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Some facts about Ethiopia

Location and size

Ethiopia is a landlocked country in Eastern Africa located on the Horn of Africa. It is bordered on the north and northeast by Eritrea, on the east by Djibouti and Somalia, on the south by Kenya, and on the west and southwest by Sudan. As Africa’s oldest independent country, Ethiopia covers 1.13 million sq km (437,794 sq miles).


The capital city of Ethiopia is Addis Ababa, which means, in Amharic language, ‘new flower’. The city was established in 1886. It is the largest city in Ethiopia with a totlal population of, according to the 2007 population census, 2.7 million. It is often called the capital of Africa or the “African Capital” due to its historical, diplomatic and political significance for the continent. The city is populated by people from different regions of Ethiopia. From its lowest point, around Bole International Airport, at 2,326 metres (7,630 ft) above sea level in the southern periphery, the city rises to over 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) in the Entoto Mountains to the north.


The climate of Ethiopia varies mainly according to altitude. The tropical zone below approximately 1830 m (approximately 6000 ft) has an average annual temperature of about 27° C (about 80° F) and receives less than about 510 mm (about 20 in) of rain annually. The subtropical zone, which includes most of the highland plateau and is between about 1830 and 2440 m (about 6000 and 8000 ft) in elevation, has an average temperature of about 22° C (about 72° F) with an annual rainfall ranging from about 510 to 1525 mm (about 20 to 60 in). Above approximately 2440 m (approximately 8000 ft) is a temperate zone with an average temperature of about 16° C (about 61° F) and an annual rainfall between about 1270 and 1780 mm (about 50 and 70 in). The main rainy season occurs between mid-June and September, followed by a dry season that may be interrupted in February or March by a short rainy season.


Ethiopia is one of the most populous countries in Africa. Like many other African countries, Ethiopia is a multi-ethnic state with a population of 74.2 million and with life expectancy of 46 years for men and 49 years for women (World Bank, 2006).


Ethiopia is one of the world’s oldest cultures having its own language and alphabet. The country has as many as 80 nationalities (ethnic groups) speaking between 70 and 80 languages that belong to four major language families – Semitic, Cushitic, Omotic, and Nilo-Saharan. There are about 200 different dialects. Amharic, Oromo and Tigrinya are the major languages. The official language of Ethiopia is Amharic, a Semitic language, and is written with the Geez script. Geez is the ancient Semitic language. Geez is largely extinct as a productive language but is still in liturgical use by the Beta Israel Jewish community and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.
The second largest language in Ethiopia is the Oromo (Oromigna) language, which is Cushitic. Tigrinya, which is mostly spoken in northern Ethiopia, is the third largest language. English is the most widely spoken foreign language and the language in which secondary school and university classes are taught.


Though a large number of religions are traditionally practiced in Ethiopia, the major religions are Christianity and Islam. According to the 2009 national census, over 37 million people or 43.5% were reported to be Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, over 29 million or 33.9% were reported to be Muslim, just under 15,7 million, or 18.6%, were Protestant, and just under two million or 2.6% adhered to traditional beliefs.


The economy of Ethiopia is based on agriculture and the main exports include coffee, hides, oilseeds, beeswax, and sugarcane.


Education has expanded considerably since 1952, when only 4% of the adult population was literate. Free education exists from primary school through the college level, but regular school facilities are available only to about one-third of the children of school age. In the mid-1980s about 3.1 million students attended about 9100 primary and secondary schools run by the government and religious groups.

The educational system of Ethiopia, which is currently in use, is structured as follows: Kindergarten, children aged 4-6 years; primary, eight years, grades 1-8; secondary: two years, grades 9 and 10; preparatory senior secondary education and a system of vocational and technical education parallel with it; two years of lower secondary and upper secondary schooling; 1-2 years of higher education for diploma; 3-5 years for under graduate degree; and 1-3 years for post graduate degree.


Ethiopian culture is very multi-faced, reflecting the ethnic diversity of the country. The most significant area of Ethiopian culture is in the field of literature, represented predominantly by translations from ancient Greek, Arabic, and other languages into the ancient Geez and modern Amharic. Most of the works are theological or mythological in nature. In addition to the field of literature, the country has several unique traditions in relation to clothing, food, music, dance, musical instruments, etc.

In general terms, especially in rural areas, families in Ethiopia are patriarchal and the father is the authority figure and the head, while the mother is the homemaker. There is a deep significance of extended family, emotional closeness, and importance of the group as opposed to a more individualistic way of living. Families tend to be large and families’ ties are very strong. A family is responsible for teaching the children norms and cultural and religious values. In most cases, children stay with their families until marriage, mainly due to the need for their economic contribution to the family.

In Ethiopia, the significance of a group takes precedence over the individual, which often leads people to physically, functionally and emotionally care for each other. As a result, establishing social networks is easy in Ethiopia. It is common to see people greet each other even if they have never met before. Putting one’s arm around another person or walking together hand in hand with a person of the same sex is accepted to mean only friendship.

Calendar and time measure

Ethiopia follows the Julian calendar, which is almost 8 years (7 years and 8 months) behind the Gregorian calendar. The year is divided into 13 months, twelve months consisting of 30 days each and the thirteenth month, called Pagume in Amharic language, consisting of five days (or six days in a leap year). In Ethiopia, New Year is on September 11. This unique way of measuring time is part of Ethiopia’s rich religious and cultural heritage. Ethiopian time is 6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.