7.2 Ethiopia, a Land of History

Current day Ethiopia has a long historical heritage. The Ethiopian civilisation has had many different names and expanded areas in modern day Sudan, Yemen, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. The first records of Ethiopia stems from Egyptian traders and dates from 3000BC. The state of Sheba is believed by some to has been located in Ethiopia, but the location is disputed between Yemen, Ethiopia or both. From the 19th century up until after World War II Ethiopia was called Abyssinia. The information for this historical summary I have got from the English Wikipedia.

The first verifiable kingdom of great power to rise in Ethiopia was the kingdom of Axum. Axum grew from 5th century BC to become a important trading nation by 1st century AD. The capital was in the city of Axum. Christianity was introduced into the country in 330AD by Frumentius. The Greek boy Frumentius was taken captive and sent to the King of Axum as slave where he gained favor with the court. The Axumite kingdom lasted until 11th or 12th century when it was succeeded by the Zagwe dynasty.

Yekuno Amlak overthrew the last Zagwe king in 1270 and introduced the Solomonid dynasty. He claimed ancestry from the last king of Axum. The Solomonid dynasty claims decent from king Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, who is said to have given birth to the traditional first king Menelik I after her Biblically-described visit to Solomon in Jerusalem. This dynasty lasted until 1974 when the last emperor, Haile Selassie, was deposed.

Towards the close of the 15th century the Portuguese missions into Ethiopia began. A belief had long prevailed in Europe of the existence of a Christian kingdom in the far east, whose monarch was known as Prester John, and various expeditions had been sent in quest of it. Among the explorers who had engaged in this search was Pedro de Covilham, who arrived in Ethiopia in 1490, and, believing that he had at length reached the far-famed kingdom, presented to the emperor of the country, a letter from his master the king of Portugal, addressed to Prester John. This relation would prove helpful when the Somali General and Imam, Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi, attacked Ethiopia from 1528 until he was defeated in 1543. Portugal sent 400 musketeers to aid the Ethiopian emperor.

Ethiopia remained independent during the Scramble for Africa and are the only country in Africa which has never been colonised. Ethiopia was, however, not unaffected by the Scramble for Africa. Menelik II, emperor of Ethiopia from 1889 to 1913, exchanged the region Eritrea in 1889 for rifles, ammunition and cannons with Italy. This agreement was disputed. The Italian version of the treaty said that Ethiopia had become an Italian protectorate, but the Amharic version said that Ethiopia had become an extended partner with Italy under Menelik II’s full authority. This conflict came to head with the Battle of Adowa in 1896 where the Italians were defeated.

In 1930 the last emperor in the Solomonid dynasty Haile Selassie came to power. His reign was interrupted between 1936 and 1941 when Ethiopia was under Italian occupation. When Selassie returned to power he started on a program of modernisation. He improved diplomatic ties with the US, and sought to improve the nations’ relationship with other African nations. Selassie’s rule ended when he was deposed in 1974 after a period civil unrest. A provisional administrative council of soldiers, known as the Derg (“committee”) seized power.

Mengistu Haile Mariam assumed power as head of state and Derg chairman, after having his two predecessors killed. Mengistu’s years in office were marked by a totalitarian-style government and the country’s massive militarization, financed by the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, and assisted by Cuba. The Derg proclaimed itself to be socialist, and gradually it turned Ethiopia into a communist country. In 1984 it formed the Workers’ Party of Ethiopia (WPE). In 1987 a new Soviet-style civilian constitution was introduced and Mengistu became president.

During the reign of Haile Selassie sentiments had stirred in Tigray. Many of the Tigre people felt that they were being treated unfairly by the central government. This eventually lead to the formation of Tigrayan Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF) in the first half of the 1970s. TPLF continued the struggle against the central government during the Mengistu regime. TPLF had ties of cooperation with Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) dating from even before the formation of TPLF. EPLF gave military training to TPLF during the time of TPLF’s formation. In the 1980s, TPLF had a reputation as hard-line communists who saw Enver Hoxha’s Albania as a model state. Observers used to joke that when TPLF took control over a town it would take down the portraits of Marx, Engels and Lenin in government offices, and replaced them with even larger ones. In 1989, the Tigrayan Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF) merged with other ethnically-based opposition movements to form the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). In this process TPLF abandoned a secessionist agenda and the former hard core Stalinist ideology (Berhe 2004). In May 1991, EPRDF forces advanced on Addis Ababa. Mengistu fled the country and was granted asylum in Zimbabwe, where he still resides.

A transitional government was formed by EPRDF and Meles Zenawi, from TPLF, was appointed President. Most opposition groups boycotted the election held in 1995, ensuring EPRDF a land slide victory and giving Meles Zenawi the position of Prime Minister. EPRDF retained majority in 2005 general election, but lost many seats to the opposition. Meles Zenawi is still in office.

TPLF’s former allies EPLF took control of the province of Eritrea, the northernmost part of Ethiopia, and formed the state of Eritrea in 1993. Even if this made Ethiopia a land locked nation, the independence of Eritrea was recognised by the transitional government of Ethiopia. The border was, however, un-demarcated. In 1998 border disputed lead to the Eritrean-Ethiopian War which ended in 2000. The relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea is still tense and the border dispute is still not settled.