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Ethiopia Profile (A Brief History)

Updated: Oct 31, 2020

Ethiopia, officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a landlocked country in East Africa. With over 100 million people, Ethiopia is the most populated landlocked country in the world, and Africa’s second most populous nation. Ethiopia is widely considered as the region in which modern humans originated from with skeletal evidence for anatomically modern humans being found there. Ethiopian national identity is grounded in the historic and contemporary roles of Christianity and Islam, and the independence of Ethiopia from foreign rule, stemming from various ancient Ethiopian Kingdoms.

Early history of Ethiopia

Several important findings have propelled Ethiopia to the forefront of human history. The oldest hominid, ancestors of homo sapiens, have been discovered in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is also considered one of the earliest sites of the emergence of anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens which date back to the Middle Paleolithic era around 200,000 years ago.

D’mt Kingdom

Most modern historians believe somewhere between the 10th and 5th century BC, the D’mt Kingdom to be the earliest of native civilizations to have resided in Ethiopia. The kingdom was located in Northern Ethiopia, in the state of Tigray. Not much is known of the Kingdom except that they believed to have developed irrigation schemes, used plows, grew millet and made iron tools and weapons.

Kingdom of Aksum

Also known as the Kingdom of Axum or the Aksumite Empire, was a trading empire centered around the Tigray region in Ethiopia and Eritrea, existing between 80 BC and 1000 AD. The Empire at its height extended across most of present-day Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Yemen and parts of Sudan. The capital city of the empire was Aksum, modern day Axum in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, was once a bustling city-state, a cultural and economic center.

The Kingdoms sphere of influence grew to becoming a major player on the commercial route between the Roman Empire and Ancient India, eventually it was recognized as one of the four great super powers of the era along with the Roman, Sasanian, and the Three Kingdoms of China. One of the Empire’s greatest achievement was having its own alphabet, the Ge’ez script, which lead to a treasure trove of written history.

The Kingdom was also one of the earliest empires to recognize the three Abrahamic religions. The earlier religion of the Kingdom centered around polytheism an influence which came from the Arabian Peninsula.

Before the conversion of the empire to Christianity in 325 AD by King Ezana, Judaism played a major role in the empire notably influenced by the Queen of Sheba from the South Arabian Kingdom of Saba, a colony of the empire. Christianity’s origins in Ethiopia happened around 325 AD, when King Ezana converted to Christianity himself and therefore the entire Kingdom became Christian. A few years later the Christian cross replaced the symbols of earlier religions on the empire’s currency.

Historically Ethiopia is the first Country to formally adopt Christianity as a religion. Islam came to the kingdom about 300 years later during the reign of King Armah also known as An-Nagashi, when the followers of the Prophet Mohammed were persecuted by the ruling tribes in Median, modern day Saudi Arabia and asylum was requested by the Prophet Mohammed for his followers. An-Nagashi granted asylum to the persecuted and they settled in Ethiopia for 300 years and eventually returned to Medina in 622 AD. The seeds of Islam were planted and currently Muslims make up roughly 40% of Ethiopia’s population.

The Kingdom of Aksum’s grip on Ethiopia collapsed roughly around 900 AD, and that ushered in new dynasties that would reign in Ethiopia for the next couple of centuries.

Menelik II

Ethiopia until the late 1800’s was a complex web of city states controlled by different tribes, until Emperor Menelik II ascended to the throne in the province of Shewa. Menelik set out to annex territories controlled by the different tribes surrounding modern day Addis Ababa. From his base Menelik was able to gain control of territories spanning across most of modern-day Ethiopia.

In May of 1889 at the Treaty of 1889, Italy which had been desperately trying to invade Ethiopia, recognized Ethiopia’s sovereignty and remained in the Northeast part of modern-day Eritrea. The Italians would set out to invade Ethiopia seven years later in the Battle of Adwa but were defeated in a decisive victory by the forces of Menelik. By the late 19th century European colonizers had carved up most of Africa, Ethiopia and Liberia were the only two remaining sovereign states.

Haile Selassie I

Haile Selassie I came into power in 1916 as Ras and Regent for Empress Regnant Zewditu, effectively becoming the de facto ruler of the Ethiopian Empire, and would succeed her as emperor in 1930 when she died. Emperor Haile Selassie undertook a massive nationwide modernization campaign that would establish government ministries and embassies across the globe, judicial courts, education system, economic systems, and large-scale infrastructure projects.

Italian Invasion

In 1935 Fascist Italy lead by Mussolini set out to invade Ethiopia for a second time during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War. Italian forces from Eritrea and Italian Somalia armed with Nazi Germany weaponry, simultaneously attacked Ethiopia and with superior weapons rapidly won decisive victories. Italy would occupy most of Ethiopia for the next six years until May 5th, 1941 when Haile Selassie would recapture Addis Ababa with mostly local fighters and British soldiers and weaponry.

Mengistu Haile Mariam

On September 12, 1974 Halie Selassie’s rule came to an end when he was deposed by the Derg, a Soviet-backed Marxist-Leninist military coup led by Mengistu Haile Mariam. The new Provisional Military Administrative Council established a one-party communist state a year later in 1975. The reign of terror by Mengistu would be marked by civil uprisings, genocide, and government mandated famines. During the short reign of Mengistu over 2 million died. In 1989 a coalition of Northern Ethiopian tribes from Tigray and Eritrea formed the Ethiopians People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), and two years later would march into Addis Ababa in May of 1991 and depose Mengistu. Mengistu fled the country and was granted asylum in Zimbabwe where he still resides. In 2006 Mengistu was tried in absentia by Ethiopia’s High Court in Addis Ababa and found guilty of Genocide.

Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

In July of 1991, the EPRDF convened a National Conference to establish the Transitional Government of Ethiopia composed of an 87-member Council of Representatives and guided by a nation charter that functioned as a transitional constitution. The first multiparty election took place in May of 1995 and the EPRDF won the election and Meles Zenawi became the first Prime Minister and Negasso Gidada was elected President.

Economy of Ethiopia

Africa’s second most populous country has experienced sustained economic growth of 10% per year on average over the past decade. Forecasted GDP for 2020 is expected to reach 100 billion dollars.


The agriculture sector is the foundation of the Ethiopian economy, it accounts for 33% of GDP and employs over 60% of the workforce. It is the 6th largest coffee producer in the world and 8th largest exporter of coffee beans. The main other agricultural products include oil seeds, dry beans, pulses flour, potatoes, cereals, cotton, sugarcane, vegetables, cut flowers, hides, cattle, sheep, goats and seafood.


Industry accounts for about 27% of GDP and a workforce of about 27%. The main industries are food processing, beverages, textiles, leather, garments, chemicals, metals processing and cement. The textile industry is expected to explode as many companies are shifting textile production from Asia to Ethiopia.

Services Industry

Headlined by the state-run, Ethiopian Airlines accounts for 36% of the country’s GDP and employs 22% of the workforce. Ethiopian Airlines is Africa’s largest airline serving more international destinations than any other airline. Tourism and Telecommunications are sectors that are growing and will continue to drive the services industry to larger share of GDP.

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