Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

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Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Itiyoppiya Federaalak Demokraatik Rippeblikih
የኢትዮጵያ ፌዴራላዊ ዴሞክራሲያዊ ሪፐብሊክ
Rippabliikii Federaalawaa Dimokraatawaa Itiyoophiyaa
Jamhuuriyadda Dimuqraadiga Federaalka Itoobiya
ፌዴራላዊ ዴሞክራሲያዊ ሪፐብሊክ ኢትዮጵያ
Flag of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Coat of arms of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Coat of arms
Anthem: ወደፊት ገስግሺ ፣ ውድ እናት ኢትዮጵያ (English: "March Forward, Dear Mother Ethiopia")
Location of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
and largest city
Addis Ababa
Official languagesAfar
Dominant mode of productionNeocolonial capitalism
GovernmentFederal parliamentary republic
• Prime Minister
Dr. Abiy Ahmed
• President
Sahle-Work Zewde
• Total
1,104,300 km²
• 2022 estimate

Ethiopia, officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a landlocked country in East Africa.



The History of Ethiopia can be usefully categorized into four periods:

  1. To 1270: Antiquity
  2. To 1500: The Ethiopian Middle Ages (which encompasses the beginning of the Zagwe Dynasty to the beginning of the emergence of Islam and the end of the early Solomonic period)
  3. To 1855: The Gondarine Period[1]
  4. To present day: The Modern Period (beginning with the End of the Zemene Mesafint, "the Era of Princes") under Tewdros II in 1855.[2]

Italy attempted to colonize Ethiopia in the 19th century but was defeated by Emperor Menelik's forces in 1896. Fascist Italy occupied Ethiopia from 1936 to 1941, Haile Sellasie I went into exile. Haile Sellasie was reinstated as Emperor and continued to rule the country until 1974. Starting from the 50s, the United States started to exert neocolonial relations in Ethiopia.[3] In 1974, the Ethiopian Revolution took place, which ultimately brought the Derg to power. The Derg was chaired initially by Mengistu Haile Mariam (he was replaced by Aman Adom in September 1974), who later became head of state in 1977. The monarchy was formally abolished in 1975,[4] and replaced by a socialist government in Ethiopia. In 1987, the Derg was formally dissolved and the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia founded,[5] which was overthrown by the TPLF and other groups in 1991, establishing the Transitional Government of Ethiopia.[6] In 1995, the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia was founded.

Before 1270



Zagwe dynasty



The Ethiopian-Adal War (1529–1543)

Oromo migrations

Early Gondarian period (1632–1769)

Aussa Sultanate

Zemene Mesafint


Tewodros II and Tekle Giyorgis II (1855–1872)]

Yohannes IV (1872–1889)

Menelik II (1889–1913)

Iyasu V, Zauditu and Haile Selassie (1913–1936)

Italian occupation (1936–1941)

From Liberation to Revolution (1941-1974)


Ethiopian Revolution

Derg (1974-1987)

People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE) (1987-1991)


Transitional Government (1991-1995)

EPRDF Rule (1995-2018)

Abiys- Era (2018-)

Politics and government

Administrative divisions

Administrative devisions of Ethiopia (kilil and zones)

In 1992, the Transitional Government issued Proclamation 7/1992 (National/Regional Self-Government Establishment Proclamation), which was responsible for the creation of fourteen national/regional governments and two chartered cities. In 1995, five of the regions were merged to form the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples.[7] Presently, there are eleven regions (kilil) based on ethno-linguistic territories:

  • Afar
  • Amhara
  • Benishangul-Gumuz
  • Gambela
  • Harari
  • Oromia
  • Sidama
  • Somali
  • South West Ethiopias Peoples
  • Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples
  • Tigray

The two chartered cities are Addis Abeba and Dire Dawa. Regions are subdivided into zones (formely, meaning prior to 1991, this administrative level was called awrajja). Zones are subdivided in Woredas, which are further subdivided into Kebeles.[8]

The Woredas comprise three main organs: a council, an executive and a judicial. The Woreda Council is the highest government organ of the district, which is made up of directly elected representatives from each kebele in the woredas.

The main constitutional powers and duties of the Woredas are:

  1. Preparing and approving the annual Woreda development plans and budgets and monitoring their implementation
  2. Setting certain tax rates and collecting local taxes
  3. Administering fiscal resources of the Woreda
  4. Constructing and maintaining low-grade rural tracks and roads, water points, and Woreda level administrative infrastructure (offices, houses)
  5. Administering primary schools, health institutions and veterinary facilities
  6. Managing agricultural development activities, and protecting natural resources[8]

The representative of the people in each kebele is accountable to their electorate. The woreda chief administration is the district's executive organ that encompasses the district administrator, deputy administrator, and the head of the main sectoral executive offices found in the district, which are ultimately accountable to the district administrator and district council. The quasi-judicial tasks belong to the Security and Justice administration. In addition to woredas, city administrations are considered at the same level as the woredas. A city administration has a mayor whom members of the city council elected. As different regional constitutions govern woredas, the names of the bodies may differ.[9]

The Kebeles are the prime contact level for most Ethiopian citizens. Kebele administrations consist of an elected council (approx. 100 members), a Kebele Cabinet, and a social court (three judges). They commonly form community commitiees. The Kebele Cabinet usually comprises a manager, chairperson, development agents, school director, representatives from the womens association and youth association.

The Kebele council and executive committee's main responsibilites are:

  1. Preparing a Kebele devlopment plan
  2. Ensuring the collections of land and argicultural income tax
  3. Organizing local labor and in-kind contributions to development activities
  4. Resolving conflicts within the community (through social courts)[8]

Constitution and legal system

The Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (Amharic: የኢትዮጵያ ፌዴራላዊ ዴሞክራሲያዊ ሪፐብሊክ ሕገ መንግሥት), also known as the 1995 Constitution of Ethiopia, is the supreme law of Ethiopia. The constitution came into force on 21 August 1995 after it was drawn up by the Constituent Assembly that was elected in June 1994. It was adopted by the Transitional Government of Ethiopia on 8 December 1994.[10]

The main features of Constitution of 1994 are:

  1. The establishment of the federal system: The Constitution declares Ethiopia to be a federal polity with nine regional states based on ethno-linguistic patterns. Federalism was introduced as the culmination to the long-standing 'national question'. The constitutions also outlines the relations between the federal government and the regions.
  2. The wording of the Preamble of the Constitution begins with "We, the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia. ..."[10] This symbolises a constitution of the Ethiopian citizens not simply taken together as a people but as citizens in their different ethnolinguistic groupings. The ethno-linguistic groupings and the nationality issue have historico-political and socio-economic significance beyond the cultural and linguistic expressions. The contitution defines a nation or ethnicity in Article 39.5 as being:

    "A "Nation, Nationality or People" for the purpose of this Constitution,is a group of people who have or share a large measure of a common culture or similar customs, mutual intelligibility of language, belief in a common or related identities, a common psychological make-up, and who inhabit an identifiable,predominantly contiguous territory."[10]

  3. The Constitution establishes a bicameral parliamentary democracy. There are two houses known as the Federal Houses. They are the House of Peoples' Representatives (HPR), with 547 seats, and the House of Federation (HF), with 108 seats. The Constitution also provides for a one house State Council at the state level. The HPR is the highest authority of the Federal Government and the State Council is the highest organ of state authority. The HF which is composed of representatives of Nations, Nationalities and people is the other representative assembly with specific power, including the ultimate "power to interpret the Constitution".
  4. The right to secession is part of the broader right to self- determination. The right to secession is the ultimate extension and expression of the right to self-determination and the Constitution provides a detailed set of procedures for the way in which this right may be exercised in Article 39.4.[10]
  5. The Constitution states that, "the right to ownership of rural and urban land … is exclusively vested in the state and in the people of Ethiopia". It goes on to add, "Land is a common property of the nations, nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia and shall not be subject to sale or to other means of transfer". According to Article 40, Land is common property of the Ethiopian state and its people.[10]
  6. Article 5 provides both for the equality of languages and for their practical application in government. Accordingly, all 85 Ethiopian languages enjoy equal state recognition. It also allows for the right of nations to protect and develop the useage of its own language in Article.[11]
  7. The ultimate interpreter of the Constitution is not the highest court of law, but the HF. The Constitution establishes the Council of Constitutional Inquiry, a body of mostly legal experts of high standing, headed by the Chief Justice of the Federal Supreme Court, to examine constitutional issues, and submit its findings to the House of Federation. The HF thus has the competent and authoritative legal advice of the Council of Constitutional Inquiry before it makes its decision on constitutional issues.[11]

Customary and religious law has a special status in Ethiopia, as well as in the federal states. This also finds application in the 1960 Civil Code.[12]

Structure of Government

The Federal Parliamentary Assembly has two chambers: the House of People's Representatives (Yehizbtewekayoch Mekir Bet) with 547 members, elected for five-year terms in single-seat constituencies; and the House of the Federation (Yefedereshn Mekir Bet) with 108 members, one for each nationality, and one additional representative for each one million of its population, designated by the regional councils, which may elect them themselves or through popular elections.[13]

The president and vice president of the Federal Supreme Court are recommended by the prime minister and appointed by the House of People's Representatives; for other federal judges, the prime minister submits candidates selected by the Federal Judicial Administrative Council to the House of People's Representatives for appointment. [14]

The president is elected by the House of People's Representatives for a six-year term. The prime minister is designated by the party in power following legislative elections. The Council of Ministers, according to the 1995 constitution, consists of the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, other Ministers and other members as determined and approved by the House of People's Representatives. Among the ministries are the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Ministry of Water Resources, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of the Environment.[14]

Ethnic federalism

The Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) lead the "Peaceful and Democratic Transitional Conference of Ethiopia" in July 1991 to approve the "Transitional Charter", convinced of the deleterious effects of the unitarian nation-state tendencies at the expense of the rights of Ethnic groups and nations in Ethiopia of the Derg and the Ethiopian Empire. As a result, the “National and Regional Self-Government Establishment Proclamation No. 7/1992′′ was issued,[15] forming regions on the basis of “settlement patterns, language, identity, and consent of the peoples concerned" (Article 46).[10] Ethiopia’s ethnic-federalism seeks to establish regional states based on ethnicity. This constitutional foundation gives nations, nationalities, and peoples within Ethiopia’s federation the right to self-determination. The territorial autonomy of regional states, nations, nationalities, and peoples, including language and cultural rights as well within the federation, and the right to secession.[15] As a federal system, it outlines the executive, legislative and judicial functions and powers of the federal government and the regions in Article 50-52.[16]

Marxist-Leninist Influence, The Student Movement, the Derg and its Opposition

The 1995 constitution is similar in its treatment of the question of nationality as found in Lenin and Stalin. Specifically, as evidenced by "Declaration of the Rights of the People of Russia":

"The united will of this Congresses, The Councils of the People's Commissars, resolved to base of their activity upon the question of the nationalties of Russia, as expressed in the following principles:

  1. The equality and sovereignty of the peoples of Russia.
  2. The right of the peoples of Russia to free self-determination, even to the point of separation and the formation of an independent state.
  3. The abolition of any and all national and national-religious privileges and disabilities.
  4. The free development of national minorities and ethnographic groups inhabiting the territory of Russia.

The concrete decrees that follow from these principles will be immedieatly elaborated after the setting up of a Commission of Nationality Affairs."[17]

The National Question, albeit finding early expression before the Ethiopian Student Movement, such as in the First Weyane in Tigray 1941-1943, the activities of the Mecha-Ulamo Oromo self-help association and the Bale uprising 1964-1970[18], played a major political and ideological role within the Ethiopian Student Movement.[19] As described by Kastakioris:

"Along with call for the redistribution of land to the tillers and radical economic reform, the student movement engaged in a heated debate over the national question. This debate was triggered by an article entitled ‘On the question of nationalities in Ethiopia’ that Wallelign Mekonnen, a student in political sciences at Addis Ababa University and published in November 1969. An ethnic Amhara, Wallelign, defended the legitimate right of Eritreans to fight against oppression, but opposed the Eritrean liberation movement, because, as he pointed out, it was led by the bourgeoisie and the local feudal lords. At the same time, he invited all Ethiopians to build ‘a genuine national-state . . . in which all nationalities participate equally in state affairs’. Liberation, according to Wallelign, would not come by replacing Amhara with Eritrean masters, but through building a socialist federation of all ethnic groups, a genuinely egalitarian ‘national-state’, as he put it, that would ensure the interests of the working masses all over Ethiopia and reform the country along socialist lines. In this respect, Wallelign Mekonnen remained faithful to the Leninist solution. Other students, however, opposed his views. They also quoted Lenin’s and the Comintern’s theses on the national and colonial question to make, however, an opposing argument. In short, they contended that because Eritrea was a colony and because in the near future the conditions for building a socialist Ethiopian federation could not be fulfilled, secession was a legitimate right of Eritreans" [19].

After the Ethiopian Revolution of 1974, the Derg made moves towards a regocnition of the rights of nations, linguistic rights, and land reform, while concurrently spawning mutiple ethnonatioanlist and seperatist movements in the Ogaden and Tigray, while continuing the war in Eritrea.

The TPLF openly embraced Walleligne Mekonnen by the 1980s, even serving as the namesake of the final operation against the Derg in 1991 ("Operation Walleligne").[19]

The Derg, aligned with the Eastern Bloc, declared equality among the country’s ethnic groups, and promised self-­administration. In 1983, it established the Institute for the Study of Ethiopian Nationalities (ISEN), which had two mandates—assessing the distribution, social, and economic conditions of ethnic groups in the country and recommending a new state structure that would provide regional autonomy for the various ethnic groups. The Derg introduced the constitution of the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE) in 1987, which established some regional autonomy. Some of the provinces affected by the national/regional insurgency were organized into five autonomous regions—Eritrea, Tigray, Dire Dawa, Ogaden and Assab—while Eritrea was provided with more autonomy. In addition, the Derg translated the constitution into some peripheral languages and employed non­-Amharic languages in its literacy programs, but Amharic remained the working language of the government at all levels.

Historians such as John Young draw parallels between the pre-revolutionary Russian Empire and the Ethiopian Empire:

"The Ethiopian emperor, who like his Russian counterpart was head of state and of the Orthodox Church, attempted to assimilate the different ethnic elites into the cultures and languages of the Amhara ruling class. It employed neftegnas (gun carrying settlers) from various ethnic groups to forcefully occupy territory for the empire. While Ethiopia did not have pogroms like Tsarist Russia, it did have indentured peasants, forced national evacuations, lowland African people who were viewed as slaves, and a distinct racial hierarchy."[20]

He especially stresses the debates surrounding the national question of Eritrea as instrumental in the early Student Movement, and contends that much was drawn from the Soviet experience.[20]

Meanwhile, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP) mobilized on a pan-­Ethiopian basis and called for a proletarian revolution under a vanguard party[21]. Nonetheless, its leaders were sufficiently aware of nationalist sensitivities to establish the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) to mobilize the Oromo.

In contrast, groups largely from the non-­Amhara core of the country, including the future leaders of the TPLF, highlighted the nationalities issue and held “Amhara chauvinism” to be the enemy in a context where a Shoan Amhara elite imposed its language, culture, and Coptic faith on the peoples of Ethiopia.[22]

Ultimately the difference between the EPRP and the TPLF was not a strategic question since the TPLF affirmed that the class contradiction superseded all other contradictions. Rather it was a question of whether the national issue was primary for purposes of mobilization, as affirmed by the TPLF, or class, as held by the EPRP. The TPLF contended that its own formation as a Tigrayan national party, together with other national parties, such as the Afar Liberation Front, Western Somali Liberation Front, Sidama Liberation Front, and the OLF, provided conclusive evidence in support of its position.[20]

Sensitive to the nationalism of their Tigrayan followers and appreciating the limited capitalist development in the country, which meant that the working class was a negligible force, the TPLF focused on the peasantry. The primary contradiction was seen in Amhara domination. The Front emphasized national struggle and held that the national contradictions had to be resolved before multinational class struggles could be settled. The early TPLF entertained the idea of Tigray’s secession before proclaiming the right of Tigrayans as a nation to self­-determination [22] According to one TPLF veteran, Stalin’s (1913) article became a “bible,” while another said it was read “scores of times.” [20]

The TPLF and EPDM (Ethiopian People's Democratic Movement) established the EPRDF in 1989.[23] The Amhara­ dominated Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Movement (EPDM) was replaced by the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM) to emphasize its national character and distinguish it from the All Amhara Organization. The ANDM came together with the TPLF to form the EPRDF, which were joined in 1990 by the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO) and later by the Southern Ethiopia Peoples’ Democratic Front (SEPDF)[20]. The EPRDF took power in 1991, as a coalition of four groups.[23]

Criticism of Ethnic Federalism

Some authors contend that Ethnic Federalism either does nothing to decrease ethnic conflict or fosters the conditions for a proliferation of ethnic conflict. E.g., authors such as Zerihun Berhane and Samuel Tefera[24] contend that:

"The available evidences seem to suggest that ethnic federalism in Ethiopia is not helping reduce ethnic tensions and conflicts. In fact, conflict is escalating due to the ethnic heterogeneity of the regional states and the resource plus boundary sharing between different groups. Conflicts are increasing and becoming decentralized which seems to defy the argument that ethnic federalism can be a typical strategy for avoiding conflict in multi-ethnic societies. In fact, the Ethiopian case seems to highlight the roles of political elites and their capacity to manipulate ethnic identities at the expense of societal stability. Thus, there is a need to promote ties between the various ethnic groups based on civic notions of nationality and using commonly shared values in view of the past achievements and future economic development"

Additionally, authors such as Alemante G. Selassie [25]state that the marriage of federalism and ethnicity:

"invokes too many difficulties to be viable or workeable. By its very nature, such a system relies on dividing citizens along ethnic lines and institutionalizes their division. Once reified in this way, ethnic differences have very little chance of fading away over time".

This political instability is often invoked to explain economic stagnation or the lack of economic development, or human rights violations towards ethnic minorites by the majority ethnicity in any given federal state.[25]

It has also been argued that the central government selectively applies constitutional provisions, e.g. in regards to the their relations with the Sidama people and their demands for an Autonomous Sidama Regional State (violently culminating in the Loqqe Massacre)[26].

While some ethnic communities enjoy a homeland of their own, many others have to settle for some sort of internal autonomy within ethically heterogeneous subnational entities. The disproportion, caused by the relative size of ethnic groups, some contend, creates imbalance, which might provoke competition for the capture of the federal power between groups claiming to represent important ethnic groups.[27]


The Ethiopian National Defense Force is the military force of Ethiopia. The ENDF consists of two separate branches: the Ethiopian Ground Forces and the Ethiopian Air Force. Since 1996, landlocked Ethiopia has had no navy.

Ethiopia in 2023 is undergoing a process of reintegrating regional special forces into the national army and the federal or regional police.[28]

International relations

Today, Ethiopia maintains strong relations with China, Mexico, Turkey and India as well as most of Ethiopias neighboring countries, including since 2019 Eritrea.

Despite the fact that six upstream countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania) signed Nile Basin Initiative in 2010, Egypt and Sudan rejected water sharing treaty citing the reduction of amount of water to the Nile Basin challenges their historic connection of water rights. The relationship with Sudan and Egypt is contentious owing to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project.[29]

Ethiopia participated in the War on Terrorism with the United States, with deployments in neighbouring Somalia. It was also historically affected by the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) (signed by Clinton into law in May 2000), a act which exerts political and economic pressure on African states, with the intended purpose of promoting "a buisiness-friendly environment" (i.e. unbrideled foreign-capital accsess to African markets) and "good governance" in Africa. Fullfilling the criteria and being put on the list ensures for preferential tarrifs and trade preferences. Ethiopia was suspended in January 1, 2022, owing to the Tigray War. [30]


Present day economy of Ethiopia

Economic history of Ethiopia


Current Educational System

The structure of education as indicated in the Education and Training Policy of Ethiopia is 8-2-2 (Ministry of Education, 1996). The primary education consists of grades 1-8 and again this is subdivided into two cycles of Basic Education (1-4) and General Education (5-8). The cycles following primary education are the general secondary education grades 9-10 and the preparatory/ senior secondary grades 11-12[31].

The net enrollment rate (NER) in elementary education, jumped from 29 percent in 1989 to 86 percent in 2015. Ethiopian government statistics report that the number of elementary schools tripled from 11,000 in 1996 to 32,048 in 2014, while the number of students enrolled in these schools surged from 3 million to more than 18 million. The NER in upper-secondary education grew from 16 percent in 1999 to 26 percent in 2015.[32]

School education is now mostly administered by local authorities in subdistricts or woredas within the individual regions. Funding is shared between the regions and the federal government, which provides about 50 to 60 percent of the funding through non-itemized block grants to regional governments, as well as grants given directly to schools. To ensure consistency, the federal government manages the education system with multi-year development programs that set performance targets and reform agendas for the entire system. School curricula are standardized nationwide. Schools use a national curriculum framework that includes textbooks developed by the General Education Curriculum Framework Development Department of the federal Ministry of Education (MOE). The federal MOE in Addis Ababa oversees and funds Ethiopia’s higher education system. [32]

Elementary education is provided free of charge at public schools. About 7 percent of elementary schools were private as of 2012/13, most of them located in Addis Ababa. There are also a number of international schools in Addis Ababa that charge exorbitant tuition fees by Ethiopian standards and therefore cater only to wealthy elites and expatriates. The overall share of enrollments in private schools among all elementary enrollments was 5 percent in 2015. The majority of Ethiopian students who continue education after grade 10 enroll in TVET programs.[32]

Ethiopia has a centralized admissions system in which undergraduate admissions criteria are set by the federal MOE for all HEIs, public and private. Admission is generally based on the EUEE and is highly selective, given the scarcity of university seats. Each academic year, the MOE sets minimum grade requirements and quotas for different programs based on the number of available seats, which means that concrete requirements vary from year to year. The government’s objective over the past years has been to steer 70 percent of students into engineering and natural science programs and 30 percent into the humanities and social sciences. Cutoff grades for admission into public universities are higher than for private institutions, so that public HEIs receive the best students, while lower-performing students tend to be funneled into the private sector.[32]


Indigenous education

Yared Music School, which was established in the fifth century, is one of the earliest education institutions in the world. The purpose of the school was to train priests to organise religious music and dance. The musical nota (musical style) developed by St. Yared is still being taught in Ethiopian schools and is being practised in higher level trainings of the Ethiopian Orthodox church.[33]

Even though the exact date when the Church started offering formal education to children is not known, historians generally assume it to be roughly at the beginning of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Ethiopia (400 A.D).[34]

Based on their spiritual and intellectual roles, one can observe two groups of scholars in the traditional education system. The first group are graduates of the School of Holy Mass, Kidassie Bet, and the School of Hymn, Zema Bet, whose function concentrated mainly within the confines of the Orthodox Church, giving religious services to believers. The second group are graduates of the School of Poetry, Qine Bet and the School of Books, Metsehaf Bet. The fields of study and the average times of completion are given in the following table[35]:

Field of Study Average Time of Completion
Nibab Bet (House of Reading) 2 years
Zema Bet (House of Hymn): deggwa (collection of hymms) 4 years
Kidassie Bet (House of Holy Mass): kidassie and seatat 6 months
Zema Bet: zimare and mewasit zema 1 year
Zema Bet: akwakwam 3 years
Qine Bet (House of Poetry) 5 years
Metsehaf Bet (House of Books): biluy and haddis tirguamme 4 years
Liqawunit (interpretation of the books and scholars and monasticism) 3 years
Merha Ewur (mathematical computation of time) 6 months
Yetarik Tinat (the study of history) 1 year
Yetegibare'ed timhirt (arts and handicrafts, such as painting, manuscript writing on leather, sculpture, religious artefacts, book-binding) 4 years
Masmesker (certification) 2 years

The system of Chuch Education is structured as follows, by analogy to other education systems:

  1. "Elementary Education" (Nibab): The teacher is usually a priest or a debtera, with clasroom of thirty pupils, in groups of two or three. The more advanced students teach the less advanced, while the teacher attends to the former and checks on the progress of the latter. Elementary education consists of learning the alphabet, comitting to memory the Acts of the Apostles and the Psalms of David. Moral teaching constitutes learning by heart certain prayers, servicing their elders and teachers, by fetching wood and water, runnig errands, washing their feat etc.
  2. "Secondary Education" (Zema and Kidassie): This is mostly provided by the Zema Bet or School of Music. Church music, dancing and the beating of time consititute the core curriculum of secondary education. Students master the songs sung at the termination of mass (Zemare) and at commemoration service and funerals (Mewaset) as well as the arts of Church dancing and time beating. Also included is the study of a collection of hymns (Deggwa) made very popular by the famous 6th century musician, Abuna Yared. A secondary school is usually conducted by a Mena Geta, as the head of a parish is called, someone who has completed Zema or Kene level.
  3. "College Education" (Kene): The education offered in the Kene school, is a prerequisite for further study at the "university level", and it is at this stage that students are introduced to Ge'ez grammar, the translation of Ge'ez texts into Amharic and the composition of verses. One also learns the mastery of two types of poetry, Semena Work (Wax and Gold) and Wusta Waira (Inside the Olive Tree).
  4. University Education: Here is where specialization occurs. Those who wish to specialize in Kene remain in the Kene school or move on to a similar school of greater renown. The philosophically-inclined enter a Metsehaf Bet (House of Book), while those endowed with a good voice and a talent for music return to a Zema school for a more extensive and specialised study of Church music and dance. In Metsehaf Bet there are four areas of specialization: a) the Old Testament, b) the New Testamant, c) Dogma and Interpretation or d) Astronomy. Specialisation can occur in multiple fields. Certain church schools in certain regions are renowned for certain specialisations as well.[34]

Girma Aware puts it as follows:

"It is interesting to note that specialization in a particular field must be preceded by a study, both broad and deep, of all aspects of the Church's teaching: music, poetry and history. In other words, a wide understanding of Ethiopian culture is a prerequisite for entry into any of the specialized courses offered by these schools."[34]

Chch teaching did not entail its confinement to the religious realm, but extended to the seular, since church education produced civil servants, judges, governors, scribes, treasures etc, religious belief was inextricably linked with a definite social system and a mode of life[36], and served thus as a superstructural justification and material precondition for the mode of production and politico-ideological systems, while retaining formal independence from the state. Some contend that it served as a mechanism to ensure national cohesion.[37]

Some 30,000-35,000 traditional schools exist in Ethiopia today.[35]

Islamic education also exists in Ethiopia, is however subject to far less research. Quranic schools appeared in the 11th century, with a center of learning in Ifat, which was later moved to Harrar. Wollo was also considered a centre of Quaranic learning. Subjects of traditional Islamic education are:

  • Nahw: Arabic grammar and syntax, with specialised branches such as Sarf (morphology), Arud or Maani (prosody), Bayan (eloquence), Badi (the science of methaphors) and Balaghah (rhetoric)
  • Fiqh: Islamic Law and Islamic Jurisprudence
  • Tawhid: Islamic Theology, offered simultaenously or after the completion of the Fiqh.

In Wallo, Tawhid is usually thaught intensively during Ramadan. Mantiq (logic), is widely offerend in Wollo. Salwat (intercessory prayers), is an additional recommended subject, pursued by advanced students. Specialisation varies from place to place. Islamic learning was not only restricted to religious studies but encompasses the study of all (natural sciences, anatomy etc.).[38]

Beginnings of Western Education

Menelik II opened the first western school in Addis Abeba in 1908 on palace compounds, after recruiting ten Egyptians as teachers in 1906. He felt the need for a modern education system to allow for a centralized state (i.e. producing administrators, interpreters and technicians), as well as a populace fluent in foreign languages to facilitate international diplomacy in oder to maintain Ethiopia's sovereignty.[39] To this effect, he states:

"Ethiopia needed educated people to ensure our peace, to reconstruct our country and to enable it to exists as a great nation in the face of European powers" - Menelik II[40]

Following the establishment of that first school in the capital, attempts were made by the government, foreign communities and missionaries to establish modern schools across the country. For instance, a French community school was opened in the capital in 1908 and another one by Alliance Francaise in 1912.[39] Between 1906 and 1935, one hundred private schools were opened.[40] The medium of instruction in government schools was mainly French- a result not premediated. Rather, due to the opposition from the church against the adoption of western-style education in Ethiopia, most vocally by bishop Abune Matteos (an Egyptian), teachers where imported from Egypt as a compromise solution, who then also imported the practice of using French as a language of instruction (irrespective of the need and interests of Ethiopians).[40] Because at the time translators or interpreters were in high demand, the school focused on the teaching of French, English, and Arabic. Moreover, some provincial governors had opened a few schools at their own expense. In 1925 of the Teferi Makonnen School was opened. Following the opening of this second school, other schools were opened at Dessie, Gore, Dire Dawa, Neqemte, Yirga Alem, Jigjiga, Assebe Teferi, Ambo, Jimma and Debre Markos.

Additionally, in 1931, the Empress Menen School, the first all-girls school in the country's history, was founded. The overall picture of the country's expanding "modern" education was as follows: There were twenty-eight government schools with a total enrollment of over four-thousand students until the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. There were about two hundred students pursuing their education in the different European countries as well as in the United States of America. Of these latter, ten were young women.[41]

Empress Zewditu Menelik (daughter of Emperor Menelik II) introduced the education proclamation of 1929, a first step towards universal education of all schol age children in Amharic, in addition to modest provisions for vocational education:

"All those who do not send their sons and daughters to school so that they can learn writing and reading skills which are necessary to identify the good and evils and develop fear of God and the king, will be punished 50 Birr. The money solicited from punishment will be given to the church for the feeding and clothing of the poor"[39]

Italian Occupation of Ethiopia (1935-1941)

In November 1932 the Italian government established a central office for primary education in Eritrea, the purpose of which as defined by its director, Andrea Festa. Its purpose was to exercise technical and disciplinary supervision to ensure that education accorded with the principles of the fascist regime. "Native Schools" were devided into three groups: elementary schools (where they would learn "the first elements of the Italian language"), arts and crafts schools, and a complementary school (only one of which was established, with an attendance of under 40 even at peak times) to the elementary school. Education for Ethiopians was restricted to six years in either technical or elementary school, a deliberate policy to curtail the asperations of the "natives" which was considered to be "many times in excess of their status."[42]

Festa further states in the Second Italian Congress of Colonial Studies in Florence in April 1934:

" The Native child [has to be acquainted] with a little of our civilisation [in order to become] a concious propaganist for Italian culture. [He had therefore to know] Italy, its glories, and ancient history, in order to become a concious milita man in the shade of our flag. (...) [The] complete abolition [in the] native syllabus of the teaching of the history of the Italian struggle for independence and national unity [is necessary], [as] all such ideas were unnecessary or in any way unsuited to the modest possibilities of the native (...). The school thus conceived and circumscribed cannot but assure an effective benefit to the children, future soldiers of Italy, without creating for the Government political preoccupations; which could perhaps result from an education designed with more ample aims and with programmes consonent with those in force for compatriots (Italians)"[42]

The principles of fascist educational policy in Africa were officially defined in an educational ordinance for the colonies issued on July 24, 1936, Article I of which reiterated the principle that there were to be two different types of educational institutions, namely "Italian type schools" and schools for "colonial subjects." Article VI specified that Italian citizens in the empire were subject to the same rules for the compulsory education of their children as were in force; in, metropolitan Italy, while Article XIV stated that the programs and regulations of "Italian type" schools should "conform to those of the same grade in the Kingdom," except where "special local conditions" required "modifications which would be promulgated by the Minister for the Colonies." The Tafari Makonnen School was converted into two "Italian type" schools, the Liceo-Ginnasio Vittorio Emanuele III and the Istituto Tecnico Benito Mussolini, both reserved for European children, while the prewar Empress Menen School was converted into the Regina Elena military hospital. [42]

In 1939, all distinctions between "half-caste" and "natives" were removed, in 1940 they were barred from all educational institutions reserved for Italians. [42] All the missionary institutions, including their educational provisions, were closed in 1940. Children of mixed parentage who were at least 13 years old could still obtain Italian citizenship if they had received an Italian education up to the third grade of primary school and had demonstrated "good civic, moral and political behaviour".

In Ethiopia a new soprintendenza was created in 1936. Religious orders (the Mission of the ‘Consolata’ in Ethiopia) ran Catholic schools which were often rated highly, and which were granted state recognition. In many cases Italian priests abandoned their previously apolitical approach to participate in national mobilisation for the war; some missionaries shared the idea that an Italian Empire could bring civilisation and development to African populations.[43] During the occupation, Ethiopian teachers who knew the local languages were employed under the supervision of priests and nuns, with an emphasis on Italian fascist ideology. However, in practice, all instructions in government-operated schools were primarily in Italian. Textbooks were written in Italian.[39]

During this period, there was neither a uniform and standardized curriculum nor a standardized assessment method in schools. The devastating war of aggression and its consequences resulted in a significant and lasting negative effect on the growth and development of education[39], as educated Ethiopians were murdered (by some estimates 75% of all educated Ethiopians were killed during the Italian Occupation)[36], either pre-emptively executed or as a punishment for political and military opposition to the occupation.[31]

Pre-revolutionary Period

This period is usually structured into four periods: The First Curriculum (6-6 Structure), between 1941-1947, The Second Curriculum (8-4 Structure), between 1949-1951, the Third Curriculum, also dubbed the Experimental Curriculum, between 1951- 1963, and the Fourth Curriculum (6-2-4 Structure), from 1963-1974[38]

For many years after World War II, Haile Selassie I himself retained the post of Minister of Education and had exclusive control over educational matters in the country. Order No. 3 of 1947 reads as follows:

"The direction, administration, supervision and guidance of all functions and controls of Our Imperial Government, relating to education, fine arts, and religious and cultural instruction, within Our Empire shall come under Our exclusive"[44]

The administrative regulation is aptly described by Girma Amare:

" Between 1941 and 1974, the Ministry of Education grew in size and complexity. New departments were created and existing ones expanded. Fifteen regional and 102 sub regional education offices were opened. The ministry was organized into three departments, each responsible for major functions: administration, instruction, culture and external aid. Each was headed by an expert with the rank of vice-minister; each had several divisions, sections, and units under director generals and heads. The regional and subregional offices linked the ministry and the schools. The minister was a political appointee and a member of the Council of Ministers, linking the ministry and the government. Although he was theoretically accountable to the Prime Minister, he was answerable to the emperor, who could replace or dismiss him. The Minister of State and the three vice-ministers as well as all other senior officials of the ministry were responsible to the minister and through him to the emperor. The Department of Supervision and of Private Schools played vital supervisory roles in ensuring that the rules and regulations of the ministry were followed in all schools in the empire. Through this highly centralized machinery, all educational activities in the empire were controlled and directed from the top. Curricula, national examinations, school calendars, and textbooks were centrally developed and uniformly applied throughout the country, irrespective of the diverse needs and conditions obtaining in various regions."[44]

The first post-elementary-level educational establishment opened after the Italo-Ethiopian War of 1935–1941 was the Haile Selassie Secondary School, which started offering regular academic training in Addis Ababa on July 23, 1943. From 1941 to 1951, seven secondary schools, only two of which were devoted exclusively to secondary education, were functioning in the Ethiopian empire. In the secondary level was general education, the first year curriculum covered history, geography, and Amharic, with a total of three courses a week; and mathematics and science, including health, with a combined total of five courses per week.[45] The General Wingate secondary school (financed by the British) was opened in 1945. American involvement in the education system dates from the 1940s, when american advisors Ruckmirck and Rinckle served in the Ministry of Education. [44]

In 1948, Ethiopia changed the educational system from a 6-4 (six years of primary followed by four years of secondary) to an 8-4 system on the insistence of U.S. advisers. In 1955, the eight primary years were split into six years of primary and two years of junior secondary, followed by four years of senior secondary. During the 1960s, the comprehensive education idea was introduced from the United States and led to the conversion of several academic schools in Ethiopia to comprehensive schools.[44]

The government recruited foreign teachers for primary and secondary schools to offset the teacher shortage. By 1952 a total of 60,000 students were enrolled in 400 primary schools, eleven secondary schools, and three institutions offering college-level courses. In the 1960s, 310 mission and privately operated schools with an enrollment of 52,000 supplemented the country's public school system.[46]

The first third-level educational institution opened in Ethiopia was the University College of Addis Ababa (from 1962 onwards the Haile Selassie I University, from 1975 the Addis Abeba University), which started operation on December 11, 1950.[47] During the 1960s, the second university in the country, the University of Asmara, opened.[45]

In the late 1950s, as more and more students competed for the few available spaces, a pass in at least four ordinary-level subjects of the general certificate of education of the University of London, and in at least five subjects in the Ethiopian school-leaving certification examination, became a minimum requirement for those wishing to enroll in the two elite third-level institutions: the University College of Addis Ababa and the engineering college. [45]

In May 1961, Ethiopia hosted the United Nations-sponsored Conference of African States on the Development of Education[46]:

“In 1961, when the average enrollment in primary schools on the African continent was estimated at over 40 per cent, the estimated primary school enrolment in Ethiopia was 3.8 per cent. On the secondary level, estimated average enrollment for the appropriate age group on the continent and in Ethiopia was 3.5 and 0.5 per cent, respectively” "“in a comparison of 17 African countries’ expenditure on education over a period of years in the 1960s, Ethiopia ranks lowest with 11.4 per cent of the national budget”[48]

Between 1964-1973, 210 Ethiopians studied in the UK, many of them on British Council Scholarships. Ethiopia was also the main reciever of Peace-Corps funding and volunteers (556 teachers) since 1962, supplying 23.6% of Ethiopias teaching force at the time. Between 1961 and 1974, aproximately 75 Americans, most sponsored by the U.S.A.I.D., were teaching in the university. More than 200 Ethiopians were sponsored for study in U.S. universities during the same period, most of them for post-graduate work. Among 4,143 Ethiopian students abroad between 1964 and 1973, 2,235 (53.9 percent) were in the United States, and 26.8 percent were in Western European countries. In 1963 alone, Haile Sellassie I University received $6.8 million from the United States. More than 80 percent of the 10,338 graduates from the colleges and the university between 1950 and 1974 were absorbed into the civil service.[44]

Several military schools were established, among the most important being the Air Force Cadet Training School in Addis Ababa, the Military School at Holeta, the Haile Sellassie I Military School in Harar, and the Navy Cadet School in Masawa. [44]

Because many perceived foreign involvement in Ethiopia‟s educational system to be excessive, the government gradually began to “Ethiopianize" the education system. Initially, the government was interested in appointing mostly qualified and experienced Ethiopians in the process of policy making along with the Education Advisory Group. The government also focused on the training of teachers, supervisors and school administrators for various Community Teacher Training Centres, Teacher Training Institutes and the Faculty of Education (HSIU). In October 1971, the government initiated a study of the education sector. This study, which came to be known as The Education Sector Review (ESR), analyzed the education and training system of Ethiopia and its capability of promoting economic, social and cultural development. It also aimed to make education relevant to the society, national integration and development, and to prioritize studies and investments in education and training.[39]


The Derg considered education as a key to development and the development of socialism in Ethiopia. This view was first set out in the programme for the National Democratic Revolution in Ethiopia (NDR) in April 1976, and elaborated upon in the the five volume policy documents: General Directives of Ethiopian Education 1980. [38]

An often quoted section in the NDR reads:

"There will be an educational programme that will provide free education, step by step, to the broad masses. Such a programme will aim at intensifying the struggle against feudalism, imperialism and bureaucratic capitalism. All necessary measures to eliminate illiteracy will be undertaken. All necessary encouragement will be given for the development of science, technology, the arts and literature. All the necessary effort will be made to free the diversified cultures of imperialist cultural domination from their own reactionary forces."[49]

This is often criticised for being too broad, vague, or general, to properly guide educational policty in the country.[38]

A Section in the New Educational Objectives and Directives for Ethiopia 1980 by the Minisry of Education also reads[38]:

  • The general objectives of education should focus on eduation for production, education for scientific conciousness and education for socialist conciousness
  • The content of education should be concerned with polytechnic education that emphasises practice, production, the objective reality of the society.
  • The structure of the education 6-2-4 has to be changed to 8-2-2. The profile of students at each level should be worked out, to this end a curriculum package should be prepared and implemented.

A proclamation providing for the administration and control of schools was issued in 1976. That proclamation was repealed in 1984, and was replaced by the Proclamation for Strengthening of the Management and Administration of Schools. Proclamation No. 103 of 1976 ensured the public ownership of schools.[39]

The two proclamations do not differ in their basic aims, which are to 'integrate education with the lives of the broad masses" and to enhance popular participation in the management of the schools. According to that Proclamation, the management of government schools is made the responsibility of Government School Committees; in the case of public schools, the management is made the responsibility of Public School Management and Administration Committees. In the case of the latter, the majority consists of the representatives of parents. The Ministry of Education retains responsibility for academic matters and for approval of plans of expansion of schools[50]. The responsibilities of the Ministry of Education were more fully explained in he Definition of Powers and Responsibilities of Ministers. Among the functions of the Ministry, the central ones are to:

  • 1. Study and prepare educational policy geared to the national political, economic and social needs; prepare a national educational programme and implement the approved policy
  • 2. Ensure that the educational curriculum is prepared on the basis of Hebrettesebawinet, and embodies the principle that education given at every level aids to improve the standard of living of the broad masses and emphasize the development of science and technology..
  • 4. Ensure that education is given to all on the basis of equality and that it serves as a medium to strengthen unity and freedom and for the interaction of the important cultures of the country...
  • 11. Issue and supervise the enforcement of directives relating to the participation of the broad masses in the administration of education at Kebele, Woreda, Awrajja and provincial levels[50]

Between 1974 and 1981 the number of students in grades 7 and 8 increased by 109%, while the number in grades 9 to 12 increased by 260%. Between 1974 and 1981 the number of secondary school teachers increased by 50%. Today there are about 250 000 students in grades 9 and 10 and about 100.000 students graduate each year from the secondary school system. The great majority, namely, 94%, then come on to the labour market.[51]

Following the Ethiopian Land Reform, in early 1975, the Derg created the Ediget Behibret Zemecha (Development through Cooperation Campaign), which encompassed the closure of the Addis Abeba University in the beginning of 1975, so that six thousand university students and fifty thousand secondary school students could be sent to 437 places in the countryside. This was intended to teach and politicize the peasant, and help develop the rural masses. In the course of the campaign, university students taught peasants about civil rights, land ownership and hygiene, created awareness of land redistribution, and participated in the formation of peasant associations, bringing literacy and building schools, clinics and latrines. The AAU was reopened in the 1976/1977 academic year. [52]

Since its establishment in 1977, the Commission for Higher Education has directed attention to two major tasks:

a) maximum utilization of human and material resources by merging various departments and faculties whenever appropriate and

b) expansion of existing facilities' student capacity as well as establishment of new institutions. [53]

Thus, after the revolution, faculties and departments were merged whenever this was economical. In 1977 the departments of English and Ethiopian Languages were combined in the Institute of Languages. In 1980 the Faculty of Engineering and the Building College were merged into the Faculty of Technology, which offered an expanded program that included architecture, town planning, material research, and testing. Also in 1980, the Faculty of Arts, College of Business Administration, and School of Social Work were integrated into the College of Social Sciences, to

"produce the country's high level manpower in the social sciences and [prepare] students to contribute to the ongoing revolution by equipping them with the Marxist- Leninist philosophic background." [53]

The Faculty of Education was changed to the College of Pedagogical Sciences, offering a four-year degree in curriculum studies, educational administration, and educational psychology in addition to a two-year diploma in technical teacher education. The Bahir Dar Academy of Pedagogy was brought under the administration of Addis Ababa University, making it possible for the College of Pedagogical Sciences and the academy to run coordinated programs. All in-service teacher training, extension, and correspondence courses were placed under the Department of Continuing Education. In 1979 the College of Theology was closed.[53]

Addis Abeba University grew to 17 colleges and faculties and an enrollment of 11,588 in 1983. A postgraduate school was opened in 1978, offering a two-year MA. in medicine, science, social science, language studies, and technology. Despite of the War in Eritrea, Asmara University developed three major units, the colleges of Social Science, Natural and Physical Science, and Language Studies. The agricultural colleges at Jimma, Ambo, and Debre Zeit, grew rapidly in response to the increased demand for agricultural experts at the newly established collectives, cooperatives, and state farms. [53]

In 1984 total enrollment in higher education reached 17,000.[53]

One of the significant contributions of the Derg was its launching of a vigorous national campaign against illiteracy in 1979 (universal literacy was by 1987 was the inital goal).[50] By July 1990, which marked the Eleventh Anniversary of the Literacy Campaign, a 75.3 percent national literacy rate was reported. The illiteracy rate reduced from 95% at the start of the Ethiopian National Literacy Campaign (ENLC) to 24.7% .The number of primary schools increased in all parts of the country. The national enrollment rate reached 34.1 percent.[39] The rate of expansion of both primary and secondary education was higher than to the previous Haile Selassie regime. Enrollment increased from 224,934 in 1959–1960 to 1,042,900 in 1974–1975 . During the period of 1975–1979, enrollment increased from 1,042,900 to 3,926,700 or at the rate of about 12% annually.[54]

A decision to evaluate the educational system was reached in 1983, which was then completed in 1986. This was due to the expansion of secondary education beyond the capacity of the economy and the related decline in the quality of education.[38] This project was called the Evaluative Research on the General Education of Ethiopia (ERGESE).[55] Alot of the recommendations were already covered by the 1984/1985 Ten-Year Perspective Plan (except some of the language policy questions), and was therefore neglected.[39] The numerical targets of the plan were to achieve participation rates of 66.5 percent in the first level of education, 35.6 percent in Grades 7 and 8, 11.5 percent in grades 9 and 10 and 7.9 percent in Grades 11 and 12. The plan also projects the attainment of over 90 percent literacy by 1993/94.[50]

The Dergs education system was inhibited by problems such as budget shortfalls, which in turn affected the supply of basic educational materials including textbooks and a shortage of qualified teachers both at primary and secondary schools.[39]

A major inspiration for the educational system was the GDR (German Democratic Republic).


There are over 80 ethnic groups in Ethiopia. The largest nations in the country are the Tigray (6.1%) and Amhara (27%), who speak Semitic languages,and the Somalis (6.2%) and the Oromo (34%), who speak a Cushitic language.[3]

Ethiopias Population Pyramid, generated from US Census Bureau International Data Base

According to the most recent census conducted by the Population Census Commision of the FDRE in 2007 (which recorded a population of 74 million), 43,5% of the Ethiopian Population are Orthodox Christian (Tewahedo), 18.6% Protestant (mostly Pent'ay) and 0,7% Catholic, which totals to a Christian population of 62,8%.[56] In addition, 33.9% are Muslim,[56] 68% of which identify as Sunni, and 2% as Shia.[57] The census lists 2.6% of the population as being adherents to "traditional religions". Most Christians live in the highlands, whereas Muslims mainly inhabit the lowlands. Adherents of traditional faiths are primarily concentrated in the southern regions[56]


Since the 29th of February 2020 (as decided by Ethiopia's Council of Ministers), the FDRE has five working languages: Afaan Oromo, Tigrinya, Somali, Afar and Amharic. Prior to this decision, Amharic was the only working language of Ethiopia, and it remains the de facto second language of many Ethiopians because of this status.[58] Amharic and Afaan Oromo are considered to be lingua francae of Ethiopia.[59] Ethiopia has a literacy rate of 52%.[60]

The 2007 census reported 85 Ethiopian ethnic groups vs. 80 of the 1994 census, and the 2007 census reported 87 Ethiopian mother tongues vs. 77 of the 1994 census.[61] However, this same paper also notes:

"the persistent difficulty concerning differences between names of languages and their dialects, and between self-names and names, often thought derogatory, given by others. Of course even the notions 'ethnic group', 'mother tongue' or 'language' are not well defined, but are non-discrete entities, and the facts which, in particular cases, would give them clarity if not satisfactory definition are many and probably impossible to elicit in a census. The Ethiopian census seems not trying to identify and count all Ethiopian ethnic groups and mother tongues, or even a well-defined subgroup of these. The apparent absence of expert advice in these matters (or at least in the census reporting) is understandable, given the certain difficulties of choosing among experts, interpreting the advice (probably often contradictory), and implementing it."[61]

The same author elswhere states about the 1994 Census:

"linguistic findings of the Census seem reasonably consistent with the typically un-quantified and often intuitive knowledge of Ethiopianist linguists" [despite of the] "expected difficulties for the Census arising from the political sensitivities associatied with linguistic and ethnolinguistic questions, an unsystematic and ambiguous linguistic nomenclature, and the practical problem of reaching and sampling in all corners of Ethiopia."[59]

indicating the census reliability. The Ethnologue page for Ethiopia lists 87 living and 2 extinct languages, broadly in the Afro-Asiatic (Semitic, Cushitic and Omotic languages) and Nilo-Saharan (Surmic, Gumuz, and Koman languages) language families (excluding sign language for Amharic).[60] Currently, 25 languages are used as a language of instruction in primary education,[62] whereas English is used as a language of instruction (Amharic and the local language being included in the curriculum) in secondary and higher education.[32] More precisely:

"Ethiopia’s approach has first and foremost been the introduction of local languages as a medium of instruction at the primary level and followed multilingual education strategies. Ethiopian educational experts of the several regions and zones decided whether the mother tongue should be used as a medium of instruction at the first cycle (1st– 4th grade) or during the complete primary level. That means that the medium of instruction can not only be different within a regional state but sometimes even within zones of a region with a multiethnic situation. Local languages are used as a medium of instruction up to the 8th grade in the Oromiya, Amhara, and Tigray regions as well as in Addis Ababa. The SNNP (Southern Nations, Nationalities and People) are using the respective local languages only in the first cycle (...). Amharic as a medium of instruction is preferred in urban areas due to the multiethnic character of many towns where the inhabitants often only share it as the lingua franca."[62]

Ethiopic Script organized in groups and modifications.

The concrete usage of languages varies according to the existence or availability of written material in that language, a consistent and standardized dictionary and grammar, and the availability of trained and educated people in that respective language.[62]

Principally, according to the 1994 constitution (Article 5 and Article 39), each nation has the right to choose its respective working language, as well as the right to speak, to write and to develop its own language, as well as promote and preserve its own culture and history.[10]

Several Ethiopian langages use the Ge'ez Script (Ethiopic Script), first used to write the Ge'ez language, which presently serves as an liturgical language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. It is the script for the major Ethiosemitic languages, such as Tigrinya and Amharic. Some langages use different scripts, like for instance the Latin Script, such as Afaan Oromo, eventhough an alphasyllabic alternative exists since the 1950s in the form of the script invented by Sheikh Bakri Saṗalō.[63] In total, at least 20 languages use the Ethiopic script, including some Omotic and Nilo-Saharan languages. It is also employed for some Eritrean languages. It has 26 syllographs classes with 7 variations within a class, leading to a total of 182 syllographs in its standard form[64] (some languages use additional syllographs and there are additional "special" syllographs used in some contexts).

Politics of language and nationalities

The politics of language in Ethiopia broadly encompasses two related but distinct topics: a) Whether a policy of linguistic homogenization existed, and if so, to which extent, its role in "nation-building" efforts and the shift in policy in the 1990s as well as the political consequences of both and b) the politics of personal langauge choice and its instrumentalisation for political aims. I.e., the national-political and the economic problem, as well as the personal problem. Relatated to this is the problem of nationalities in Ethiopia and the emergence of ethnonationalism as a political force in Ethiopia etc.

Walleligne Mekonnen, marxist activist in the Ethiopian Student Movement, states in his famous account of the problem of nationalities and languages in Ethiopia in the text "On the question of nationalities in Ethiopia":

"To be a "genuine Ethiopian" one has to speak Amharic, to listen to Amharic music, to accept the Amhara-Tigre religion, Orthodox Christianity and to wear the Amhara-Tigre Shamma in international conferences. In some cases to be an "Ethiopian", you will even have to change your name. In short to be an Ethiopian, you will have to wear an Amhara mask (to use Fanon's expression). Start asserting your national identity and you are automatically a tribalist, that is if you are not blessed to be born an Amhara. According to the constitution you will need Amharic to go to school, to get a job, to read books (however few) and even to listen to the news on Radio "Ethiopia" unless you are a Somali or an Eritrean in Asmara for obvious reasons. To anybody who has got a nodding acquaintenance with Marxism, culture is nothing more than the super-structure of an economic basis. So cultural domination always presupposes economic subjugation. A clear example of economic subjugation would be the Amhara and to a certain extent Tigrai Neftegna system in the South and the Amhara-Tigre Coalition in the urban areas." [65]

Walleligne Mekonnen is here referring to the 1955 Constitution, which adopted Amharic as the offical language of the Empire of Ethiopia.[66] In this quote, the political importance of language in Ethiopia is described and its content can be used as a useful starting point. The contentiousness of the history of state formation in Ethiopia is well described in this quote:

"The history of state formation in Ethiopia is a source of profound contention. At one extreme, pan-Ethiopian nationalists contend that the state is some 3,000 years old. According to this perspective, well represented by Solomon Gashaw, the state has existed for millennia, successfully countering ethnic and regional challenges, and forging a distinct national identity. The assimilation of periphery cultures into the Amhara or Amhara/Tigray core culture made the creation of the Ethiopian nation possible. From this point of view, Ethiopia is a melting pot and a nation-state. At the other extreme, ethnonationalist groups such as the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) claim that Abyssinia (central and northern Ethiopia, the geographic core of the Ethiopian polity) colonized more than half the territories and peoples to form a colonial empire in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. From their vantage point, Ethiopia is a colonial empire that needs to undergo decolonization whereby ‘‘ethnonational’’ colonies become independent states. A more credible image of Ethiopia would be as a historically evolved (noncolonial) empire - state. The ancient Ethiopian state—short-term contractions in size notwithstanding—expanded, over a long historical period, through the conquest and incorporation of adjoining kingdoms, principalities, sultanates, and so on, which is indeed how most states in the world were formed."[67]

Here, three of the dominant views on Ethiopian state formation, both scholarly and political, are outlined. The fact that the views on state formation are subject to political contestation is shown in the following table[68]:

Ethiopian Political Groups and their Perspectives on Ethiopian State Formation
Name (and Acronym) Date Established Perspective on Ethiopian state formation
All Amhara People's Organization (AAPO) 1991 Nation-building
Ethiopian Democratic Union (EDU) 1975 Nation-building
All Ethiopian Socialist Movement (MAISON) 1968 National oppression
Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party (EPRP) 1972 National oppression
Waz League 1976 National oppression
Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) 1974 Colonization
Oromo National Congress (ONC) 1996 National oppression
Western Somalia Liberation Fron (WSLF) 1977 (unclear) Colonization
Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) 1975 National oppression/ colonization
United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) 2003 Different Perspectives
Tigrayan Alliance for National Democracy (TAND) 1998 (unclear) National oppression

The History of the politics of languages and nationalities will be examined in more detail in the following sections, as it has undergone dramatic shifts in the modern history of Ethiopia.



Post 1991


  1. Harold G. Marcus (2002). A History of Ethiopia: Updated Edition: 'Chapter 2: The Golden Age of the Solomonic Dynasty, to 1500' (pp. 17-29). London: University of California Press. [LG]
  2. Bahru Zewde (2002). A History of Modern Ethiopia (1855-1991) (p. 21). Addis Abeba: Addis Abeba University Press. [LG]
  3. 3.0 3.1 Solyana Bekele (2021-08-09). "Smash neocolonialism in Ethiopia, erase the fake borders!" The Burning Spear. Archived from the original on 2022-07-29. Retrieved 2022-08-27.
  4. Bahru Zewde (2002). A History of Modern Ethiopia (1855-1991) (pp. 233-251). Addis Abeba: Addis Abeba University Press.
  5. Stefan Brüne (1990). IDEOLOGY, GOVERNMENT AND DEVELOPMENT - THE PEOPLE’S DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF ETHIOPIA (p. 193). Northeast African Studies, vol. 12, no. 2/3,. doi: 10.2307/43660324 [HUB]
  6. Paul B. Henze (2004). Layers of Time: A History of Ethiopia (p. 330). Addis Abeba: Shama Books. [LG]
  7. Mulatu Wubneh (2017). Ethnic Identity Politics and the Restructuring of Administrative Units in Ethiopia (p. 127). International Journal of Ethiopian Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1 & 2, Special Issue.
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