A Cradle of Mankind, Modern-day Ethiopia Riven by Ethnic Tensions – AFP

Ethiopia: Ancient land beset by long-running divisions

Paris – A cradle of mankind, modern-day Ethiopia is riven by ethnic tensions, gripped by anti-government rebellions and now under a state of emergency. Here are some key facts about Africa’s second most populous nation:

Ancient history

Ethiopia is the oldest independent African state and one of the oldest in the world, dating back more than 2 000 years.

It also has a claim on being the birthplace of mankind. Its Awash Valley has yielded some of the earliest hominids remains, including the fossil of a partial skeleton, dubbed Lucy, which has been dated around 3.2 million years old.

With a population of around 102 million people in 2016, according to the World Bank, Ethiopia counts more than 80 ethnicities.

Around 60% are Christian and more than 30% Muslim.

Ethiopia is a federal state with considerable autonomy granted to regions and most power held by the prime minister.

It hosts the African Union’s headquarters.

Famines and wars

Except for a brief period under Italian occupation between 1935 and 1941, Ethiopia was never subjected to European colonisation – a rarity in Africa.

Emperor Haile Selassie dominated between 1916 and 1974, save for a period of exile during the Italian occupation.

After 1974, when he was overthrown in a coup and later executed, Ethiopia underwent a series of military dictatorships, notably under Marxist ruler Mengistu Haile Mariam who waged a series of bloody purges dubbed the “Red Terror”. He was ousted in 1991.

The late 1970s and early 1980s saw a series of devastating famines which caused widespread starvation.

The UN said 1.2 million people died in 1984-85 alone and the tragedy shot to global attention when Band Aid recorded a single to raise money for famine relief.

When Eritrea gained de-facto independence in 1991, Ethiopia was deprived of access to the Red Sea.

War broke out between the neighbours between 1998 to 2000 over a border dispute, which remains a source of tension despite an accord.

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