Ethiopia is credited with being the origin of mankind. Bones discovered
in eastern Ethiopia date back 3.2 million years. Ethiopia is the oldest
independent country in Africa and one of the oldest in the world. Herodotus,
the Greek historian of the fifth century B.C. describes ancient Ethiopia
in his writings. The Old Testament of the Bible records the Queen of Sheba's
visit to Jerusalem. According to legend, Menelik I, the son of King Solomon
and the Queen of Sheba, founded the Ethiopian Empire. Missionaries from
Egypt and Syria introduced Christianity in the fourth century A.D. Following
the rise of Islam in the seventh century, Ethiopia was gradually cut off
from European Christendom. The Portuguese established contact with Ethiopia
in 1493, primarily to strengthen their influence over the Indian Ocean
and to convert Ethiopia to Roman Catholicism. There followed a century
of conflict between pro- and anti-Catholic factions, resulting in the expulsion
of all foreign missionaries in the 1630s. This period of bitter religious
conflict contributed to hostility toward foreign Christians and Europeans,
which persisted into the 20th century and was a factor in Ethiopia's isolation
until the mid-19th century.
Under the Emperors Theodore II (1855-68), Johannes IV (1872-89), and
Menelik II (1889-1913), the kingdom was consolidated and began to emerge
from its medieval isolation. When Menelik II died, his grandson, Lij Iyassu,
succeeded to the throne but soon lost support because of his Muslim ties.
The Christian nobility deposed him in 1916, and Menelik's daughter, Zewditu,
was made empress. Her cousin, Ras Tafari Makonnen (1892-1975), was made
regent and successor to the throne. In 1930, after the empress died, the
regent, adopting the throne name Haile Selassie, was crowned emperor. His
reign was interrupted in 1936 when Italian Fascist forces invaded and occupied
Ethiopia. The emperor was forced into exile in England despite his plea
to the League of Nations for intervention. Five years later, British and
Ethiopian forces defeated the Italians, and the emperor returned to the
After a period of civil unrest, which began in February 1974, the aging
Haile Selassie I was deposed on September 12, 1974, and a provisional administrative
council of soldiers, known as the Derg ("committee") seized power from
the emperor and installed a government, which was socialist in name and
military in style. The Derg summarily executed 59 members of the royal
family and ministers and generals of the emperor's government; Emperor
Haile Selassie was strangled in the basement of his palace on August 22,
Lt. Col. 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. From 1977 through early 1978 thousands of suspected
enemies of the Derg were tortured and/or killed in a purge called the "red
terror." Communism was officially adopted during the late 1970s and early
1980s with the promulgation of a Soviet-style constitution, Politburo,
and the creation of the Workers' Party of Ethiopia (WPE).
In December 1976, an Ethiopian delegation in Moscow signed a military
assistance agreement with the Soviet Union. The following April, Ethiopia
abrogated its military assistance agreement with the United States and
expelled the American military missions. In July 1977, sensing the disarray
in Ethiopia, Somalia attacked across the Ogaden Desert in pursuit of its
irredentist claims to the ethnic Somali areas of Ethiopia. Ethiopian forces
were driven back deep inside their own frontier but, with the assistance
of a massive Soviet airlift of arms and Cuban combat forces, they stemmed
the attack. The major Somali regular units were forced out of the Ogaden
in March 1978. Twenty years later, development in the Somali region of
The Derg's collapse was hastened by droughts and famine, as well as
by insurrections, particularly in the northern regions of Tigray and Eritrea.
In 1989, the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) merged with other
ethnically based opposition movements to form the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary
Democratic Front (EPRDF). In May 1991, EPRDF forces advanced on Addis Ababa.
Mengistu fled the country for asylum in Zimbabwe, where he still resides.
In July 1991, the EPRDF, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and others
established the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE) which was comprised
of an 87-member Council of Representatives and guided by a national charter
that functioned as a transitional constitution. In June 1992 the OLF withdrew
from the government; in March 1993, members of the Southern Ethiopia Peoples'
Democratic Coalition left the government.
In May 1991, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), led by Isaias
Afwerki, assumed control of Eritrea and established a provisional government.
This provisional government independently administered Eritrea until April
23-25, 1993, when Eritreans voted overwhelmingly for independence in a
UN-monitored free and fair referendum. Eritrea was with Ethiopia’s consent
declared independent on April 27, and the United States recognized its
independence on April 28, 1993.
In Ethiopia, President Meles Zenawi and members of the TGE pledged to
oversee the formation of a multi-party democracy. The election for a 547-member
constituent assembly was held in June 1994, and this assembly adopted the
constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in December
1994. The elections for Ethiopia's first popularly chosen national parliament
and regional legislatures were held in May and June 1995. Most opposition
parties chose to boycott these elections, ensuring a landslide victory
for the EPRDF. International and non-governmental observers concluded that
opposition parties would have been able to participate had they chosen
to do so. The Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
was installed in August 1995.