time as well as in space, for here the drama and beauty of the present illuminated in countless ways by the grandeur and majesty of the past and, in a nation that is building itself a new, by glimpses intuitions of a noble future.
Ethiopia is situated in the north-eastern Horn of Africa, equidistant between the Equator and the Tropic of Capricorn, its bedrock belongs to the earth’s first continent, a continent known by geologists as Gondwanaland, of which Africa forms the largest intact remnant.
Ethiopia’s history as an organized and independent country dates back to about 100 BC with a kingdom at Axum in the Northern Regional state (Killil) of Tigray. But the Axumite kingdom, as a state emerged at about the beginning of the Christian era, i.e., 4th A.D and flourished during the succeeding six or seven centuries. It then underwent prolonged decline from the eighth to the twelfth century A.D. Axum’s period of greatest power lasted from the 4th through the 6th centuries .Its core area lay in the highlands of what’s today southern Eritrea, Tigray, Lasta (in the present-day Wallo), and Angot (also in Wallo); its major centers were at Axum and Adulis. Earlier centers, such as Yeha, also contributed to its growth. At the kingdom's height, its rulers over the Red sea coast from Sawak in present day Sudan, in the North to Berbera in the present-day Somalia and inland as far as the Nile valley in modern Sudan. On the Arabian side of the Red sea, the Axumite rulers at times controlled the Coast and much of the interior of modern Yemen. During the sixth and seventh centuries, the Axumite state lost its possessions in South West Arabia and much of its Red sea coast line and gradually shrank to its core area, with the political center of the state shifting farther and farther South-ward.
The rise of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula had a significant impact on Axum kingdom during the seventh and eighth centuries. By the time of the Prophet Mohammed’s death (A.D.632), the Arabian Peninsula, and thus the entire opposite shore of the Red sea, had come under the influence of the new religion. The steady advance of the faith of Mohammed through the next century resulted in Islamic conquest of all of the former Sassanian Empire and most of the former Byzantine domination.
During the spread of Islam by conquest, the Islamic State's relations with Axum were not hostile at first. According to Islamic tradition, some members of Mohammed’s family and some of his early converts had taken refuge in Axum during the troubled years presiding the Prophet’s rise to power, and Axum was exempted from the Jihad, or Holy war, as a result. The Arabs also considered the Axumite state to be on a par with the Islamic State, the Byzantine Empire, and China of the world’s greatest kingdoms. Commerce between Axum and at least some Ports on the Red sea continued, albeit on an increasingly reduced scale.
When Axum collapsed in the eighth century, power shifted to South. As early as the mid-seventh century, the old capital at Axum had been abandoned; thereafter, it served only as a religious center and as a place of coronation for a succession of kings who traced their lineage to Axum. By then, Axumite cultural, political, and religious influence had been established South of Tigray in Agew districts such as Lasta,Wag, Angot and eventually, Amhara.
This southward expansion continued over the following several centuries. The favored technique for expansion involved the establishment of military colonies, which served as core centers from which Axumite culture, Semitic language, and Christianity spread to the surrounding Agew population. By the tenth century, a post-Axumite Christian kingdom had emerged which controlled the central Northern highlands from modern Eritrea to Shewa and the coast from old Adulis to Zeila in present-day Somalia, territory considerably larger than the Axumites had governed.
During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Shewa region became the scene of renewed Christian expansion, carried out by Semities people-the Amhara.
About 1137 A.D. a new Dynasty came to power in the Christian highlands known as the Zagwe Dynasty and its center was based in the Agew district of Lasta. It developed naturally out of the long cultural and political contact between Cushitic and Semitic-speaking peoples in the Northern highlands. Staunch Christians ,the Zagwe ,devoted themselves to the construction of new churches and monasteries. These were often modeled after Christian religious edifices in the Holy Land, a locale the Zagwe and their subjects held in special esteem. The Zagwe kings were responsible, among other things, for the great churches carved into the rock in and around their capital at Adefa. During the time Adefa became known as Lalibela, the name of the Zagwe king to whose reign the Adefa churches’ construction had been attributed. Despite the Zagwe's championing of Christianity and their artistic achievements notwithstanding, there was discontent among the populace in what is now Eritrea and Tigray and among the Amhara, an increasingly powerful people who inhabited a region called Amhara to the south of the Zagwe center at Adefa. About 1270 A.D., an Amhara noble, Yekuno Amlak, drove out the last Zagwe ruler and proclaimed himself king.
The new dynasty that Yekuno Amlak founded came to be known as the 'Solomonic' Dynasty because its scions claimed descent not only from Axum but also from king Solomon of ancient Israel. According to traditions that were eventually molded into a national epic, lineage of Axumite kings originated with the offspring of an alleged union between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Consequently, the notion arose that royal legitimacy derived from descent in a line of Solomonic kings. The Zagwes were denied to have any share in that heritage and viewed as usurpers. Yekuno Amlak’s accession, thus, came to be seen as the legitimate “restoration” of the Solomonic line.
Beginning in the thirteenth century, one of the chief problems confronting the Christian kingdom, then ruled by the Amhara, was the threat of Muslim encirclement. By that time, a variety of people East and South of the highlands had embraced Islam, and some had established powerful sultanates (or Sheikhdoms) .One of these was the Sultanate of Ifat in the North Eastern Shewa foot hills, and another was centered in the Islamic city of Harar farther East. In the lowlands along the Red Sea were two other important Muslim peoples - the Afar and the Somali.
Although the Christian state was unable to impose its rule over the Muslim states to the East, it was strong enough to resist the Muslims incursions throughout the fourteenth and most of the fifteenth century.
By the second decade of the sixteenth century, however, a young soldier in the Adali army, Ahmed Ibin Ibrhim Al Ghazi ,had begun to acquire a strong following by virtue of his military successes and in time became the de facto leader of Adal. Concurrently, he acquired the states of a religious leader. Ahmed, who came to be called Grang (the “left handed“) by his Christian enemies, rallied the ethnically diverse Muslims, including many Afar and Somali, in a Jihad intended to break Christian power.
It was not until 1543 that Emperor Galawdewos (reigned 1540-49), joined by a small number of Portuguese soldiers requested earlier by Lebena Dengel, defeated the Muslim forces and killed Gran. The death of charismatic Grang destroyed the unity of the Muslim forces that had been created by their leader’s successes, skill, and reputation as a warrior and religious figure. Christian armies slowly pushed Muslims back and regained control of the highlands.
With the request of the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia, Portugal gave an assistance for the defeat of the Muslims .The first Portuguese forces responded to a request for aid in 1541, although by that time the Portuguese were concerned primarily with strengthening their hegemony over the Indian Ocean trade routes and with converting the Ethiopians to Roman Catholicism. Nevertheless, joining the forces of the Christian kingdom, the Portuguese succeeded eventually in helping to defeat and kill Grang.
Efforts to induce the Ethiopians to reject their Monophysite beliefs and accept Rome’s supremacy continued for nearly a century and engendered bitterness as Pro-and Anti-Catholic parties maneuvered for control of the state. At last the expulsion of the Jesuits and all Roman Catholic missionaries followed. This religious controversy contributed to the isolation that followed for the next 200 years.
Emperor Fasilidas kept out the disruptive influences of the foreign Christians, dealt with sporadic Muslim incursions, and in general sought to reassert central authority and to reinvigorate the Solomonic monarchy and the Orthodox church .He established his camp at Gonder - a locale that gradually developed into a permanent capital and which became the cultural and political center of Ethiopia during the Gonder period.
After the 16th century of Fasiladas’s time most of Ethiopia’s history was dominated by regional nobility. But through this nobility sentiment, a certain king who was devoted to the unity of the country, rose. Tewodros II’s origin was in the era of the princess, but his ambitions were not those of the regional nobility. After controlling Shewa, he faced constant rebellions in other provinces, despite the fact that he could reign in a relatively peaceful atmosphere from 1861 to 1863. After 1863 internal and external oppositions were enhanced against Emperor Tewodros and Emperor Yohannes succeeded him in 1868.
By the late 18th century; although powerless Emperors and the Ethiopian Orthodox (Coptic) church provided an element of continuity, real power was in the hands of provincial Nobles from the highlands of Tigry, Oromo and Amhara, who fought for control of the throne .In 1880’s Yohannes IV from Tigray region successfully fended off Egyptians, Italians and Dervishes; his successor, Menilik of shoa, reunited and expanded the empire to the East, South and West of Shoa, taking over largely Oromo inhabited areas rich in coffee, gold, ivory and slaves. Menilik‘s successes coincides with the arrival of the European colonial powers. He defeated the Italians at the battle of Adowa in 1896.
Menilik (who died in 1913) presided over the first stages of Ethiopian’s modernization Haile Selassie (Emperor during1930-74) ;turned Ethiopia into a centralized autocracy. The process was interrupted by the Italian invasion and conquest of 1935-41. But after Ethiopia’s liberation Emperor Haile Selassie continued a largely successful policy of centralization, playing off the United Kingdom, which came close to occupying Ethiopia after 1941 (it only withdrew from the Ogaden in 1948 and reserved Haud area in 1954), against the USA. In 1952, after protracted discussion, Eritrea, a UN-mandated territory after the war, was federated with Ethiopia. Haile Silassie immediately begun dismantling its institutions, including the press ,trade unions, political parties and the elected parliament ,an anathema to his own highly centralized structure of control. In 1962 Eritrea became a province of Ethiopia, igniting the Eritrean struggle for independence. The struggle originally led by the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), suported mainly by Muslim pastoralists from low land areas, by the early 1970’s was joined by the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), which was more representative of the Tigrian highland agriculturists.
Emperor Haile Sellasie I supplied the trappings of a more modern state, including, in 1955, a constitution with an elected, though powerless, parliament. He made no real effort to change land policy, or adjust the hierarchies of administrative power. During his reign Ethiopia remained essentially feudal, with small Amhara-dominated modern sectors in the bureaucracy and in industry. This provided the impetus for opposition among non-Amhara nationalities, in Tigrai region in 1943, among Oromos and Somalies in Bale in 1963-70 , and after 1961 in Eritrea. Emperor Haile Sellasie himself preferred to concentrate on international affairs. During his era Addis Ababa became the head quarters of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), and the UN Economic Commission for Africa. His main ally was the USA. Ethiopia, the main recipient of US aid in Africa in the 1950s and 1960s, provided the USA with a major communications base at Kagnew, in Eritrea.
Long term weaknesses of the regime included a growing agrarian crisis, inequitable distribution of land, and lack of development. More immediately, the costs of the revolt in Eritrea after 1961, drought and famine in Wallo in 1972-74 (in which 200,000 people died), and, by 1973, Haile Sellasie ‘s own near senility and his failure to designate an heir, fuelled the grievances of the military, students and workers. A series of army mutinies, started in January 1974, accompanied paralleled civilian strikes. Attempts at reform by a new Prime Minister made little progress, and from June a coordinating committee of the armed forces begun to arrest leading officials. Haile Sellasie was deposed in September, and was murdered the following year. His remains were finally reburied in Trinity Cathedral in November 2001, with the presence of many of the exiled royal family.The monarchy was formally abolished in March 1975.
Under the influence of left-wing politicians, the Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC), which replaced the Imperial regime, begun to see itself as the vanguard of Ethiopian revolution. In December 1974, Ethiopia was declared a Socialist state, and a program of revolutionary reforms called Ethiopia Tikdem ('Ethiopia First’) was initiated.
In April 1976, the Derg set forth its goals in greater detail in the program for the National Democratic Revolution (PNDR). As announced by the leaders, these objectives included progress toward Socialism under the leadership of workers, peasants, the petite bourgeoisie, and all anti-feudal and anti-imperialist forces. The Derg’s ultimate aim was the creation of a one party system.
Soon after taking power, the Derg promoted Ye-Itiopia Hibrtesebeawinet (Ethiopian Socialism). The concept was embodied in slogans such as “self-reliance,” “the dignity of labor” and “the supremacy of the common good.” These slogans were devised to combat the wide spread disdain of mutual labor and a deeply rooted concern with status.
Although the government took a radical approach to land reform, it exercised some caution with respect to the industrial and commercial sectors .In January and February 1975, the Derg nationalized all Banks and Insurance firms and seized control of practically every important company in the country.
In February 1977, Mengistu declared himself as Derg’s chairman and set about consolidating his power. However, several internal and external challenges prevented Mengistu from doing this. Various insurgent groups posed the most serious threat to the Derg. In February 1977, a terrorist attack known as the White Terror had been initiated against Derg members and their supporters. This violence provoked a government's counteraction-the Red Terror. During the Red Terror, which lasted until late 1978, government security forces systematically hunted down and killed suspected members and supporters of opposition groups. Mengistu and the Derg eventually won the struggle.
Despite strengthening its power, Derg couldn’t stand the activities of insurgencies which appeared in various parts of the country, the most important of which were in Eritrea and Tigray. The Derg decided to impose a military settlement on the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). Attempts to invade rebel-held Eritrea failed repeatedly, and the insurgent groups controlled most of the country. Despite large commitments of arms and training from Communist countries, the Derg failed to suppress the opposition. The rebels controlled the country in 1991 & establish their own government by the name of Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).