Ethiopia is the only African country which was not colonized by European colonial forces. It was briefly occupied by the Italians between 1936 and 1941.
The history of Ethiopia, known to many as Abyssinia, is rich, ancient, and still in part unknown. Anthropologists believe that East Africa’s Great Rift Valley is the site of the origin of humankind. The first recorded account of the region dates back to almost 5,000 years ago during the time of the Egyptian pharaohs, when the ancient Egyptians sent expeditions down the Red Sea in quest of gold, ivory, incense, and slaves.
It is in the Afar region of Ethiopia where scientists discovered the remains of “Lucy” or Dinkenesh, meaning, “thou art wonderful,” as she is known to the Ethiopians. “Lucy” lived more than three million years ago, and her bones now rest in the Ethiopian National Museum.
The country’s rich history is woven with legends of King Solomon and Queen of Sheba; the Ark of the Covenant that is said to rest in Axum; the great Axumite kingdom and the birth of Christianity; the rise of Islam; and the story of King Lalibela, who is believed to have had constructed eleven rock-hewn churches, still standing today and considered the eighth wonder of the world.
In recent history, between 1889 and 1913 Emperor Menelik II reigned, fending off the encroachments of European powers. Italy posed the greatest threat, having begun to colonize part of what would become its future colony of Eritrea in the mid 1880s. In 1896, Ethiopia defeated Italy at the Battle of Adwa, which was considered the first victory of any African nation over a European colonial power.
Menelik’s successor, Haile Selassie I (reigned 1930-74) was left with the task of dealing Italy’s resurgent expansionism. In the early years of World War II, after a brief occupation Ethiopia was liberated from the Italians by the joint forces of the Resistance Movement and British army.
After being restored to power, Emperor Haile Selassie attempted to implement reforms and modernize the state. However, increasing internal pressures, including conflict with Eritrea and severe famine placed strains on Ethiopian society that contributed in a large part to the 1974 military rebellion that ended the Haile Selassie regime.
The biggest impact of the coup d’etat was the emergence of Lieutenant Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam as head of state, and the reorientation of the government and national economy from capitalism to Marxism. During the 17 years of the military control, the economy deeply worsened, while civil unrest grew beyond the control of the military.
Growing civil unrest and a unified force of the Ethiopian people, led by the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary democratic Front (EPRDF) against their communist dictators finally led to the demise of the Mengistu regime in 1991. Between 1991 and 1995 the Transitional Government of Ethiopia, a coalition of 27 political and liberation organizations embarked on its path to transform Ethiopia from a centralized, military-controlled country to a free and democratic federation.