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General Information About Ethiopia

Official Name: The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Ethiopia is an ancient country with roots in prehistory; Ethiopia has long been a crossroads for trade and diverse cultures.

Capital: Addis Ababa The altitude of Addis Ababa ranges from 7,000-8,500 feet (2,200-2,600 meters). It is the third-highest capital city in the world (La Paz, Bolivia, is first at 11,913 feet/3,631 meters, and Quito, Ecuador, is second at 9,360 feet/2,850 meters). Addis Ababa is set against the backdrop of the Entoto mountain range and is home to an estimated more than 4 million people.

Location: 3-12 North latitude and 35-38 East longitude. Time: GMT +3 hour’s time zone.

Population: more than 120 million

Government: The country is divided into nine ethnically-based states plus two self-governing administrations (Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa), each with a right to self-determination.

Country topographic profile: Ethiopia is located in the northeastern part (popularly known as the Horn) of Africa. Ethiopia is bounded on the east by Djibouti and Somalia, on the north and northeast by Eritrea, on the south by Kenya, and on the west by the Sudan. With an area of 1,112,000 km2, Ethiopia is as large as France and Spain combined. From the north and running down the center are the Abyssinian highlands, to the west of the chain the land drops to the grasslands of Sudan, to the east to the deserts of the Afar and the Red Sea. South of Addis Ababa the land is dominated by the Rift Valley Lakes. The main rivers are the Blue Nile, the Tekezze, the Awash, the Wabe Shabele, the Omo, and the Baro. The major lakes are Abaya, Abiyata, Awasa, Chamo, Hayk, Langano, Shala, Tana & Ziway. As the country is located within the tropics, its physical conditions and variations in altitude have resulted in a great diversity of terrain, climate, soil, flora, and fauna.

History: Ethiopia has its script, notational system, and calendar. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is the oldest in Africa – Christianity was made the state religion in the Axumite Empire in 330 AD, before Rome. Muslim communities were established in Ethiopia before the triumph of Islam in its birthplace, the Arabian Peninsula.

At the time of the scramble for Africa, following the Berlin Congress in 1884, the disparate ethnic groups that make up Ethiopia united to defend the country against foreign invasion: at Adwa in 1896 Ethiopian forces under Menelik II delivered a stunning rebuff to the colonial ambitions of Italy. The defeat inflicted on the Italian army was the heaviest suffered by any European army in Africa, and was celebrated not only throughout Africa, but in all countries then suffering under the yoke of colonialism and foreign occupation. The fascist invasion in 1935, “to avenge the stain of Adwa” as Mussolini declared, was met with vigorous and continued resistance – the occupation lasted only 6 years and failed to leave any permanent stamp on the character of the country or the psyche of its people.

Ethiopia has the most extensive historic sites in Sub-Saharan Africa, experts estimate that perhaps as little as 10% of the total has so far been discovered and excavated. The oldest hominid remains have been found along the Awash River valley – currently, 41 institutions from 13 countries are excavating in the Afar Region, where most paleo-anthropologists now agree the human race has its origins. There is a variety of scenery, with tropical rain forests, high moorland with Afro-alpine flora, lakes, savannah, and deserts. In elevation, it ranges from 120 meters below sea level in the harsh salt flats of the Danakil depression, to the 4533-metre peak of Ras Dashen in the Simien Mountains.

People and Languages: There are over 80 ethnic groups who speak over 80 different languages consisting of 12 Semitic, 22 Cushitic, 18 Omotic, and 18 Nilo-Saharan languages. The Amharas and the Tigreans, both of Semitic origin, account for 37% of the population. The people of Oromo descent account for 40% of the population of Ethiopia and are the country’s largest ethnic group. More than half of the ethnic groups live in the southern part of the country including the Sidamas and Garages.

Amharic (also known as Amharigna) is the official language and the lingua franca spoken throughout most parts of the country where tourists are likely to visit.

Economy: 85% of the population gets their livelihood from the land. Coffee (the word originates from the name of the province of Kaffa, in the southwest of Ethiopia) provides the bulk of foreign currency earnings. The export of livestock, skins and hides (Ethiopia has the largest domestic livestock population in Africa), chat, oilseeds, textiles, pulses, flowers, and animal feed makes up the rest of Ethiopia’s foreign currency earnings, with tourism set to make an increasingly important contribution.

The opening up of the economy since the overthrow of the previous government in 1991 has created more favorable grounds for the development of Ethiopia’s rich resource base. Ethiopia is the “water tower” of the region (the Blue Nile contributes to 85% of the main Nile flow) and projects are now being implemented to better exploit the country’s water resources both for power generation and to boost agricultural production through irrigation schemes. Mineral exploration and mining have stepped up in recent years – there are reserves of oil, natural gas, coal, gold, copper, tantalum, potash, zinc, iron ore, nickel, marble, and precious and semi-precious stones.

Religion: The major religions in Ethiopia are Ethiopian Christianity, Muslim and animist. Old Testament Judaism is apparent in Ethiopian Orthodox religious customs and each Ethiopian Orthodox Church has a “Tabot” that represents the Ark of the Covenant. The Israeli government evacuated most of Ethiopia’s small Jewish (Falasha or Beta Israel) community in May 1991, though some of its members have begun returning to Ethiopia.

Fasting is a big part of the Ethiopian Orthodox religion. Traditionally there are 250 days of fasting in the Orthodox calendar. Wednesdays and Fridays are fasting days. The most serious fasting time is the eight weeks before Easter. Fasting requires that no meat products, eggs, or dairy products be consumed – essentially a vegan diet –In addition, during the period of Lent, no food is taken until after church services in the afternoon. Muslims also fast during the period of Ramadan, eating only after sundown. Both Ethiopian Orthodox and Muslims avoid eating pork.

Groups holding animist beliefs have influenced both Christian and Muslim religions in Ethiopia. There also are Evangelical Protestant and Roman Catholic communities.

Food & drinks: There are several dishes of nations and nationalities. However, Injera is known in most of the country. Injera is a flat, sourdough pancake made of mostly small seed grain called Teff. Injera is served with sauce (meat or vegetable). Doro Watt – chicken stew is the most delicious national sauce to eat injera with. Vegetarians could enjoy fasting – vegetable dishes anytime but more verities during the Orthodox Christian fasting periods.

Italian, French, German, Arabic, Indian, Greek, Chinese, and other specialty cuisines are available in Addis Ababa.

As for drinks, gaseous and still water, along with other soft drinks and several brands of locally brewed beers are available throughout the country. Wines & spirits are produced in the country and also imported ones are widely available. Locally homemade Tela – homemade beer and Tej – honey wine is common during the holiday period.

Climate: There are two main seasons: the dry season prevails from October through May; the wet season runs from June to September. There are four seasons in Ethiopia.

  • From February until mid-June, the weather is more unpredictable with a short rainy season (known as belge) usually coming in March or April. It is much warmer during this period. The days are hot and the nights are less cold than during the dry season.
  •  The long rainy season (known as meher) is from mid-June until the end of September. During this period, it rains intermittently throughout the day most days and it is generally damp and chilly. During both the belg and the meher rainy seasons, it sometimes hails in Addis Ababa.

There are three principal climate groups in Ethiopia, tropical rainy climate, dry climate, and warm temperate rainy climate. Locally named, Dega (cool temperate highlands over2, 500m asl), Weynadega (moderate warm lands lying between 1500-2500m abs) and Kolla (hot lowlands lying below 1500m abs).

Calendar and Time: Ethiopia follows the Julian calendar, which consists of twelve months of 30 days each and a thirteenth month of five days (six in a leap year). The Ethiopian Calendar is seven years and eight months behind the Gregorian calendar. Throughout most of the world, the day begins at midnight. However, in Ethiopia, the day begins at sunrise or 6:00 AM and Ethiopians begin counting the hours from this point. For example, 8:00 AM is 2:00 AM to an Ethiopian; 10:00 AM is 4:00 AM. This continues until 6:00 PM, which is 12:00 PM, and then the counting begins again: 7:00 PM is 1:00 PM; 10:00 PM is 4:00 PM, etc.

Travel by air and road: Ethiopian Airlines operates a safe generally efficient and reliable domestic air service.  It has acquired a good reputation in its over 50 years of service and also plays a vital role in linking Ethiopia to the rest of the world through its international flights, the airline reaches almost 50 cities globally and provides domestic flight services through 26 airports and airfields across the country, Ethiopian Airlines and private companies offer charter services. Traveling by road allows visitors to experience Ethiopia’s wonderful scenery.

Ethiopia has embarked on a massive road renovation and construction program, and many areas are now accessible by good asphalt roads. Given the size of the country, however, it will take quite some time to upgrade the road network on a country-wide basis.

National Carrier: Is Ethiopian Air Lines. British Midland, Lufthansa, Emirates, Turkish, Egypt Airways, Kenyan airways, KLM are frequently flying in and out.

Recommended Guide Books

  • The Bradt Guide book to Ethiopia
  • The Lonely Planet Guide to Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti
  • The Spectrum Guide to Ethiopia
  • Collins Birds of East Africa
  • Important Bird Areas of Ethiopia – Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society
  • Collins Flowers and Plants of East Africa
  • Ethiopian Amharic Phrasebook – Lonely Planet
  • Facts about Ethiopia Ministry of Information Feb 2004.


  • Layers of Time – Paul Henze
  • A History of Modern Ethiopia – Bahru Zewde
  • Axum: An African Civilisation of Late Antiquity – Stuart Monroe Hay
  • The Blue Nile – Alan Morehead
  • The Sign and the Seal – Graham Hancock
  • The Survival of Ethiopian Independence – Sven Rubenson
  • Ethiopian Civilisation – Belay Giday
  • The Ethiopians – Edward Ullendorf
  • The Scramble for Africa – Thomas Packenham

 Art Books

  • African Zion: The Sacred Art of Ethiopia
  • African Ark: People of the Horn
  • Black Angels: The Art and Spirituality of Ethiopia
  • Ethiopia Photographed – Richard Pankhurst and Denis Gerard.
  • Ethiopia Engraved – Richard Pankhurst

Birding Reports

  • African Bird Club