Flag description: three equal horizontal bands of green (top), yellow, and red with a yellow pentagram and single yellow rays emanating from the angles between the points on a light blue disk centred on the three bands; Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Africa, and the colours of her flag were so often adopted by other African countries upon independence that they became known as the pan-African colours.
Location: Eastern Africa, west of Somalia.
Geographic coordinates: 8 00 N, 38 00 E
Climate: Tropical monsoon with wide topographic-induced variation.
Independence: oldest independent country in Africa, and one of the oldest in the world - at least 2,000 years.
Capital City: Addis Ababa
Head of State: President NEGASSO Gidada (since 22 August 1995).
Area: 1,127,127 sq km.
Type of Government: federal republic.
Currency: 1 birr (Br) = 100 cents.;
Major peoples: Oromo 40%, Amhara and Tigre 32%, Sidamo 9%, Shankella 6%, Somali 6%, Afar 4%, Gurage 2%, other 1%.
Religion: Muslim 45%-50%, Ethiopian Orthodox 35%-40%, animist 12%, other 3%-8%.
Principal Languages: Amharic, Tigrinya, Orominga, Guaraginga, Somali, Arabic, other local languages, English (major foreign language taught in schools).
Major Exports: coffee, gold, leather products, oilseeds.
History: To the ancient world Ethiopia meant all lands south of Egypt. Ethiopia's northern highlands were the site of the empire of AKSUM (Axum) (established in the 1st century AD), which controlled the Red Sea coast and had trade and cultural contacts with southern Arabia, Egypt, Rome, and Greece. In the 5th century, migrants from Syria converted Aksum's Emperor Ezana to Christianity.
Aksum then used its power to spread Christianity across the central highlands. Late in the 7th century, Islam penetrated the region from the Red Sea coast and took hold in eastern Ethiopia. The major theme of the history of ancient and medieval Ethiopia was the efforts of Christian highland kingdoms, (including that of the Zagwe, who build the famous rock-hewn churches at LALIBELA) to extend their control over the territory and trade routes of their lowland neighbours. At the same time, Ethiopia's efficient ox-plough system of agriculture spread across the regions highlands.
Modern Ethiopia's borders are the result of the late-19th-century expansion under Emperor MENELIK II, who assumed the throne in 1889 and used alliances with European powers and imported firearms to unite his rivals behind him and conquer rich lands to the east, west, and south.
In 1896 his armies defeated a modern Italian army at the Battle of Adowa to assure Ethiopia's independence. Political and economic modernization took place under Emperor Haile Selassie, who began a modern army, educational system, and bureaucracy between 1916 and 1935, when Italy invaded and occupied Ethiopia.
Haile Selassie resumed the throne in 1941 and remained in power until he was overthrown by the Dergue in 1974.
Ethiopia's new leaders began a program of socialist rule, but they faced opposition from various rebel armies, most of them based among groups brought into Ethiopia during the time of Menelik, but never allowed to participate fully in national life.
In Eritrea, an Italian colony from 1889 to 1941, the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF) had fought to secede from Ethiopia since 1962, when Ethiopia forcibly annexed Eritrea. Tigray had an increasingly effective insurrection since 1974, led by the Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), which sought to overthrow the central government.
By 1990 the TPLF controlled Tigray and much of Wollo and Gonder. Other anti-government groups were active in areas inhabited by Somali and Oromo peoples, an invasion from Somalia in 1977-78 in support of indigenous SOMALI rebels in the Ogaden bought arms and got military aid from the Soviet Union and Cuba, and strained relations with the United States.
Somalia and Ethiopia signed a peace accord in 1988, and Soviet aid ended by 1990. In 1989 the TPLF formed a coalition with several other rebel groups.
On May 21, 1991, with the rebels gaining ground and the central government on the verge of collapse, Mengistu fled the country.
Rebel forces captured Addis Ababa on May 28 and formed an interim coalition government to rule until multiparty elections could be held. The ELPF did not join the new government. A referendum on independence was to be held in Eritrea in exchange for guaranteed Ethiopian access to the sea.