Forum partners:


    • Ethiopia: has been a partner of the Forum since 2006
    • Government partner agency: House of Federation


    The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (1,112 million km2) is located at the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Sudan on the west, Kenya on the south, Somalia and Djibouti on the east, and Eritrea on the north. It has a population of some 63 million inhabitants, about 90 per cent of whom earn their living from the land, mainly as subsistence farmers. Agriculture is the backbone of the national economy. The country has a GNP per capita of just 100 US$, making it the poorest country in the world in 2000, according to the World Bank. Life expectancy at birth is 42 years for males and 44 years for females.

    Due to its 3,000 year history, Ethiopia is seen as the oldest 'state' in Africa and one of the oldest in the world. Starting from the Da'amat State (ca. 500 BC-100 AD), followed by the advanced civilization of the Axumite Empire and finally the Era of the Princes, Ethiopia has existed within different patrimonial empires. Modern Ethiopia was created by Christian highland rulers largely through twin processes of political subjugation and economic exploitation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Imperial Crown Prince and Regent, Haile Selassie, established ascendancy over regional feudal lords from 1916 to 1930, when he became Emperor. Haile Selassie was driven into exile during the Italian occupation of Ethiopia between 1936 and 1941. Following the country's liberation by Allied forces in 1941, he returned from Britain and ruled until his overthrow in 1974.

    Eritrea, created at the end of the nineteenth century through Italian colonialism, was federated with Ethiopia in 1952 after 10 years under a British mandate. The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution, the Federal Act, by which Eritrea came under the sovereignty of the Ethiopian Crown. The UN resolution'Resolution 390(v)(a) of 2 December 1950'contained 15 articles, the first seven of which regulated the relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia. According to the first article of this UN document, Eritrea was to constitute 'an autonomous unit federated with Ethiopia'.

    Growing contradictions between an emerging capitalist system and feudalism, and questions about the value of the monarchy, fuelled unrest. In 1961 the royal body guard attempted a coup d'état which revealed popular dissatisfaction with the pace of modernization and development. In recognition of this, in 1962 the government moved to increase centralization.
    In 1974, the Provisional Military Council (Derg in Amharic) toppled the Haile Selassie's regime and proclaimed Ethiopia a socialist state. In the early years of the regime'a time referred to as the 'red terror''struggles for power and the establishment of a socialist state resulted in, at a conservative estimate, 100,000 people killed and several hundred thousand more fleeing the country.

    Following the Soviet model, a Workers' Party of Ethiopia was created in 1984, and in 1987, the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia was promulgated under a new constitution. The constitution conferred ultimate state power on the so-called national Shengo and its standing organ, the Council of State. However, like other socialist/communist countries, the ruling political party'through the Central Committee and the Politburo of the Workers' Party'maintained power through informal 'parallel' channels of communications and decision making, and in reality, had ultimate decision-making power in the country.

    At the end of the Cold War, Soviet support wavered and the integrity of the centralized state was challenged. Two years of military defeats in Eritrea and Tigray, in addition to the gradual desertion of his Soviet allies, fatally weakened the regime of Colonel Mengistu.

    In 1991 the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a newly created coalition, launched a decisive military assault through central and western provinces, while in the east, Eritrean forces closed in on the cities of Assab and Asmara. Colonel Mengistu fled to Zimbabwe. In July 1991, EPRDF forces took control of Addis Ababa. A conference was convened to endorse a transitional charter. The charter became the legal basis of four years of interim rule under an EPRDF-dominated legislature with an executive headed by the leader of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), Meles Zenawi. The transitional government implemented extensive economic reforms and a radical form of federal devolution to nine of the new regional states along predominantly ethnic lines. On 8 December 1994, the 538-member Constituent Assembly approved a draft constitution prepared by the Constitution Drafting Commission. During the drafting process, the public was consulted, mainly at meetings held at the local level. Voters accepted the constitution in a referendum, and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia was proclaimed in August 1995.

    After the fall of the Provisional Military Council, the different liberation forces transformed themselves into political parties. They were not, however, able to convert in this short time from fighting forces into democratic players, and they continued to try to overcome others rather then democratically cooperating with them. In May and June 1995, Ethiopia held national parliamentary and regional legislative elections. Most opposition parties boycotted these elections'led by the Oromo Liberation Front which, seeing itself trailing the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), went underground'thus ensuring a landslide victory for the TPLF. International and non-governmental observers concluded, however, that opposition parties would have been able to participate had they chosen to do so.

    In May 1991, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), led by Isaias Afwerki, assumed control of Eritrea and established a provisional government. This provisional government independently administered Eritrea until, on 23-25 April 1993, Eritreans voted overwhelmingly for independence in a UN-monitored free and fair referendum. Eritrea was declared independent on 27 April 1993.

    In May 1998 rising tensions between Eritrea and Ethiopia led to an offensive military operation launched by Eritrea. Trench warfare turned into an intensive military operation by Ethiopia which eventually led to an Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities, signed on 18 June 2000. Finally, on 12 December 2000 Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a peace agreement in Algiers. Currently, 4,200 UN troops are deployed along the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The reason for the outbreak of hostilities'a border dispute'will now be settled under the auspices of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the UN.

Ethiopia profile by Tom Pätz