Village Ethiopia - About Ethiopia
Country topographic profile | Population | Economy | When to come | Climate and Clothing | Health and Medical | Food | Drink | Accommodation | Travel | Money | Miscellaneous | Bibliography | Communicating | Map of Ethiopia
Visitors who hope to find a mirror image of their own countries, either as a result of colonisation or through the trend towards cultural standardisation imposed by globalisation, will be disappointed: Ethiopia remains stubbornly Ethiopian, distinct and different from its neighbours.
Ethiopia has its own 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 birth place, 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 Adua 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 Adua” 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 every variety of scenery, with tropical rain forests, high moorland with Afro-alpine flora, lakes, savannah and deserts. In elevation it ranges from 120 metres below sea level in the harsh salt flats of the Danakil depression, to the 4624 metre peak of Ras Dashen in the Simien mountains. There are more than 80 ethnic groups and as many languages.
With an area of 1,112,000 square kilometres, Ethiopia is as large as France and Spain combined. From the north and running down the centre 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 current population is about 77 million, making it the third most populated country in Africa.
The former military regime was overthrown in 1991. Ethiopia is now a Federal Republic made up of 9 regions, mainly based on ethnicity. The present government was re-elected in May 2005 for a 5-year term.
85% of the population get their livelihood from the land. Coffee (the word originates from the name of the province of Kaffa, in the south west of Ethiopia) provides the bulk of foreign currency earnings, although the recent decline in world coffee prices has meant a fall in its share from 65% to under 50%. 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 favourable grounds for 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 has stepped up in recent years - there are reserves of oil, natural gas, coal, gold, copper, tantalum, potash, zinc, iron ore, nickel, marble, precious and semi-precious stones.
Thermal power generation schemes are already operational in Afar and Oromo Regions.
This can depend on where you are going. In most of the country, the main rainy season runs from June to the end of September, with short rains in March. In the Omo and Mago parks however, in Southern Ethiopia, the seasons are different with the main rains from March to June, and shorter rains in November. (However, in a time of changing global weather patterns it is not longer possible to be absolutely definitive about the rains – in recent years unseasonal rains have made sections of the Omo impassable, for example.)
With the upgrading of the airports along the Historic Route (Axum, Lalibela, Gondar and Bahir Dar), it is now possible to visit the north even in the rainy season. For travellers who do not mind waiting out a downpour (usually followed by brilliant sunshine) there are certain rewards - a green countryside full of crops and flowers and the sites largely to yourselves.
Because of the elevation, temperatures rarely exceed 25 o C in most of the country, although in some of the lower lying areas (Awash, Omo and Mago parks) it can get considerably hotter.
Pack light clothes for the day time and a jacket or sweater for the evenings, and a good pair of walking shoes even if you are not going trekking - path ways around historic sites are usually uneven and stony. Trekkers in the Simien and Bale Mountains will need warm clothes, water-proofs and 3-4 season sleeping bags. On a cultural note - Ethiopians are generally modest dressers, and visitors should be sensitive about going underdressed (shorts, tank tops and bare backed) into places of worship. Shoes must always be removed before entering churches and mosques - for getting around sites like Lalibela with its many churches airline socks are very useful.
The possession of a valid Yellow Fever vaccination certificate is no longer mandatory but visitors coming from countries where Yellow Fever has been reported may be asked. Immunisation for Hepatitis A and B, Tetanus, Typhoid and Polio is recommended.
Malaria: in many sites malaria is not a problem because of the elevation - this is true of Axum, Gondar and Lalibela for example, but it can occur in Bahir Dar at the end of the rainy season and after unseasonable rains. Lowland areas along the Awash River, the Omo Valley, Rift Valley and Gambella are subject to malaria outbreaks. Chloroquine resistant strains have been identified in most areas so you should consult your doctor about the prescription. Alternatively, you can keep mosquitoes and other insects at bay with repellent creams and sprays. (Climatic changes and phenomena such as el-Nino has meant the appearance of malaria at unseasonable times, and its spread to areas previously malaria free.)
Visitors should take a simple first aid pack, which would include: different size plasters, antiseptic cream, anti-histamine cream and/or tablets for insect bites, sun barrier cream (while temperatures are moderate the sun is strong) and anti-diarrhea tablets such as Immodium for emergencies (they will not cure the problem but will control the symptoms).
Generally, visitors should take out standard holiday health insurance in their home countries.
The Ethiopian national dish consists of injera , a flat, circular pancake of fermented dough made from a grain seed called tef , on top of which are served different kinds of cooked meats, vegetables and pulses. The sauces are generally spiced with berbere , a blend of herbs and spices (including hot peppers) which gives Ethiopian food its characteristic taste. Vegetarians should try “fasting food” (for devout Ethiopian Orthodox Christians fast days make up more than half the year), a colourful spread of salads, vegetables and pulses, devoid of all meat and animal products.
One eats national dishes with the right hand (water for washing is usually brought to the table before the food is served), tearing off pieces of injera to pick up the “toppings”.
Addis Ababa now boasts of a wide variety of restaurants, and at hotels in tourist sites European style food such as pasta is always available.
If you are travelling to remote areas, such as the Omo Valley and parts of southern Ethiopia, it is advisable to stock up with tinned and packet food in Addis Ababa.
Gassy and still mineral water, along with soft drinks, are now available throughout the country. There are several brands of locally produced beer. Ethiopia produces its own wine and spirits, while imported spirits are also widely available. There are home made alcoholic drinks: tela (home made beer or ale), tej (wine made from honey) and kati kala (distilled liquor from various grains.)
Addis Ababa has two 5 star hotels - the Hilton and the Sheraton (5 star plus) - and a growing number of tourist class hotels. Standards vary outside the capital, but apart from the Omo and Mago areas where camping is unavoidable it is generally possible to get relatively clean rooms with en suite toilet and shower. Village Ethiopia and other companies have started to construct eco-tourist lodges, and is it is expected that others will follow.
Ethiopian Airlines operates a safe, extensive (43 airports and an additional 21 landing strips) and generally efficient and reliable domestic air service, but cancellations and delays can occur. Ethiopian Airlines and currently one private company offer charter services. Travelling by road allows visitors to experience Ethiopia's wonderful scenery, but road conditions are generally poor, and the mountainous topography in the north will cut speed. The hour flight to Lalibela for example takes nearly two days by road. Railway enthusiasts who wish to travel by train from Addis Ababa to Dire Dawa or on to Djibouti should be prepared for cancellations and delays and run down carriages.
Ethiopia has embarked on a massive road renovation and construction programme, 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.
It is no longer obligatory for visitors to declare currency in their possession on arrival, but should visitors wish to change money back on departure, it will be necessary to produce receipts from banks and authorised foreign exchange dealers. The Ethiopian currency is the birr, the rate of which against the US dollar is fixed in weekly auctions.(In March 2006 the rate is approximately 8.68 birr to US $ 1.00).
Credit card acceptance is now growing throughout the country, but only one bank (Dashen Bank) can issue cash on cards, to a limit of US$500.00 per day, and does not yet have branches in all main cities.
The Commercial Bank of Ethiopia is planning to introduce ATM for Visa and other cards.
Visas – citizens of 33 countries can now get visas on arrival, visitors from other countries should obtain visas from the Ethiopian Embassy in the their country of residence. If there is no Ethiopian Embassy, arrangements can be made through tour operators to obtain one on arrival at the airport.
Electricity - 220 volts. Plugs are of the two-pin variety.
Souvenirs - many antiques cannot be exported and may be confiscated if found in airport searches. The National Museum in Addis Ababa can issue a clearance certificate.
Photography – outside Addis Ababa, generally only 100 ASA film is available. As a matter of courtesy, permission should be sought before photographing individuals and in many parts of the country, particularly among the ethnic groups living by the Omo River, people will demand a fee. In some sites (Blue Nile Falls for example) there is a charge for video photography.
Beggars and begging - Ethiopia's recent history of civil wars, famines and population displacement, along with poverty and under development generally, has created large numbers of destitutes, particularly noticeable in Addis Ababa. Giving to one often provokes a flood of others and does not really solve the problem - Village Ethiopia is happy to facilitate donations to organisations working with the needy and to facilities like clinics and schools.
One of the negative impacts of tourism has been to foster a culture of begging, even among those not particularly in need. Generally, visitors should avoid giving pens, clothes and sweets to children - it is better to provide support to local schools, for example.
The Bradt Guide 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
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
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
African Bird Club
There is no space here for a definitive glossary, Ethiopia has 83 languages and more than 200 dialects! Fortunately, Amharic or Amarigna is widely spoken through the country.
Tenastilign = Hello/how are you?
|Ciao! = Good bye|
|Sintino? = How much is it?||Widdino = It's expensive|
|Efellegalow = I want||Alfellegum = I don't want|
|Tiru no = It's good||Tiru aydellem = It's not good|
|Simeh man no? = (Masc) What's your name?||Simesh man no? = (Fem) What's your name?|
|Leselassa = Soft dri nk||Amboha = Mineral water|
|Birra = Beer||Wuha = Water|
|Ow (as in how) = Yes||Ishi = OK|
|Aydellem = No||Shintibait = Toilet|
|Buna = Coffee||Shai = Tea|
|Injera = Sour dough pancake||Wot = Sauce or stew|
|Tela = Local beer||Tej = Honey wine|
|Yekirta = Excuse me||Amesegenalo = Thank you|
|Na! = Come||Hid! = Go|
|Chiger yellem = No problem||Beka = Enough|
|Bewhala = Afterwards/later|