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Ethiopia, republic in northeastern Africa, officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Ethiopia is bounded on the northeast by Eritrea and Djibouti, on the east and southeast by Somalia, on the southwest by Kenya, and on the west and northwest by Sudan. A high plateau capped with rugged mountains covers much of Ethiopia; lowland deserts surround the plateau region. Agriculture, the country’s chief economic activity, is carried out in the fertile plateau area.

Ethiopia has a diverse population, with more than 70 distinct ethnic and linguistic groups. The 1994 constitution established Ethiopia as a federation and created nine regions for the country’s main ethnic groups.

Known as Abyssinia until the 20th century, Ethiopia is the oldest independent nation in Africa. It was home to the powerful Christian kingdom of Aksum in the first centuries AD and became a Christian empire in the 15th century. After the 1500s Ethiopia divided into a number of small kingdoms, which were reunified by Menelik II in the 1880s. Eritrea, which had been part of Ethiopia since the 1950s, became an independent nation in 1993 after a protracted civil war. Addis Ababa is Ethiopia’s capital and largest city.

Ethiopia covers an area of 1,133,380 sq km (437,600 sq mi). The heart of the country is a high tableland, known as the Ethiopian Plateau, that covers more than half the total area of the country. The plateau is split diagonally in a northeastern to southwestern direction by the Great Rift Valley. Although the average elevation of the plateau is about 1,680 m (about 5,500 ft), it is cut by many rivers and deep valleys, some of which are 600 m (2,000 ft) below the level of the plateau. The area is capped by mountains, the highest of which is Ras Dashen (4,620 m/15,158 ft). These heights and indentations occur in northern Ethiopia, in the region surrounding Lake T’ana (the lake in which the Blue Nile rises). The northeastern edges of the plateau are marked by steep escarpments, which drop some 1,200 m (about 4,000 ft) or more to the Denakil Desert. Along the western fringe the plateau descends less abruptly to the desert of Sudan. Along the southern and southwestern limits, the plateau lowers toward Lake Turkana (formerly called Lake Rudolf).

A Climate  The climate of Ethiopia varies mainly according to elevation. The tropical zone below approximately 1,800 m (approximately 6,000 ft) has an average annual temperature of about 27° C (about 80° F) and receives less than about 500 mm (about 20 in) of rain annually. The subtropical zone, which includes most of the highland plateau and is between about 1,800 and 2,400 m (about 6,000 and 8,000 ft) in elevation, has an average temperature of about 22° C (about 72° F) with an annual rainfall ranging from about 500 to 1,500 mm (about 20 to 60 in). Above approximately 2,400 m (approximately 8,000 ft) is a temperate zone with an average temperature of about 16° C (about 61° F) and an annual rainfall between about 1,300 and 1,800 mm (about 50 and 70 in). The principal rainy season occurs between mid-June and September, followed by a dry season that may be interrupted in February or March by a short rainy season.

B Natural Resources  
The resources of Ethiopia are primarily agricultural. The plateau area is fertile and largely undeveloped. The wide range of soils, climate, and elevations permits the production of a diversified range of agricultural commodities. A variety of mineral deposits exist; iron, copper, petroleum, salt, potash, gold, and platinum are the principal ones that have been commercially exploited.

C Plants and Animals  The great variations in elevation are directly reflected in the kind of vegetation found in Ethiopia. The lower areas of the tropical zone have sparse vegetation consisting of desert shrubs, thornbushes, and coarse savanna grasses. In the valleys and ravines almost every form of African vegetation grows profusely. The temperate zone is largely covered with grassland. Afro-alpine vegetation is found on the highest slopes.

The larger species of African wildlife are native to most parts of the country. These include the giraffe, leopard, hippopotamus, lion, elephant, antelope, and rhinoceros. The lynx, jackal, hyena, and various species of monkey are common. Birds of prey include the eagle, hawk, and vulture. Heron, parrot, and such game birds as the snipe, partridge, teal, pigeon, and bustard are found in abundance. Among the many varieties of insects are the locust and tsetse fly.

D Soils  The highland of Ethiopia is made up of folded and fractured crystalline rocks capped by sedimentary limestone and sandstone and by thick layers of volcanic lava. The torrential rains of the main rainy season cause severe erosion, especially in areas where all natural vegetation has been cleared. The rains also leach the highland soils of much fertility, particularly those soils overlying crystalline rocks. The volcanic soils of the highland are less readily leached and therefore are more fertile.

Occupations in agriculture support 86 percent of all Ethiopians. Most agriculture consists of subsistence farming. The population is concentrated heavily in the central plateau region, where agricultural resources are most developed. The ethnic composition is extremely diverse, as a result of racial and linguistic integration that began in ancient times.

A Population Characteristics  The population of Ethiopia (1998 estimate) is 58,390,351 estimate, yielding an overall density of 52 persons per sq km (133 per sq mi). The Amhara, who founded the original nation, and the related Tigreans, both of whom are highland peoples of partly Semitic origin, constitute about 32 percent of the total population. They occupy the northwestern Ethiopian highlands and the area north of Addis Ababa. The Oromo, a pastoral and agricultural people who live mainly in central and southwestern Ethiopia, constitute about 40 percent of the population. The Shankella, a people in the western part of the country from the border of Eritrea to Lake Turkana, constitute about 6 percent of the population. The Somali, who live in the east and southeast, notably in the Ogadçn region, are about equal in number to the Shangalla. The Denakil inhabit the semidesert plains east of the highlands. The nonindigenous population includes Yemenis, Indians, Armenians, and Greeks.

B Political Divisions  Ethiopia is divided into nine regions composed of specific ethnic groups. The regions, which have a significant degree of autonomy, are Tigray; Afar; Amhara; Oromia; Somalia; Benshangul-Gumaz; Gambela; Harar; and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples, which comprises about 41 ethnic groups.

C Principal Cities  

Addis Ababa is the largest city in Ethiopia; other major cities include Dirç Dawa, Gonder, and Nazrçt. In 1997 only 16 percent of the population was classified as urban.

D Religion  
The Ethiopian Orthodox Union church, an autonomous Christian sect headed by a patriarch and closely related to the Coptic church of Egypt, was the state church of Ethiopia until 1974.

About 40 percent of the people of Ethiopia are Christians, and Christianity is predominant in the north. All the southern regions have Muslim majorities, who represent about 45 percent of the country’s population. The south also contains considerable numbers of animists. The Falashas, who practice a type of Judaism that probably dates back to contact with early Arabian Jews, were airlifted to Israel in 1991 during Ethiopia’s civil war.

E Language  Of the 70 or more languages spoken in Ethiopia, most belong to the Semitic and Cushitic branches of the Afro-Asiatic family (see African Languages). The language of the Ethiopian church liturgy, Gecez, gave rise to the Semitic cluster of languages: Amharic, Tigrinya, and Tigre. Amharic, the country’s official language, is spoken by more than half of the population. English and Arabic are also spoken by many people.

F Education  Education has expanded considerably since 1952, when only 4 percent of the adult population was literate. Since then, many schools have been opened, and several teacher-training schools have graduated numerous teachers. A major program to increase literacy was started in 1979; but by 1995 only 36 percent of the adult population could read and write. Although free education exists from primary school through the college level, regular school facilities are able to enroll only 43 percent of the children of school age. In the 1995 school year 3.4 million students attended primary schools run by the government and religious groups. The number of students enrolled in secondary schools was 819,242. Addis Ababa University (1950) has branches in Âwasa, Bahir Dar, Debre Zeyit, and Gonder. The ‘Alemaya University of Agriculture was founded in 1962. Colleges and universities enrolled 35,027 students in 1995.

G Culture  
The most significant area of Ethiopian culture is in the field of literature, represented predominantly by translations from ancient Greek, Arabic, and other languages into the ancient Gecez and modern Amharic. Most of the works are theological or mythological in nature. Secular literature is largely confined to history.

Ecclesiastical architecture is relatively rich because of the early advent of Christianity in the country. Such structures and their frescoes usually show both Byzantine and Coptic influences. Ethiopia’s skillful and imaginative silversmithing is also notable.

Ethiopia is one of the world’s poorest nations, with a per-capita gross domestic product (GDP of $110 a year in 1997). The economy of Ethiopia remains heavily dependent on the earnings of the agricultural sector. Participation by most of the people in the monetary economy is limited; much trading is conducted by barter in local markets. The estimated annual budget in 1993 included $630 million in revenues and $968 million in expenditures.

A Agriculture  
Agriculture by traditional methods, including the raising of livestock, is the most characteristic form of Ethiopian economic activity. Commercial estates, which are run by the government, supply coffee, cotton, sugar, fruit, and vegetables to the nation’s processing industries and for export. Pulses (chickpeas, lentils, haricot beans) and oilseeds are also grown on a commercial scale. The most important food crops grown primarily for local consumption are cereal grains. Periodic droughts have greatly reduced agricultural output and forced Ethiopia to import basic foodstuffs.

Despite a government program of diversification, coffee remains Ethiopia’s most important commodity. About one-fourth of the population is engaged in its production.

In 1998 the livestock population included 29.9 million cattle, 22 million sheep, 17 million goats, 55 million poultry birds, and smaller numbers of horses, mules, donkeys, and camels. About one-third of the cattle are oxen used for heavy labor. Sheep and goats are raised primarily for skins and meat.

B Mining  Although many mineral deposits exist in Ethiopia, thick layers of volcanic lava cover the older ore-bearing rock and render exploitation difficult. Outcroppings of iron, copper, zinc, and lead have been mined since ancient times. Small quantities of gold and platinum are mined, and deposits of petroleum and natural gas have been found. About 110,000 metric tons of salt were mined annually in the early 1990s. Ethiopia also has considerable untapped deposits of high-quality potash.

C Manufacturing  Manufacturing is primarily oriented toward the processing of agricultural commodities. Petroleum refining and the production of textiles are the second and third most important industries. During the 1960s the gross annual value of manufactured products was accelerated considerably. The industrial base was broadened by the establishment of various metalworking industries and factories for the production of consumer goods and industrial commodities. The principal manufacturing center is Addis Ababa.

D Energy  Ethiopia has great potential for producing hydroelectricity. While in 1997 some 90 percent of the country’s relatively small yearly electricity output was generated by hydroelectric facilities, the amount produced year-to-year depends heavily upon regular rainfall. In 1997 annual production of electricity was 1.8 billion kilowatt-hours.

E Currency and Banking  Ethiopia’s unit of currency, the birr, is issued by the National Bank of Ethiopia (6.71 birr equal U.S.$1; 1997 average). Other banks in the country include the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia and the Agricultural and Industrial Development Bank.

F Trade  Ethiopia is primarily an exporter of agricultural products and an importer of consumer and capital goods. In 1996 exports amounted to $417 million, and imports cost the country $1,358 million. Coffee accounts for about two-thirds of all exports and is the most valuable foreign-exchange earner. Other traditionally important exports are pulses, hides and skins, fruits and vegetables, and oilseeds, although recent droughts have disrupted agricultural activity. Leading purchasers of exports are Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia, France, and Italy; chief suppliers of imports are the United States, Germany, and Italy.

G Transportation and Communications  The Ethiopian terrain makes land travel difficult. Because many areas are inaccessible by road and others are inadequately served by surface transportation, air transport is of great importance. A government-owned airline company, Ethiopian Airlines, handles both domestic and international air service. International airports serve Addis Ababa and Dirç Dawa. The capital is connected by rail with the port of Djibouti, on an inlet of the Gulf of Aden. Ethiopia has 28,500 km (17,709 mi) of roads, of which 15 percent are paved. A highway links Addis Ababa with Nairobi, Kenya. The Voice of Ethiopia makes radio broadcasts daily in Amharic, Arabic, Somali, Afar, Oromifa, Tigrinya, English, and French. Television broadcasting is government controlled.

Between 1974 and 1987, Ethiopia was governed by the Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC), also known as the Derg. The council came to power following the deposition of Emperor Haile Selassie I on September 12, 1974. It suspended the revised constitution of 1955 and disbanded the bicameral parliament. In March 1975 the council abolished Ethiopia’s hereditary monarchy. The council was made up of about 80 people, most of whom were members of the armed forces or police. It was headed by a chairman, who was the country’s chief government official.

A program published by the council in late 1974 called for the state to play a leading role in the country’s economy and the creation of a specifically Ethiopian brand of socialism. It also called for the establishment of a single, all-embracing political party. The Union of Ethiopian Marxist-Leninist Organizations was created in 1977 as an umbrella party of various political organizations. In 1984 these organizations were disbanded and replaced with the newly created Workers’ Party of Ethiopia, which functioned as the nation’s only legal political party until 1991, when other parties were legalized. The party changed its name to the Ethiopian Democratic Unity Party in 1990, after relaxing its ideology.

In 1991 the Marxist-Leninist government was ousted by two allied rebel movements, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). Under a provisional charter, an 87-member elected Council of Representatives chose a president to govern Ethiopia, pending general elections. A separate government was established in Eritrea, which was then a province of Ethiopia. Eritrea was recognized as an independent republic in May 1993. In June 1994 Ethiopian voters elected representatives to the Constituent Assembly charged with drafting a new constitution. The constitution was adopted in December, and in May 1995 a new legislative body, the Council of People’s Representatives, was elected.

A Executive and Legislature  According to the 1994 constitution, the head of state is the president, who is elected by the Council of People’s Representatives. A president may not serve more than two six-year terms. The legislature also nominates a prime minister from among its members. The prime minister is the chief executive and heads a Council of Ministers, made up of representatives from a coalition of parties constituting a majority in the legislature. The Council of People’s Representatives consists of a maximum of 550 directly elected members; at least 20 of these representatives must be members of minority ethnic groups.

B Local Government  Ethiopia is made up of nine regions, most with a distinct ethnic majority. Each region has a regional council that may establish lower levels of jurisdiction to allow people to participate in self-government. In accordance with the 1994 constitution, individual ethnic groups within a region have the right to form their own regions or to secede from the federation.

C Judiciary  The Ethiopian judicial system consists of two principal branches; the Federal Supreme Court has final jurisdiction over federal cases, and the regional supreme courts have final jurisdiction over regional concerns. Regional supreme courts may also serve as federal first-instance courts. Federal judges are nominated by the prime minister and appointed after approval by the Council of Peoples’ Representatives.

D Defense  In the late 1980s the Ethiopian army had 313,000 members; the air force, 4,000; and the navy, 1,800. Following the overthrow of Ethiopia’s Marxist-Leninist government in 1991, the armed forces ceased to exist. Army equipment was divided between the EPRDF and the EPLF. In 1997 membership in the EPRDF was estimated at 100,000. In the late 1970s and in the 1980s Ethiopia received military equipment from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) to use in fighting rebel forces; Cuban troops were stationed in Ethiopia from 1977 until 1989.

During the 1st millennium BC, Semitic people from Saba’ (Hebrew Sheba) crossed the Red Sea and conquered the Hamite on the coast of what was eventually to become the Ethiopian Empire. By the 2nd century AD the victors had established the kingdom of Aksum. The kingdom was ruled by the Solomonid dynasty, so called because the kings claimed direct descent from the biblical king Solomon and the queen of Sheba. Aksum converted to Christianity, belonging to the same tradition as the Coptic Christians of Egypt. It flourished for a while, but beginning in about the 7th century the kingdom declined as the Solomonids lost control of section after section of their realm. Early in the 10th century the Solomonid dynasty was overthrown and replaced by the Zagwe dynasty, the ruling family of a region on the central plateau known as Lasta. Regaining control of the country around or after 1260, the Solomonids gradually succeeded in reasserting their authority over much of Ethiopia, although Muslims retained control of the coastal area and the southeast. During the reign (1434-1468) of Zara Yakub, the administration of the Ethiopian church, which had become divided by factionalism, was reformed, and religious doctrines were codified. At about this time a political system emerged that lasted until the middle of the 20th century. It was characterized by absolutist monarchs who exacted military service in return for grants of land.

A European Influence  When Muslims from Hârer invaded Ethiopia beginning about 1527, the emperor, as the ruler was now called, asked the Portuguese for assistance, and with their help the Ethiopians defeated the Muslims in 1542. In 1557 Jesuit missionaries arrived, but their ongoing attempts to convert the Ethiopian emperors from Coptic Christianity to Roman Catholicism were largely unsuccessful, and provoked social and political unrest in those who felt the Coptic Church was the backbone of an independent Ethiopian culture. In 1632, following a period of turbulence and dynastic confusion, Fasiladas became emperor. He was succeeded by his son, Johannes I, in 1637. During the 17th century the country experienced an artistic renaissance for Ethiopian culture, as it was exposed to styles of expression from Western Europe and the Muslim world. This was especially true during the reign of Johannes’ son, Iyasus I, also known as Iyasus the Great. After succeeding to the crown in 1682, Iyasus became known as a lover of the arts, as well as a modernizer and brilliant military tactician. His reign saw the construction of some of Ethiopia’s most beautiful religious architecture as well as the re-establishment of governmental authority over several provinces in the south that had succumbed to Muslim and tribal encroachment. After the death of Iyasus in 1706, Ethiopia entered another prolonged period of dynastic confusion and decline, during which the country fractured into separate regions.

The only unifying force that remained throughout this period was the Ethiopian church. Gaining the support of high church officials, a successful brigand from the northwestern frontier, Kassa Haylu, had himself crowned Emperor Theodore II in 1855, after having defeated a number of petty feudal rulers who controlled various sections of the country. Later, when Theodore imprisoned some British officials for conspiring against him, the British dispatched an expeditionary force to Ethiopia, and the emperor committed suicide in 1868 rather than be taken prisoner. After a four-year struggle for the throne by various claimants, Dejaz Kassai, governor of the province of Tigray, succeeded, with British aid, in being crowned Johannes IV, emperor of Ethiopia.

In the 1870s the main external enemy of the empire, which was little more than a collection of semi-independent states, was Egypt. In 1875 the Egyptian khedive Ismail Pasha extended Egyptian protection to the Muslim ruler of Hârer and launched an attack on Ethiopia from both the north and the east. Johannes successfully halted the Egyptian invasion, but the continued occupation by Egypt of the Red Sea and Somali ports severely curtailed the supply of arms and other goods to Ethiopia. Johannes was killed defending his western frontier against the Sudanese in 1889. He was succeeded by Menelik II, who established a new capital at Addis Ababa and succeeded in uniting the provinces of Tigray and Amhara with Shewa.

B The Italo-Ethiopian Wars  With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, the Red Sea coast had become increasingly attractive to the European powers as an object for colonization. Italy focused its attention on Ethiopia, seizing Âseb in 1872 and Massawa in 1885. In 1889 Menelik and the Italians signed the Treaty of Wichale (Ucciali). The treaty was one of friendship and cooperation, but the Amharic and Italian versions of it differed, and the Italians claimed that it made all of Ethiopia their protectorate. As a result, war broke out between Italy and Ethiopia in 1895, and Italian forces were decisively defeated at Âdwa (Aduwa) the following year. Italy was forced to recognize the independence of Ethiopia, and Menelik’s present-day boundaries. The successor of Menelik, Emperor Lij Iyasu (reigned 1913-1916), was deposed in favor of his aunt, crowned Empress Zauditu. Tafari Makonnen, her cousin, was selected as heir apparent; he succeeded to the throne as Haile Selassie I. In 1931 he granted Ethiopia its first constitution.

With the rise of the dictator Benito Mussolini, Italian designs toward Ethiopia were revived, and in October 1935 Italy invaded the country (see Italy: The Ethiopian Campaign). An attempt by the League of Nations to halt the conquest failed. Addis Ababa fell to the invaders, and in May 1936 Mussolini proclaimed Italy’s King Victor Emmanuel III emperor of Ethiopia. Haile Selassie was forced to flee the country and take refuge in England, but he was restored to the throne by British and Ethiopian forces in 1941.

C The Later Reign of Haile Selassie  
According to the terms of the Allied peace treaty with Italy, signed in 1947, agreement was to be reached within a year on the disposition of the former Italian colonies of Eritrea, Italian Somaliland, and Libya. In the absence of such an agreement, however, the decision was left to the United Nations (UN). The UN General Assembly voted for the federation of Eritrea with Ethiopia, to be completed by September 1952.

In 1955 Haile Selassie issued a revised constitution, which was a half-hearted attempt to move the country into the 20th century. For example, it gave certain limited powers to the parliament. Progressive elements in the country, however, felt it was insufficient. After an unsuccessful attempt by members of the imperial guard to overthrow Haile Selassie in December 1960, the emperor increased government efforts toward economic development and social reform.

As the 1960s progressed, Haile Selassie became increasingly preoccupied with foreign affairs. In 1963 he played a leading role in the formation of the Organization of African Unity, which located its secretariat at Addis Ababa. During the following year a long-standing border dispute between Ethiopia and the Somali Republic erupted into armed warfare. A truce, agreed to in March, established a demilitarized zone along the border, but hostilities recurred sporadically. Trouble also arose in 1965 with Sudan, which Ethiopia accused of abetting an Eritrean independence movement. The conflict intensified when 7,000 Eritreans fled to Sudan in 1967 because of Ethiopian military reprisals against the secessionists. In December 1970 the government declared a state of siege in parts of Eritrea. The move failed, however, to end the guerrilla warfare.

In the early 1970s Haile Selassie continued to play a major role in international affairs, helping to mediate disputes between Senegal and Guinea, Tanzania and Uganda, and northern and southern Sudan. Nevertheless, he largely ignored urgent domestic problems: the great inequality in the distribution of wealth, rural underdevelopment, corruption in government, rampant inflation, unemployment, and a severe drought in the north from 1972 to 1975.

D The Mengistu Regime  In February 1974 students, workers, and soldiers began a series of strikes and demonstrations that culminated on September 12, 1974, with the deposition of Haile Selassie by members of the armed forces. Chief among the coup leaders was Major Mengistu Haile Mariam. A group called the Provisional Military Administrative Council, known as the Derg, was established to run the country, with Mengistu serving as chairman. In late 1974 the Derg issued a program for the establishment of a state-controlled socialist economy. In early 1975 all agricultural land in Ethiopia was nationalized, with much of it then parceled out in small plots to individuals. In March 1975 the monarchy was abolished, and Ethiopia became a republic.

The overthrow of the monarchy and the creation of the republic ushered in a new era of political openness. Ethnic groups that were brought into Ethiopia in the 19th and 20th centuries, such as the Oromo, Afars, Somali, and Eritreans, stepped up their demands for self-determination. Several of these groups even questioned the legitimacy of the Ethiopian state and created guerrilla forces to fight for independence. With the liberalization of politics, various ideologically based political organizations formed, each with its own view as to the preferred character of a new Ethiopia. Rather than allow democratic elections, the military regime attempted to co-opt potential opponents, giving the most significant political organizations representation in a deliberative body, the Politbureau.

By 1975 it was clear that Mengistu intended to consolidate his hold on power. This led to criticism from the civilian left, particularly after several top leaders of the Derg were killed in early 1977, reportedly on Mengistu's orders. Chief among opponents was the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP), which by the beginning of 1977 had launched a systematic campaign to undermine the military regime. The EPRP conducted urban guerrilla warfare against the regime, referred to as the "White Terror." The government responded with its own "Red Terror" campaign. The government provided peasants, workers, public officials, and students considered loyal to the government with arms to help government security forces root out so-called enemies of the revolution. Between 1977 and 1978 an estimated 100,000 people suspected of being enemies of the government were killed or disappeared in the name of the Red Terror.

Increasing human rights violations led to tensions between Ethiopia and the United States (Ethiopia’s superpower ally of more than 20 years), culminating in a complete break in relations in 1977. The regime was weakened by the withdrawal of military aid, and opponents of the regime gained control of vast amounts of rural territory and destabilized life in the cities. By the summer of 1977 the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) controlled all but the major cities in the province of Eritrea; the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), supported by the EPLF, had successfully captured significant territory in the Tigray region; and Somali separatists, aided by the national army of Somalia, had completely routed the Ethiopian army in the Ogadçn region. However, by early 1978 the Mengistu regime had managed to secure military assistance from the USSR and Cuba, enabling it to regain control of lost territories and drive its opponents underground.

Following this success, Mengistu attempted to win popular support for his regime. He created the Worker’s Party of Ethiopia (WPE) in 1984 as Ethiopia’s official Marxist-Leninist party and prepared a new constitution to make Ethiopia a Marxist-Leninist people’s republic. In 1987 the new constitution was proclaimed and the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia declared, modeled after the Soviet system of government. Nominally a system of civilian rule, the new constitution abolished the Derg and established a new, popularly elected national assembly. Former Derg members remained in control, however, and the new assembly elected Mengistu as president of Ethiopia.

E Resistance and Revolution  Despite its reorganization, the Mengistu government continued to be viewed by many as illegitimate, and by 1987 opposition groups such as the EPLF and the TPLF, which had been driven underground a decade earlier, emerged as revitalized and better organized military organizations. Over the next two years, the Ethiopian army suffered an increasing number of defeats, and its forces became demoralized. The EPLF regained control of most of Eritrea, and the TPLF captured the entire Tigray region and began operations in surrounding regions.

Beginning in the late 1970s Ethiopia suffered from a series of droughts, which progressively lowered agricultural production. A prolonged drought between 1984 and 1986 plunged the country into famine. The embattled northern regions of Ethiopia were hardest hit by the drought. Under an ill-planned resettlement program, the government forcibly relocated about 600,000 northerners to the south. The protracted civil war and the government’s mistrust of Westerners hampered worldwide efforts to provide food and medical aid to the inhabitants of Ethiopia. During the 1980s an estimated 1 million Ethiopians died from starvation as a result of famine.

In the late 1980s Ethiopia lost the support of the Soviet Union, which had become dissatisfied with Ethiopia’s political and economic development under Mengistu. Faced with economic and military shortages, the government was forced to devise a political solution to its problems. The Ethiopian national assembly called for unconditional peace talks with the EPLF in June 1989, and later agreed to similar talks with the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), an umbrella organization headed by the TPLF. Even as these talks proceeded, the opposition forces acquired more and more territory. In February 1990 the EPLF mounted a major drive aimed at capturing the Eritrean port city of Massawa, the entry point for much of the food and military supplies coming into Ethiopia. By the middle of the month it had overrun the city, dealing a decisive blow to the Ethiopian army. A year later the EPRDF had encircled Addis Ababa in the country’s heartland. The Ethiopian army lost its will to fight, and the country’s political leaders conceded defeat. In May 1991 the EPLF took complete control of Eritrea, Mengistu fled the country, and the EPRDF took control of Addis Ababa.

The EPRDF, led by Meles Zenawi, set up a national transitional government in Addis Ababa, and the EPLF established a provisional government in Eritrea. After a referendum in 1993, Eritrea declared its independence, and Ethiopia recognized the new Eritrean government. In June 1994 Ethiopian voters elected representatives to a Constituent Assembly, charged with writing a new democratic constitution. The EPRDF won 484 out of 547 seats in the assembly. A new constitution granting special rights to different ethnic groups in Ethiopia was adopted in December. In May 1995 a new legislative body, the Council of People’s Representatives, was elected, with the majority of seats going to the EPRDF. In August the Constituent Assembly officially transferred power to the new legislature, and the country was renamed the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. In the same month the legislature elected Meles as the country’s prime minister.

Some ethnic groups, including segments of the Oromo and Amhara people, remain displeased with the Ethiopian government and consider it as illegitimate as the one that preceded it. The most vigorous opposition has come from the Ogadçn region of southeastern Ethiopia, where Islamic fundamentalist Somali rebels, supported by Somali kinsmen, have battled for the region’s independence since before the overthrow of Mengistu. In late 1996 the Ethiopian army attacked rebel bases in Somalia, killing more than 200 Somali rebels.

In 1994 Ethiopian courts began criminal proceedings against members and supporters of Mengistu’s regime for offenses committed during and after the years of the Red Terror. By 1997 more than 5,000 suspects had been charged with war crimes such as torture, murder, and genocide. Prosecution began in 1996 against 73 Derg members, 23 of whom, including Mengistu, were tried in absentia. The Ethiopian government has attempted to extradite Mengistu from Zimbabwe, where he lives in exile. Human rights groups have criticized the fact that many of the suspects in custody—who total more than 2,000—have been in prison without trial since 1991.

In mid-1998 clashes broke out between Ethiopia and Eritrea along the countries’ border, with each side accusing the other of seizing territory. The border had not been precisely delineated when Eritrea became independent from Ethiopia in 1993. By early 1999 tens of thousands of Ethiopian and Eritrean troops had been sent to the border, and the dispute had become a bitter war, with thousands killed on each side.

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