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Ethiopia - SOCIETY
THE ETHIOPIAN PEOPLE ARE ETHNICALLY heterogeneous, comprising more than 100 groups, each speaking a dialect of one of more than seventy languages. The Amhara, Oromo, and Tigray are the largest groups. With the accession of Menelik II to the throne in 1889, the ruling class consisted primarily of the Amhara, a predominantly Christian group that constitutes about 30 percent of the population and occupies the central highlands. The Oromo, who constitute about 40 percent of the population, are half Orthodox Christians and half Muslims whose traditional alliance with the Amhara in Shewa included participation in public administration and the military. Predominantly Christian, the Tigray occupy the far northern highlands and make up 12 to 15 percent of the population. They or their Eritrean neighbors had been battling the government for nearly three decades and by 1991 had scored many battlefield successes.
According to estimates based on the first census (1984), Ethiopia's population was 51.7 million in 1990 and was projected to reach more than 67 million by the year 2000. About 89 percent of the people live in rural areas, large sectors of which have been ravaged by drought, famine, and war. The regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam embarked on controversial villagization and resettlement programs to combat these problems. Villagization involved the relocation of rural people into villages, while resettlement moved people from drought-prone areas in the north to sparsely populated and resource-rich areas in the south and southwest. The international community criticized both programs for poor implementation and the consequent toll in human lives.
The traditional social system in the northern highlands was, in general, based on landownership and tenancy. After conquest, Menelik II (reigned 1889-1913) imposed the north's imperial system on the conquered south. The government appointed many Amhara administrators, who distributed land among themselves and relegated the indigenous peasants to tenancy. The 1974 revolution swept away this structure of ethnic and class dominance. The Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC; also known as the Derg) appointed representatives of the Workers' Party of Ethiopia and the national system of peasant associations to implement land reform. Additionally, the government organized urban centers into a hierarchy of urban dwellers' associations (kebeles). Despite these reforms, however, dissatisfaction and covert opposition to the regime continued in the civilian and military sectors.
Prior to the 1974 revolution, the state religion of Ethiopia had been Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, whose adherents comprised perhaps 40 to 50 percent of the population, including a majority of the Amhara and Tigray. Islam was the faith of about 40 percent of the population, including large segments (perhaps half) of the Oromo and the people inhabiting the contiguous area of the northern and eastern lowlands, such as the Beja, Saho, Afar, and Somali. Adherents of indigenous belief systems were scattered among followers of the two major religions and could be found in more concentrated numbers on the western peripheries of the highlands. In line with its policy that all religions were equally legitimate, the regime in 1975 declared several Muslim holy days national holidays, in addition to the Ethiopian Orthodox holidays that were already observed.
Declaring education one of its priorities, the PMAC expanded the education system at the primary level, especially in small towns and rural areas, which had never had modern schools during the imperial era. The new policy relocated control and operation of primary and secondary schools to the subregion (awraja) level, where officials reoriented curricula to emphasize agriculture, handicrafts, commercial training, and other practical subjects. The regime also embarked on a national literacy campaign.
The regime's health policy included expansion of rural health services, promotion of community involvement, selfreliance in health activities, and emphasis on the prevention and control of disease. As with education, the PMAC decentralized health care administration to the local level as part of its effort to encourage community involvement. Despite an emphasis on rural health services, less than a third of the total population had effective health coverage in mid-1991.
Ethiopia's population was estimated at 51.7 million in 1990. According to the nation's only census, conducted in 1984, Ethiopia's population was about 42 million. But the census was far from comprehensive. The rural areas of Eritrea and Tigray were excluded because of hostilities. In addition, the population in the southern parts of Bale and Harerge could only be estimated because of the prevalence of pastoral nomadism.
The 1984 census revealed that Ethiopia's population was about 89 percent rural, and this percentage did not appear to have changed by the late 1980s. This segment included many nomadic and seminomadic peoples. The Ethiopian population always has been predominantly rural, engaging in sedentary agricultural activities such as the cultivation of crops and livestock-raising in the highlands. In the lowlands, the main activities traditionally have been subsistence farming by seminomadic groups and seasonal grazing of livestock by nomadic people.
The distribution of Ethiopia's population generally is related to altitude, climate, and soil. These physical factors explain the concentration of population in the highlands, which are endowed with moderate temperatures, rich soil, and adequate rainfall. About 14 percent of the population lives in areas above 2,400 meters (cool climatic zone), about 75 percent between 1,500 and 2,400 meters (temperate zone), and only 11 percent below 1,500 meters (hot climatic zone), although the hot zone encompasses more than half of Ethiopia's territory. Localities with elevations above 3,000 meters and below 1,500 meters are sparsely populated, the first because of cold temperatures and rugged terrain, which limit agricultural activity, and the second because of high temperatures and low rainfall, except in the west and southwest.
Although census data indicated that overall density was about thirty-seven people per square kilometer, density varied from over 100 per square kilometer for Shewa and seventy-five for Arsi to fewer than ten in the Ogaden, Bale, the Great Rift Valley, and the western lowlands adjoining Sudan. There was also great variation among the populations of the various administrative regions.
In 1990 officials estimated the birth rate at forty-five births per 1,000 population and the total fertility rate (the average number of children that would be born to a woman during her lifetime) at about seven per 1,000 population. Census findings indicated that the birth rate was higher in rural areas than in urban areas. Ethiopia's birth rate, high even among developing countries, is explained by early and universal marriage, kinship and religious beliefs that generally encourage large families, a resistance to contraceptive practices, and the absence of family planning services for most of the population. Many Ethiopians believe that families with many children have greater financial security and are better situated to provide for their elderly members.
In the absence of a national population policy or the provision of more than basic health services, analysts consider the high birth rate likely to continue. A significant consequence of the high birth rate is that the population is young; children under fifteen years of age made up nearly 50 percent of the population in 1989. Thus, a large segment of the population was dependent and likely to require heavy expenditures on education, health, and social services.
In 1990 the death rate was estimated at fifteen per 1,000 population (down from 18.1 per 1,000 in 1984). This also was a very high rate but typical of poor developing countries. The high death rate was a reflection of the low standard of living, poor health conditions, inadequate health facilities, and high rates of infant mortality (116 per 1,000 live births in 1990; 139 per 1,000 in 1984) and child mortality. Additional factors contributing to the high death rate include infectious diseases, poor sanitation, malnutrition, and food shortages. Children are even more vulnerable to such deprivations. In Ethiopia half of the total deaths involve children under five years of age. In addition, drought and famine in the 1980s, during which more than 7 million people needed food aid, interrupted the normal evolution of mortality and fertility and undoubtedly left many infants and children with stunted physical and mental capabilities. Life expectancy in 1990 was estimated at forty-nine years for males and fifty-two years for females.
Generally, birth rates, infant mortality rates, and overall mortality rates were lower in urban areas than in rural areas. As of 1990, urban residents had a life expectancy of just under fifty-three years, while rural residents had a life expectancy of forty-eight years. The more favorable statistics for urban areas can be explained by the wider availability of health facilities, greater knowledge of sanitation, easier access to clean water and food, and a slightly higher standard of living.
There has been a steady increase in the population growth rate since 1960. Based on 1984 census data, population growth was estimated at about 2.3 percent for the 1960-70 period, 2.5 percent for the 1970-80 period, and 2.8 percent for the 1980-85 period. Population projections compiled in 1988 by the Central Statistical Authority (CSA) projected a 2.83 percent growth rate for 1985-90 and a 2.96 percent growth rate for 1990-95. This would result in a population of 57.9 million by 1995. Estimated annual growth for 1995-2000 varied from 3.03 percent to 3.16 percent. Population estimates ranged from 67.4 million to 67.8 million by the year 2000. The CSA projected that Ethiopia's population could range from 104 million to 115 million by the year 2015. The International Development Association (IDA) provided a more optimistic estimate. Based on the assumption of a gradual fertility decline, such as might be caused by steady economic development without high priority given to population and family planning programs, the population growth rate might fall to about 2.8 percent per annum in 1995-2000 and to 2.1 percent in 2010-15, resulting in a population of 93 million in 2015.
Analysts believed that reducing the population growth rate was a pressing need, but one that could only be addressed through a persistent and comprehensive nationwide effort over the long term. As of early 1991, the Ethiopian regime had shown no commitment to such a program.
Variations in population growth existed among administrative regions. Kefa, Sidamo, and Shewa had the highest average growth rates for the 1967-84 period, ranging from 4.2 percent for Kefa to 3.5 percent for Sidamo and Shewa. Whereas Shewa's population growth was the result of Addis Ababa's status as the administrative, commercial, and industrial center of Ethiopia, Kefa and Sidamo grew primarily because of agricultural and urban development. The population in administrative regions such as Harerge, Welo, and Tigray, which had been hard hit by famine and insurrection, grew at slow rates: 1.3 percent, 1 percent, and 0.2 percent, respectively. Generally, the population of most central and western administrative regions grew more rapidly than did the population of the eastern and northern administrative regions.
Ethiopia was under-urbanized, even by African standards. In the late 1980s, only about 11 percent of the population lived in urban areas of at least 2,000 residents. There were hundreds of communities with 2,000 to 5,000 people, but these were primarily extensions of rural villages without urban or administrative functions. Thus, the level of urbanization would be even lower if one used strict urban structural criteria. Ethiopia's relative lack of urbanization is the result of the country's history of agricultural self-sufficiency, which has reinforced rural peasant life. The slow pace of urban development continued until the 1935 Italian invasion. Urban growth was fairly rapid during and after the Italian occupation of 1936-41. Urbanization accelerated during the 1960s, when the average annual growth rate was about 6.3 percent. Urban growth was especially evident in the northern half of Ethiopia, where most of the major towns are located.
Addis Ababa was home to about 35 percent of the country's urban population in 1987. Another 7 percent resided in Asmera, the second largest city. Major industrial, commercial, governmental, educational, health, and cultural institutions were located in these two cities, which together were home to about 2 million people, or one out of twenty-five Ethiopians. Nevertheless, many small towns had emerged as well. In 1970 there were 171 towns with populations of 2,000 to 20,000; this total had grown to 229 by 1980.
The period 1967-75 saw rapid growth of relatively new urban centers. The population of six towns--Akaki, Arba Minch, Awasa, Bahir Dar, Jijiga, and Shashemene--more than tripled, and that of eight others more than doubled. Awasa, Arba Minch, Metu, and Goba were newly designated capitals of administrative regions and important agricultural centers. Awasa, capital of Sidamo, had a lakeshore site and convenient location on the Addis Ababa-Nairobi highway. Bahir Dar was a newly planned city on Lake Tana and the site of several industries and a polytechnic institute. Akaki and Aseb were growing into important industrial towns, while Jijiga and Shashemene had become communications and service centers.
Urban centers that experienced moderate growth tended to be more established towns, such as Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, and Debre Zeyit. A few old provincial capitals, such as Gonder, also experienced moderate growth, but others, such as Harer, Dese, Debre Markos, and Jima, had slow growth rates because of competition from larger cities. By the 1990s, Harer was being overshadowed by Dire Dawa, Dese by Kembolcha, and Debre Markos by Bahir Dar.
Overall, the rate of urban growth declined from 1975 to 1987. With the exception of Aseb, Arba Minch, and Awasa, urban centers grew an average of about 40 percent over that twelve-year period. This slow growth is explained by several factors. Rural-to-urban migration had been largely responsible for the rapid expansion during the 1967-75 period, whereas natural population growth may have been mostly responsible for urban expansion during the 1975-84 period. The 1975 land reform program provided incentives and opportunities for peasants and other potential migrants to stay in rural areas. Restrictions on travel, lack of employment, housing shortages, and social unrest in some towns during the 1975-80 period also contributed to a decline in rural-to-urban migration.
Although the male and female populations were about equal, men outnumbered women in rural areas. More women migrated to the urban centers for a variety of reasons, including increased job opportunities.
As a result of intensified warfare in the period 1988-91, all urban centers received a large influx of population, resulting in severe overcrowding, shortages of housing and water, overtaxed social services, and unemployment. In addition to beggars and maimed persons, the new arrivals comprised large numbers of young people. These included not only primary and secondary school students but also an alarming number of orphans and street children, estimated at well over 100,000. Although all large towns shared in this influx, Addis Ababa, as the national capital, was most affected. This situation underscored the huge social problems that the Mengistu regime had neglected for far too long.
Drought and famine have been frequent occurrences in Ethiopia. In fact, it was the imperial government's attempt to hide the effects of the 1973-74 famine that aroused world indignation and eventually contributed to Haile Selassie I's demise. Between 1984 and 1986, drought and famine again hit Ethiopia and may have claimed as many as 1 million lives and threatened nearly 8 million more. Even worse disaster was averted when the international community mounted a massive effort to airlift food and medical supplies to famine victims.
The government embarked on forced resettlement and villagization in the mid-1980s as part of a national program to combat drought, avert famine, and increase agricultural productivity. Resettlement, the regime's long-term solution to the drought problem, involved the permanent relocation of about 1.5 million people from the drought-prone areas of the north to the south and southwest, where population was relatively sparse and so-called virgin, arable land was plentiful.
Development specialists agreed on the need for resettlement of famine victims in Ethiopia, but once the process had begun, there was widespread criticism that resettlement was poorly planned and haphazardly executed and thus increased the number of famine deaths. Moreover, critics charged that the government forcibly relocated peasants, in the process breaking up thousands of families. Thousands also died of malaria and sleeping sickness because of poor sanitation and inadequate health care in newly settled areas. A Paris-based international doctors' organization, Doctors Without Borders (Médecins sans Frontières), estimated that the forced resettlement and mass deportation of peasants for purposes of resettlement endangered the lives of 300,000 because of shortages of food, water, and medicine. Other international organizations accused the Ethiopian government of moving peasants to resettlement areas without adequate preparation of such basic items as housing, water, seeds, and tools. Because of widespread criticism, the Mengistu regime temporarily halted the resettlement program in mid-1986 after 600,000 people had been relocated, but the program resumed in November 1987.
Some sources voiced suspicion that the regime's primary motive in resettlement was to depopulate the northern areas where it faced insurgencies. Resettlement, the argument went, would reduce the guerrillas' base of support. But this argument did not take into account the strength of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). Another Western objection to the resettlement program related to the long-term government policy concerning peasant farms. Western countries, on whose support the resettlement program depended, did not want to sponsor a plan in which recruits labored for communist-style collectives and state farms.
The villagization program, the regime's plan to transform rural society, started in earnest in January 1985. If completed, the program might have uprooted and relocated more than 30 million peasants over a nine-year period. The regime's rationale for the program was that the existing arrangement of dispersed settlements made it difficult to provide social services and to use resources, especially land and water, efficiently. The relocation of the peasants into larger villages (with forty to 300 families, or 200 to 2,500 people) would give rural people better access to amenities such as agricultural extension services, schools, clinics, water, and electricity cooperative services and would strengthen local security and the capacity for self-defense. Improved economic and social services would promote more efficient use of land and other natural resources and would lead to increased agricultural production and a higher standard of living.
More specifically, the Ethiopian government perceived villagization as a way to hasten agricultural collectivization. Most peasant farming in Ethiopia was still based on a traditional smallholding system, which produced 90 percent of farm output, employed about 80 percent of the labor force, and accounted for 94 percent of cultivable land in 1985. State farms and cooperative farms were responsible for only 4 percent and 2 percent, respectively, of cultivated land.
By the end of 1988, more than 12 million people had been relocated in villages in twelve of the fourteen administrative regions. The exceptions were Eritrea and Tigray, where insurgents were waging war against the regime. In 1989 the total reached about 13 million people. Some regions implemented villagization more rapidly than others. In Harerge, where the program began in 1985, more than 90 percent of the population had been relocated to villages by early 1987, whereas in Gonder and Welo the program was just beginning. In Ilubabor more than 1 million peasants had been relocated to 2,106 villages between December 1985 and March 1989. Nomadic peoples and shifting cultivators were not affected by villagization.
The verdict on villagization was not favorable. Thousands of people fled to avoid villagization; others died or lived in deplorable conditions after being forcibly resettled. Moreover, the program's impact on rural peasants and their social and economic well-being remained to be assessed. There were indications that in the short term, villagization may have further impoverished an already poor peasantry. The services that were supposed to be delivered in new villages, such as water, electricity, health care clinics, schools, transportation, and agricultural extension services, were not being provided because the government lacked the necessary resources. Villagers therefore resorted to improvised facilities or reverted to old ways of doing things. Villagization also reduced the productive capacity of the peasants by depriving them of the opportunity for independent organization and action. By increasing the distance peasants had to travel to work on their land and graze their cattle, villagization wasted time and effort. Denied immediate access to their fields, the peasants were also prevented from guarding their crops from birds and other wild animals.
In the long run, analysts believed that villagization would be counterproductive to a rational land use system and would be damaging ecologically. Concentrating people in a central area would, in time, intensify pressure on available water and grazing and lead to a decline in soil fertility and to a poorer peasantry. The ecological damage could be averted by the application of capital investment in infrastructure, such as irrigation and land-intensive agricultural technology and strict application of land rotation to avert overgrazing. But resources were unavailable for such agricultural investment.
The most bitter critics of villagization, such as Survival International, a London-based human rights organization, argued that the Mengistu regime's noneconomic objective in villagization was control of the population. Larger villages would facilitate the regime's control over the population, cut rebels off from peasant support, and discourage dissident movements. Indeed, some observers believed that the reason for starting villagization in Harerge and Bale was nothing less than to suppress support of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).
After the government's announcement of the new economic policy in March 1990, peasants were given the freedom to join or abandon cooperatives and to bring their produce to market. Hence, the Mengistu regime abandoned one of the strong rationales for villagization and, in effect, the whole program as well.
In Ethiopia, a predominantly rural society, the life of peasants is rooted in the land, from which they eke out a meager existence. Through the ages, they have faced frequent natural disasters, armed conflict, and political repression, and in the process they have suffered hunger, societal disruption, and death.
Periodic crop failures and losses of livestock often occur when seasonal rains fail or when unusually heavy storms cause widespread flooding. Pastoral nomads, who move seasonally in search of water and grazing, often are trapped when drought inhibits rejuvenation of the denuded grasslands, which their overgrazing produces. During such times, a family's emergency food supplies diminish rapidly, and hunger and starvation become commonplace until weather conditions improve and livestock herds are subsequently rejuvenated. For centuries, this has been the general pattern of life for most Ethiopian peasants; the insurgent movements in Eritrea, Tigray, and the Ogaden have only served to exacerbate the effects of these natural calamities.
A drought that began in 1969 continued as dry weather brought disaster to the Sahel and swept eastward through the Horn of Africa. By 1973 the attendant famine had threatened the lives of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian nomads, who had to leave their home grounds and struggle into Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya, and Sudan, seeking relief from starvation. By the end of 1973, famine had claimed the lives of about 300,000 peasants of Tigray and Welo, and thousands more had sought relief in Ethiopian towns and villages.
After assuming power in 1974, the military regime embarked on a program to improve the condition of peasants, but famine and hunger continued despite this effort, which was supplemented by substantial foreign assistance. Moreover, the escalation of the military campaign against the insurgent movements in Eritrea, Tigray, and the Ogaden forced thousands of Ethiopians to flee into neighboring countries.
The 1977-78 Ogaden War and the 1978 drought in eastern Ethiopia forced large numbers of people across the southeastern frontier into Somalia. After the defeat of Somali forces in the Ogaden, the government launched a counteroffensive against Eritrean guerrillas, and several hundred thousand Ethiopians sought refuge in Sudan. Meanwhile, in the Ogaden, international relief agencies estimated the number of refugees entering Somali refugee camps at more than 1,000 a day. Most were women and children, and many suffered from dehydration, malnutrition, and diseases such as dysentery, malaria, and tuberculosis. There were more than 700,000 reported refugees scattered in twenty-six makeshift camps, where the absence of sanitation and inadequate medical assistance were compounding the misery created by the food shortages.
By mid-1980 most observers considered the refugee crisis in the Horn of Africa to be the world's worst. During the 1980s, the crisis intensified, as 2.5 million people in the region abandoned their homes and sought asylum in neighboring countries. Although drought, famine, government repression, and conflict with insurgents were the principal causes of large-scale refugee migrations, other factors such as resettlement and villagization in Ethiopia and conflicts in southern Sudan and northern Somalia also generated refugees. Sudan's war against the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) forced many Sudanese into Ethiopia. In northern Somalia, the Somali National Movement (SNM) had been fighting Somali government forces, and in the process hundreds of thousands of Somali fled into Ethiopia.
Several factors were responsible for the refugee crisis in Ethiopia. The repressive Mengistu regime was ruthless in its treatment of both real and imagined opponents. During the so-called Red Terror of 1977-78, government security forces killed thousands of students and urban professionals. Because human rights violations characterized the government's policy toward dissidents, there was a constant exodus of young and educated people. The regime also found itself engaged in continuous civil war with one or more of the insurgent groups, which had a devastating impact on the people, the land, and the economy. The fighting not only generated hundreds of thousands of refugees but also displaced thousands of other people from their farms and villages. Forcible villagization and resettlement also generated refugees. In Harerge alone, the forced imposition of villagization prompted 33,000 people to flee to Somalia.
Famine also contributed to Ethiopia's refugee crises. The 1984-85 famine resulted in the death or displacement of hundreds of thousands of people within Ethiopia and forced about 100,000 into Somalia, 10,000 into Djibouti, and more than 300,000 into Sudan.
In 1987 another drought threatened 5 million people in Eritrea and Tigray. This time, however, the international community was better prepared to get food to the affected areas in time to prevent starvation and massive population movements. However, insurgents belonging to the TPLF and the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) attacked convoys carrying food supplies or denied them access to rebel-held areas because they believed the government would use relief convoys to cover the movement of military supplies. The consequence was more deaths and more refugees.
International relief agencies considered the 1990 famine more critical because of the scarcity of rain since 1987. Mitsiwa was one of the Eritrean ports where ships unloaded food and medical supplies for distribution to famine victims in Eritrea. Following the EPLF's capture of Mitsiwa in February 1990 and the government's bombing of the city in an effort to dislodge the insurgents, the port was out of action. A few months later, however, the EPLF and the Ethiopian government reached an agreement that allowed the port to reopen. In addition, the government lost control of Tigray in early 1989 and was reluctant to allow food shipments to go through rebel-held territory until May 1990, when the rebels, the government, the UN, and donor officials agreed to move grain supplies from Dese to Tigray. Food could not be airlifted into Tigray because fighting had destroyed the airport in Mekele, capital of Tigray. Sudan was the only nation through which food shipments could come to Tigray and Eritrea. Both the Relief Society of Tigray and the Eritrean Relief Association--arms of the TPLF and EPLF, respectively--operated food convoys from Sudan to Tigray and Eritrea. But poor road conditions and the fact that convoys had to operate at night to avoid Ethiopian air force attacks prevented adequate supplies from reaching affected regions. Consequently, about 3 million people were threatened with death and starvation in Eritrea and Tigray.
Disagreements persist concerning the number of Ethiopian refugees in Somalia in the late 1980s. A UN survey estimated the number of Ethiopian refugees in Somalia at 450,000 to 620,000. The United States Catholic Relief Services (USCRS), however, estimated that about 410,000 refugees had returned to Ethiopia, leaving about 430,000 in Somali refugee camps. At the same time, more than 350,000 Somali of the Isaaq clan-family fled northern Somalia for Ethiopia after mid-1988. Most of these people remained in camps run by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Djibouti was home to about 45,000 Ethiopian refugees from the Ogaden by late 1978. These people had fled after Somalia's defeat in the Ogaden War. In 1983 the UNHCR began a repatriation program, which resulted in the departure of 15,000 former refugees by mid-1984. But the 1984 drought in Ethiopia brought an additional influx of 10,000 refugees into Djibouti. Slow, steady repatriation continued through 1989, by which time there were only 1,500 Ethiopian refugees in Djibouti.
A large influx of Ethiopian refugees into Sudan occurred in 1978, during the escalation of the conflict between Eritrean insurgents and the Mengistu regime. The influx continued into 1983, when the refugees numbered about 132,500. The 1984 drought and famine forced 160,000 refugees into Sudan in 1984 and more than 300,000 by April 1985. By June 1985, in anticipation of summer rains in Tigray, about 55,000 Tigray left Sudan, followed by another 65,000 in 1986, but only a small percentage of refugee Eritreans returned to Ethiopia.
Ethiopia also had been host to refugees from southern Sudan since 1983. As the conflict in southern Sudan between the SPLA and the Sudanese regime intensified, more refugees fled into western Ethiopia, where the Sudanese refugees numbered about 250,000 in early 1988 and perhaps 400,000 by early 1991.
A simple ethnic classification of Ethiopia's population is not feasible. People categorized on the basis of one criterion, such as language, may be divided on the basis of another. Moreover, ethnicity--a people's insistence that it is distinctive and its behavior on the basis of that insistence--is a subjective response to both historical experience and current situations. A group thus distinguished may not be the same as that established on the basis of objective criteria.
Historically, entities defining themselves in ethnic terms reacted or adapted to Amhara domination in various ways. Affecting their adaptation was the degree of Amhara domination--in some areas Amhara were present in force, while in others they established a minimal administrative presence--and the extent of ethnic mixing. In some areas, historical differences and external conditions led to disaffection and attempts at secession, as in multiethnic Eritrea and in the Ogaden. In others, individuals adapted to the Amhara. Often they understood the change not so much as a process of becoming Amhara as one of taking on an Ethiopian (and urban) identity.
One way of segmenting Ethiopia's population is on the basis of language. However, the numbers in each category are uncertain, and estimates are often in conflict. At present, at least seventy languages are spoken as mother tongues, a few by many millions, others by only a few hundred persons. The number of distinct social units exceeds the number of languages because separate communities sometimes speak the same language. More than fifty of these languages--and certainly those spoken by the vast majority of Ethiopia's people--are grouped within three families of the Afro-Asiatic super-language family: Semitic (represented by the branch called Ethio-Semitic and by Arabic), Cushitic, and Omotic. In addition, about 2 percent of the population speaks the languages of four families--East Sudanic, Koman, Berta, and Kunema--of the Nilo-Saharan super-language family.
Most speakers of Ethio-Semitic languages live in the highlands of the center and north. Speakers of East Cushitic languages are found in the highlands and lowlands of the center and south, and other Cushitic speakers in the center and north; Omotic speakers live in the south; and Nilo-Saharan speakers in the southwest and west along the border with Sudan. Of the four main ethno-linguistic groups of Ethiopia, three--the Amhara, Tigray, and Oromo--generally live in the highlands; the fourth--the Somali--live in the lowlands to the southeast.
The most important Ethio-Semitic language is Amharic. It was the empire's official language and is still widely used in government and in the capital despite the Mengistu regime's changes in language policy. Those speaking Amharic as a mother tongue numbered about 8 million in 1970, a little more than 30 percent of the population. A more accurate count might show them to constitute a lesser proportion. The total number of Amharic speakers, including those using Amharic as a second language, may constitute as much as 50 percent of the population.
The Amhara are not a cohesive group, politically or otherwise. From the perspective of many Amhara in the core area of Gonder, Gojam, and western Welo, the Amhara of Shewa (who constituted the basic ruling group under Menelik II and Haile Selassie) are not true descendants of the northern Amhara and the Tigray and heirs to the ancient kingdom of Aksum. Regional variations notwithstanding, the Amhara do not exhibit the differences of religion and mode of livelihood characteristic of the Oromo, for example, who constitute Ethiopia's largest linguistic category. With a few exceptions, the Amhara are Ethiopian Orthodox Christians and are highland plow agriculturists.
The Tigray (whose language is Tigrinya) constitute the second largest category of Ethio-Semitic speakers. They made up about 14 percent of the population in 1970. Like the Amhara, the Tigray are chiefly Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, and most are plow agriculturists. Despite some differences in dialect, Tigray believe, as anthropologist Dan Franz Bauer has noted, "that they have a common tenuous kinship with other Tigray regardless of their place of residence."
The number of persons speaking other Ethio-Semitic languages is significantly smaller than the number who speak Amharic and Tigrinya. Moreover, unlike the Amhara and Tigray, members of other Ethio-Semitic groups do not share the Aksumite heritage and Orthodox Christianity, and their traditional economic base is different.
Of the seven Ethio-Semitic languages found among the Gurage of southern Shewa, four are single tongues and three are dialect clusters, each encompassing four or five dialects. All correspond to what anthropologist William A. Shack calls tribes, which, in turn, consist of independent clan chiefdoms. Although most people accept the name Gurage, they are likely to specify a tribal name in addition.
The traditional social organization and religion of the Gurage resemble those of the neighboring East Cushitic-speaking Sidama and related peoples. In some cases, Orthodox Christianity or Islam has displaced the traditional religious system, in whole or in part. The Gurage traditionally depended on the ensete plant (known locally as false banana) rather than grain for their staple food and used the hoe rather than the plow.
In 1970 there were more than 500,000 speakers of Gurage tongues, but no single group numbered more than 100,000. Substantial numbers, perhaps 15 to 20 percent of all Gurage, live in urban centers, particularly Addis Ababa, where they work at a range of manual tasks typically avoided by the Amhara and the Tigray.
In 1970 a total of 117,000 persons were estimated to speak Tigre, which is related to Tigrinya; but that figure was likely an underestimate. The ten or so Eritrean groups or clusters of groups speaking the language do not constitute an ethnic entity, although they share an adherence to Islam. Locally, people traditionally used the term Tigre to refer to what has been called the serf class, as opposed to the noble class, in most Tigre-speaking groups.
Perhaps the most numerous of the Tigre-speaking peoples are the Beni Amir, a largely pastoral people living in the semiarid region of the north and west along the Sudanese border. A large number of the Beni Amir also speak Beja, a North Cushitic language. Other groups are, in part at least, cultivators, and some, who live along the Red Sea coast and on nearby islands, gain some of their livelihood from fishing.
Except for the fact that the distinction between nobles and serfs seems at one time to have been pervasive, little is known of early social and political organization among these groups except for the Beni Amir, who were organized in a tribal federation with a paramount chief. The other groups seem to have been autonomous units.
The Hareri are of major historical importance, and their home was in that part of Ethiopia once claimed by Somali irredentists. The Hareri ("people of the city") established the walled city of Harer as early as the thirteenth century A.D. Harer was a major point from which Islam spread to Somalia and then to Ethiopia.
The Argobba consist of two groups. Living on the hilly slopes of the Great Rift Valley escarpment are small groups of Northern Argobba. The Southern Argobba live southwest of Harer. Northern Argobba villages, interspersed among Amharic- or Oromo-speaking communities, stretch from an area at roughly the latitude of Addis Ababa to southeasternmost Welo. Most Argobba speak either Amharic or Oromo in addition to their native tongue.
The Oromo, called Galla by the Amhara, constitute the largest and most ubiquitous of the East Cushitic-speaking peoples. Oromo live in many regions as a result of expansion from their homeland in the central southern highlands beginning in the sixteenth century. Although they share a common origin and a dialectically varied language, Oromo groups changed in a variety of ways with respect to economic base, social and political organization, and religion as they adapted to different physical and sociopolitical environments and economic opportunities.
Even more uncertain than estimates of the Amhara population are estimates for the Oromo. The problem stems largely from the imperial government's attempts to downplay the country's ethnic diversity. Government estimates put the number of Oromo speakers at about 7 million in 1970--about 28 percent of the total population of Ethiopia. By contrast, the OLF claimed there were 18 million Oromo in 1978, well over half of a total population roughly estimated that year at 31 million. Anthropologist P.T.W. Baxter, taking into account the lack of a census (until 1984) and the political biases affecting estimates, asserted that the Oromo were almost certainly the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, making up somewhere between a third and just over half its population. A widely accepted estimate in the late 1980s was 40 percent.
The Oromo provide an example of the difficulties of specifying the boundaries and nature of an ethnic group. Some Oromo groups, such as the Borana, remain pastoralists. But others, the great majority of the people, have become plow cultivators or are engaged in mixed farming. A few groups, particularly the pastoralists, retain significant features of the traditional mode of social and political organization marked by generation and age-set systems and the absence of a centralized political structure; others, such as those who established kingdoms along the Gibé River, developed hierarchial systems. Cutting across the range of economic and political patterns are variations in religious belief and practice. Again, the pastoralists usually adhere to the indigenous system. Other groups, particularly those in Shewa and Welega, have been influenced by Orthodox Christianity, and still others have been converted to Islam. Here and there, missionary Protestantism has had minor successes. Moreover, the Oromo sections and subsections have a long history of conflict. Sometimes this conflict has been the outcome of competition for land; sometimes it has resulted from strife between those allied with Amhara and those resisting the expansion of the empire. Some Oromo adapted to Amhara dominance, the growth of towns, and other changes by learning Amharic and achieving a place in the empire's political and economic order. But they had not thereby become Amhara or lost their sense of being Oromo.
In the far south live several groups speaking languages of the Oromic branch of Lowland East Cushitic and in many cases sharing features of Oromo culture. Most have been cultivators or mixed farmers, and some have developed peculiar features, such as the highlands-dwelling Konso, who live in walled communities of roughly 1,500 persons. All these groups are small and are often subdivided. With an estimated population of 60,000 in 1970, the Konso are the largest of these groups.
Three other Lowland East Cushitic groups--the Somali, Afar, and Saho--share a pastoral tradition (although some sections of each group have been cultivators for some time), commitments of varying intensity to Islam, and social structures composed of autonomous units defined as descent groups. In addition, all have a history of adverse relations with the empire's dominant Orthodox Christian groups and with Ethiopian governments in general.
The largest of the three groups are the Somali, estimated to number nearly 900,000 in 1970. Many Somali clans and lineages living predominantly in Ethiopia have close links with or are members of such groups in Somalia. The number of Somali in Ethiopia in the late 1980s--given the Ogaden War and the movement of refugees--was uncertain.
Somali society is divided into groups of varying genealogical depth based on putative or traceable common patrilineal descent. The largest of these groups is the clan-family, which is in turn divided into clans, which are further divided into lineages and sublineages. The clan-family has no concrete political, economic, or social functions. The other groups do, however, and these functions often entail political and economic competition and sometimes conflict between parallel social units.
The government estimated that the Afar (called Denakil or Adal by their neighbors) numbered no more than 363,000 in 1970. Despite their relatively small numbers, they were of some importance because of their location between the highlands and the Red Sea, their antipathy to Ethiopian rule, and the quasi-autonomy of a part of the Afar under the sultan of Aussa before the 1974 revolution.
Except for several petty centralized states under sultans or shaykhs, the Afar are fragmented among tribes, subtribes, and still smaller divisions and are characterized by a distinction between noble and commoner groups, about which little is known. Most Afar are pastoralists but are restricted in their nomadism by the need to stay close to permanent wells in extremely arid country. A number of them in the former sultan of Aussa's territory have long been settled cultivators in the lower Awash River valley, although the imperial government initiated a program to settle others along the middle Awash.
Saho is a linguistic rather than an ethnic category. The groups speaking the language include elements from the Afar, the Tigray, Tigre speakers, and others, including some Arabs. Almost all are pastoralists. Most are Muslims, but several groups--those heavily influenced by the Tigray--are Ethiopian Orthodox Christians.
Little is known about the political and social systems of the ten or so groups making up the total estimated Saho- speaking population of 120,000, but each group seems to be divided into segments. None was ever marked by the noble- serf distinction characteristic of Tigre speakers to their north, and all were said to elect their chiefs.
The speakers of the Highland East Cushitic languages (sometimes called the Sidamo languages after a version of the name of their largest component) numbered more than 2 million in 1970. The two largest groups were the Sidama (857,000) and the Hadya-Libido speakers (700,000). Kembata- Timbaro-Alaba speakers and the Deresa made up the rest. Each of these two groups numbered about 250,000 in 1970. As the hyphenated names suggest, two or more autonomous groups speaking dialects of the same language have been grouped together. In fact, most Sidama, although calling themselves by a single name in some contexts, traditionally are divided into a number of localized and formerly politically autonomous patrilineal clans, each under a chief.
The Sidama and other Highland East Cushitic speakers are cultivators of ensete and of coffee as a cash crop. In areas below 1,500 meters in elevation, however, the Sidama keep cattle.
The Sidama and other groups have retained their traditional religious systems, although some have been responsive to Protestant missionaries. Others, such as the Alaba, the Hadya, and the Timbaro, have accepted Islam. Only the Kembata are converts to Orthodox Christianity.
There are six groups of Central Cushitic (Agew) speakers, five of which live in the central highlands surrounded by Amhara. The Bilen in the extreme northern highlands form an enclave between the Tigray and the Tigre speakers. Agew- speaking groups total between 100,000 and 125,000 persons. They are the remnants of a population thought to have been the inhabitants of much of the central and northern highlands when Semitic-speaking migrants arrived millennia ago to begin the process that led to the formation of such groups as the Tigray and the Amhara. It is likely that Agew speakers provided much of the basic stock from which the Amhara and Tigray were drawn.
The largest of the Agew-speaking groups are the Awi (whose language is Awngi), estimated to number 50,000 in 1970. The linguistically related but geographically separate Kunfel numbered no more than 2,000. The Awi and the Qimant, numbering about 17,000, retain their traditional religious system; but the Kunfel and the Xamtanga, totaling about 5,000, are apparently Orthodox Christians. The Bilen have been much influenced by Islam, and many have begun to speak the Tigre of their Islamic neighbors as a second tongue.
A special case is the Beta Israel (their own name; others call them Falasha or Kayla), who numbered about 20,000 in 1989, most of whom emigrated to Israel in late 1984 and in May 1991. Perhaps preceding the arrival of Christianity in the fourth century A.D., a group of Agew speakers adopted a form of Judaism, although their organization and many of their religious practices resemble those of their Orthodox Christian neighbors. The precise origins and nature of the Judaic influence are matters of dispute. Most Beta Israel speak Amharic as a first language. Agew occurs in their liturgy, but the words are not understood.
Except for the Beta Israel, all Agew-speaking groups are plow agriculturists (the Kunfel augment their livelihood by hunting). The Beta Israel had been cultivators until deprived of their right to hold land after a major conflict with the Amhara and their refusal to convert to Christianity in the fifteenth century. They then became craftsmen, although many later returned to the land as tenants.
The sole group speaking a Northern Cushitic tongue is the Beja, a Muslim pastoral group that numbered about 20,000 in 1970. (Many more live in neighboring Sudan.) Their language is influenced by Arabic, and the Beja have come to claim Arab descent since their conversion to Islam. Like many of the other nomadic pastoralists in the area, they traditionally were segmented into tribes and smaller units, based on actual or putative descent from a common male ancestor and characterized by considerable autonomy, although federated under a paramount chief.
Between the lakes of southern Ethiopia's Great Rift Valley and the Omo River (in a few cases west of the Omo) live many groups that speak languages of the Omotic family. As many as eighty groups have been distinguished, but various sets of them speak dialects of the same language. Together they were estimated to number 1,278,100 in 1970. Of these, the Welamo (often called Wolayta) are the most numerous, estimated to number more than 500,000 in 1970. Gemu-Gofa is a language spoken by perhaps forty autonomous groups, estimated at 295,000 in 1970 in the Gemu highlands. Kefa-Mocha, spoken by an estimated 170,000, is the language of two separate groups (one, commonly called Mocha, calls itself Shekatcho). Of the two, Kefa is the larger.
The relatively limited area in which they live, the diversity of their languages, and other linguistic considerations suggest that the ancestors of the speakers of Omotic languages have been in place for many millennia. Omotic speakers have been influenced linguistically and otherwise by Nilo-Saharan groups to the west and by East Cushitic groups surrounding them. As a result of the early formation of ancestral Omotic-speaking groups, external influences, and the demands of varied physical and social environments, the Omotic speakers have developed not only linguistic diversity but also substantial differences in other respects. Most Omotic-speaking peoples, for example, are hoe cultivators, relying on the cultivation of ensete at higher altitudes and of grains below approximately 1,500 meters. They also practice animal husbandry. Many in the Gemu highlands are artisans, principally weavers. Their craftwork has become attractive as the demand for their work in Addis Ababa and other urban centers has increased. In the capital these people are commonly called Dorze, although that is the name of just one of their groups.
Except for the Kefa--long influenced by Orthodox Christianity--and a small number of Muslims, Omotic speakers have retained their indigenous religious systems, although a few have been influenced by European missionaries. Most of these groups originally had chiefs or kings. Among the exceptions are larger entities such as the Welamo and the Kefa, both characterized by centralized political systems that exacted tribute from neighboring peoples.
In the far southwest and along the country's western border live several peoples speaking Nilo-Saharan languages. The most numerous of these are the Nuer and Anuak, both members of the East Sudanic family. Most Nuer are found in Sudan, whereas the Anuak live almost entirely in Ethiopia. Most of these people are hoe cultivators of grains, but many have cattle. A few, such as the Nuer, are seminomadic.
The Kunema are found in western Tigray. Perhaps because of the long Italian influence in Eritrea, they have been most affected by foreign religious influences. Although Orthodox Christianity had little or no impact on them, the Kunema often accepted the teachings of Protestant and Roman Catholic missionaries. Two other groups, the Berta and the Nara, have been influenced by Islam. Otherwise, these peoples have retained their traditional religious systems. Koman speakers consist of several groups who live along the Ethio-Sudan border in western Welega. Among these littleknown peoples are the Gumuz, who, along with the Berta, are also called Bani Shangul. In the past, these peoples were often the object of slave raids by their neighbors in Ethiopia and Sudan.
Sixty to seventy groups scattered throughout Ethiopia traditionally were on the periphery of local social systems. Many authorities refer to them as occupational castes. Characterized by endogamy and also by specialization in one or more occupations considered unclean or degrading, they have been excluded from ordinary interaction with members of the host community, although one group acted as ritual functionaries for its host. The members of a caste group typically speak the local language, but some also have a language of their own or speak a variation on the local one. They also tend to be physically distinguishable from members of the host group. Their most common occupational specialties are woodworking, beekeeping, and ritual functions. Another group, consisting primarily of hunters, at one time provided royal guards for the traditional ruler of one host society.
Ethnicity in Ethiopia is an enormously complex concept. No ethnic entity has been untouched by others. Groups in existence in the twentieth century are biological and social amalgams of several preexisting entities. The ingredients are often discernible only by inference, particularly if the mixing took place long ago. Nonetheless, such mixing led to the formation of groups that think of themselves and are considered by others as different. For instance, in the prerevolutionary period there were thousands of non-Amhara who had acquired the wherewithal to approximate the lifestyle of wealthy Amhara and had in fact gained recognition as Amhara. Such mixing has continued, and the boundaries of ethnic groups also continue to change.
Interethnic relations in prerevolutionary Ethiopia did not conform to a single model and were complex because of the nature of Amhara contact with other groups and the internal social and economic dynamics of the groups. Each group reacted differently to Amhara dominance. What makes this analysis even more complex is that the Amhara themselves do not constitute a cohesive group. Indeed, the tendency to see Ethiopia before (and, by some accounts, after) the revolution as dominated by Amhara has obscured the complexity of interethnic relations.
The Amhara are found predominantly in Gojam, Gonder, in parts of Welo such as Lasta and Wag, and in parts of Shewa such as Menz. Amhara from one area view those from other areas as different, and there is a long history of conflicts among Amhara nobles aspiring to be kings or kingmakers.
Intraprovincial and interprovincial conflict between Amhara nobles and their followers was quite common. Some aspects of intra-Amhara friction may be seen in the relations of Shewan Amhara to other Amhara and to other Ethiopians. Shewan Amharic speakers are on the southern periphery of the territory occupied by the Amhara. They made their presence felt in much of the Shewa region relatively late, except in areas such as Menz, which had always been Amhara. Thus, the Shewans over the centuries developed a culture and a society that emerged from Oromo, Amhara, and perhaps other groups. Whereas the southern people considered Shewan Orthodox Christians as Amhara, people from older Amhara areas such as Gojam and Gonder thought of such persons as Shewans or sometimes even as Oromo.
During the imperial regime, Amhara dominance led to the adoption of Amharic as the language of government, commerce, and education. Other forms of Amhara dominance occurred in local government, where Amhara served as representatives of the central government or became landholders.
Reaction to the Amhara varied even within individual ethnic groups. Some resisted the Amhara bitterly, while others aided them. In its most extreme form, resistance to Amhara dominance resulted in enduring separatist movements, particularly in Eritrea, Tigray, and the Ogaden. The separatist movement in Eritrea reflects a somewhat different historical experience from that of other areas of Ethiopia. Despite Eritrea's seeming unity, ethnic and religious differences among Eritreans abounded. For example, the Kunema, a Nilo-Saharan-speaking people who formed an enclave among Eritrea's Muslims and Christians and who have long been treated as inferior by some groups that make up the Eritrean independence movement, historically have provided an island of support for the central government.
Perhaps the only region to which the Amhara did not bring their sense of superiority was Tigray, home of the people who lay claim to the Aksumite heritage. The Amhara did not come to Tigray as receivers of land grants, and government administrators were often Tigrayan themselves. Tigray perspectives on the Amhara were, however, influenced negatively by a number of historical factors. For example, the son of the only emperor of Tigray origin to have ruled Ethiopia, Yohannis IV (reigned 1872-89), was deprived of the throne by Menelik II, an Amhara. In 1943 the imperial regime brutally repressed a Tigray rebellion called the Weyane.
Ethiopia's Ogaden region, inhabited primarily by ethnic Somali, was the scene of a series of Ethiopian-Somali struggles in 1964, 1977-78, and intermittently after that until 1987. Somalia supported self-determination for Ogaden Somali. Although Somalia and Ethiopia signed a joint communiqué in 1988 to end hostilities, Mogadishu refused to abandon its claim to the Ogaden. Moreover, in 1989 and 1990, the Ogaden region was home to about 350,000 Isaaq Somali from northern Somalia who had escaped persecution by the regime of Mahammad Siad Barre.
In April 1976, the PMAC promulgated its Program for the National Democratic Revolution (PNDR), which accepted the notions of self-determination for nationalities and regional autonomy. In compliance with the program, the PMAC created the Institute for the Study of Ethiopian Nationalities in 1983 to develop administrative and political proposals to accommodate all the country's major nationalities. As a result of the institute's findings, the government expressed a desire to abolish Ethiopia's fourteen administrative regions and to create thirty regions, of which five-- Eritrea, Tigray, Aseb, Dire Dawa, and the Ogaden--were to be autonomous. Eritrean and Tigrayan leaders denounced the plan as nothing more than an attempt to perpetuate government control of Eritrea and Tigray. Their military campaigns to wrest control of the two regions from the Mengistu regime eventually succeeded.
The PMAC undermined the patterns of ethnic relations prevailing in imperial Ethiopia and eliminated the basis for Amhara dominance. However, postrevolutionary Ethiopia continued to exhibit ethnic tension. Traits based on ethnicity and religion are deeply ingrained and are not susceptible to elimination by ideology.
Ethiopia's ethnic and cultural diversity has affected social relations. Most lowland people are geographically and socially isolated from the highland population. Moreover, rural inhabitants, who constitute about 89 percent of the total population, generally live their lives without coming into contact with outsiders. Exposure to other ethnic groups usually occurs by means of relatively limited contact with administrators, tax collectors, and retail merchants. By contrast, the towns are a mosaic of social and ethnic diversity. Since the early 1940s, towns fulfilling administrative and economic functions have proliferated. In Addis Ababa, it is common for families and groups from disparate social and economic classes to live side by side. Only in recent years, with unprecedented urbanization, have upper-income residential zones emerged. Smaller urban centers have tended to be fairly homogeneous in ethnic and religious makeup. But with increasing urbanization, towns are expected to be the scene of increased interaction among different ethnic groups and social classes.
Traditionally, among the most important factors in social relations in Ethiopia has been religion. Ethiopian emperors nurtured the country's identity with Christianity, although there were at least as many Muslims as Christians in the country. Although the imperial regime did not impose Orthodox Christianity on Muslims and pagans, very few non-Christians held high positions in government and the military. In many cases, Muslims gravitated to commerce and trade, occupations relatively untainted by religious discrimination.
The Mengistu regime downplayed the role of religion in the state's life and disestablished the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Moreover, the 1987 constitution guaranteed freedom of religion. In principle, all religions had equal status in relation to the state.
Muslims live throughout Ethiopia, but large concentrations can be found in Bale, Eritrea, Harerge, and Welo. Muslims also belong to many ethnic groups, a factor that may prevent them from exerting political influence commensurate with their numbers. Centuries of conflict between the Christian kingdom and its Muslim antagonists, recent apprehensions about Arab nationalism, and Arab support for Eritrean separatism and Somali irredentism all continue to perpetuate Ethiopian historical fears of "Islamic encirclement." Such historically rooted religious antagonism has persisted in creating a social barrier between Christians and Muslims.
Those who profess traditional religious beliefs are interspersed among Christians and Muslims. Such groups include the Sidama, the Gurage, the Oromo of Arsi and Borana, and the Nilotic groups along the Ethiopia-Sudan border. They have no political influence and are scorned socially by Muslims and Christians.
The existence of more than seventy languages has been another barrier to social communication and national integration. The imperial government, recognizing the importance of a national language, adopted Amharic as the official tongue. The use of Amharic became mandatory in government, education, radiobroadcasts, and newspapers. But the government's promotion of Amharic entailed the suppression of other major languages, which aroused opposition and accusations of cultural imperialism. Language policy changed under the Mengistu regime, which attempted to reverse the trend by dropping Amharic as a requirement in schools for non-Amharic speakers. The new policy recognized several languages widely spoken in specific areas--such as Oromo, Tigrinya, Welamo, and Somali--for use in schools at the lower levels. Addis Ababa also authorized the use of the five languages mentioned above, as well as Afar, in radiobroadcasts and literacy campaigns. Nevertheless, Amharic remained the language of government, and anyone who aspired to a national role had to learn to speak and write Amharic.
The most preferred occupations traditionally have been in government, the military, the clergy, and farming, with commerce and trade considered less important and consequently usually left to Muslims and foreigners. All major Ethiopian ethnic units include hereditary groups of artisans and craftsmen. Their occupations historically have been held in low esteem by the dominant groups. Prior to 1974, artisans and craftsmen could not own land or hold political office and could not participate in local meetings or assemblies. Dominant groups in their respective areas generally treated them as subjects.
Social status in Ethiopia during the centuries of imperial rule depended on one's landholdings, which provided the basis for class formation and social stratification. The emperor, the nobility, and landlords occupied the social hierarchy's highest positions. Under them were smallholding farmers, followed by millions of landless peasants who cultivated rented land. In the twentieth century, most of the southern landlord class consisted of Christian settlers from the north, whereas the tenants were mostly nonChristians and natives of the area. Thus, ethnic and cultural differences exacerbated class distinctions, which, in turn, adversely affected social relations.
With the dissolution of the imperial system and the nationalization of urban and rural land, social stratification and community relations based on landholding largely disappeared. The military regime wanted to create a classless society, but the social hierarchy based on landholdings simply was replaced by one based on political power and influence. National and regional party members, government ministers, military officers, and senior civil servants had enormous political sway and enjoyed the economic perquisites that the nobility and landlords once possessed.
After Ethiopia's liberation from Italian occupation in 1941, education played an important role in social relations by creating a "new nobility" and a middle class whose position and status were largely independent of landownership. This new group consisted of educated children of the nobility, commoners who had achieved distinction for their loyalty to the emperor, and others with advanced education whose skills were needed to modernize the bureaucracy and military. The postwar education system, the new government bureaucracy, and the modern sector of the economy also encouraged the growth of a middle class employed in the public and private sectors. Members of the small educated class that filled the bureaucracy and the professions during the postwar imperial period by and large retained their positions under Mengistu, although many left the country because of disenchantment with his regime.
The educated group was generally less attached to religion and tradition than was the rest of Ethiopian society. Members' education, income, occupation, and urban life-style likewise set them apart. They had more in common with educated people from other ethnic groups and frequently married across ethnic lines, although rarely across religious lines. Nevertheless, in the last decade or so before the 1974 revolution, some younger and better-educated non-Amhara expressed continued, even heightened, ethnic awareness through membership in urban-based self-help associations, which the Mengistu regime later banned. Although this educated group played a vital role in the emperor's downfall, it had little influence on the military government.
Many of the PMAC's policies were perceived as inimical to the interests of major ethnic and class groups. Despite the regime's tentative efforts--such as land reform--to defuse some longstanding grievances, opposition based on ethnic, religious, and class interests continued.
Rural areas, which contain an estimated 89 percent of the population, make up most of the country; it is the urban centers, however, that generate most of the country's political, administrative, cultural, and commercial activities. The towns and cities are also home to a variety of people forced to live on the margins of society by the Mengistu regime--absentee landlords whose rural lands and urban property had been confiscated by the state, as well as erstwhile activists who had aspired to genuine democratic reforms and had seen their hopes dashed.
Prior to the 1974 revolution, most Ethiopians conducted their daily lives in accordance with norms peculiar to each community or region. Ethnic groups characterized by common features of social organization and values were, on closer examination, actually quite diverse. As important as local structures were, the societies they characterized were not autonomous. Those that came closest to self-sufficiency were the eastern nomads. In the inaccessible and inhospitable areas inhabited by these groups, representatives of the central government were scarce. Elsewhere, each community was bound to a region and through it to the imperial center by layers of social and political strata. Binding these strata together even tighter was a complex system of land rights.
Modifications introduced after World War II, particularly with respect to land rights, had little effect on the essential characteristics of the social order. The regime that took power in 1974 attempted to replace the old rural order with a new one based on the principle that land should be distributed equitably. Even though most rural areas supported the government's efforts to bring about such a change, the ultimate shape of the social and economic order remained uncertain as the 1990s began.
Political scientist John Markakis has observed, "The social structure of traditional Amhara-Tigray society [represented] the classic trinity of noble, priest, and peasant. These groups [were] distinguished not only through the division of labor, distinct social status, and a clear awareness of such distinctions expressed and justified in ideological terms, but also through differences in their relationships to the only means of production: land." In the northern highlands, land was usually held by the kin group, the state, and the church and, through each of these, by individuals. Private ownership in the Western sense came later and was abolished in 1975.
Anthropologist Allan Hoben is considered to have made the most thorough analysis of Amhara land tenure and its relation to social structure. According to his findings, the cognatic descent group, comprising men and women believed to be descended from a common ancestor through both males and females, ultimately held a block of land. As in cognatic descent systems elsewhere, men and women could belong to several such landholding groups. The descent group and each of its segments had a representative who looked after its collective interests. This agent, the respected elders, and politically influential members of the group or its segments acted in disputes over rights to land. The land was called rist land, and the rights held or claimed in it were rist rights. An Amhara had claims not to a specific piece of land but to a portion of it administered by the descent group or a segment of this group. The person holding such rights was called ristegna. In principle, rist rights guaranteed security of tenure. Litigation over such rights was common, however. Most northern highland peasants held at least some rist land, but some members of pariah groups and others were tenants.
Peasants were subject to claims for taxes and labor from those above them, including the church. The common term for peasant, derived from the word for tribute, was gebbar. Taxes and fees were comprehensive, multiple, and burdensome. In addition, the peasant had to provide labor to a hierarchy of officials for a variety of tasks. It was only after World War II that administrative and fiscal reforms ended many of these exactions.
The state exercised another set of rights over land, including land held in rist. The emperor was the ultimate and often immediate arbiter of such rights, called gult rights, and the recipient was called gultegna. There was considerable variation in the content and duration of the gult rights bestowed on any person.
Gult rights were the typical form of compensation for an official until the government instituted salaries in the period after World War II. Many gult grants were for life, or were hereditary, and did not depend on the performance of official duties. The grants served to bind members of noble families and the local gentry to the emperor.
The emperor also granted hereditary possession (rist gult) of state land to members of the higher nobility or the royal family. Peasants on such land became tenants of the grantee and paid rent in addition to the usual taxes and fees. Lieutenants who shared in the tribute represented the absentee landlords.
Those who benefited from the allocation of gult rights included members of the royal family (masafint, or princes), the nobility (makuannent), the local gentry, low-level administrators, and persons with local influence. Until the twentieth century, the chief duties of the makuannent were administrative and military. Membership in the makuannent was not fixed, and local gentry who proved able and loyal often assumed higher office and were elevated to the nobility. It was possible for a commoner to become a noble and for the son of a noble--even one with a hereditary title--to lose status and wealth unless he demonstrated military or other capabilities. Although there was a gap in living standards between peasant and noble, cultural differences were not profound. Consequently, the Amhara and Tigray lacked the notion of a hereditary class of nobles. Although it is possible to divide the Amhara and Tigray populations of the late nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries in terms of rank, social status, power, and wealth, those who fell into various categories did not necessarily constitute distinct strata.
The pattern of land allocation in the southern territories incorporated into the empire by Menelik II differed in important ways from the pattern in the north. Moreover, the consequences of allocation and the administrative regime imposed by Menelik II and Haile Selassie varied, depending on the way in which particular ethnic groups or regions became subject to Ethiopian rule, on the nature of the preexisting sociopolitical structure, and on the territory's economic appeal.
Supposedly, the government divided conquered land in the south on the one-third (siso) principle, by which two-thirds went to the state and the remainder to the indigenous population. In fact, the proportion of the land taken by the state ranged from virtually none to more than two-thirds. In areas such as Jima, which had capitulated to Menelik II without resistance, the state took no occupied land, although it later took over unoccupied land and granted much of it to leading imperial officials. Other northerners, attracted by the coffee-growing potential of the Jima area, bought land in that region. In areas inhabited by nomads, all the land was state land, little was granted, and the pastoralists used it as before.
The government allocated state-held land to a variety of claimants. The emperor retained a substantial portion of the most fertile land. Churches also received large amounts of land in the south as northern governors implemented the imperial policy of establishing Orthodox Christian churches in conquered territory and as northern clergy came in numbers to serve them. Each church received samon grants, according to which the church held the rights to tribute in perpetuity, and the tribute from those working the land went solely to the support of the church (or local monastery). No part of it went through the secular hierarchy to the emperor. The nobility, including the leaders of Menelik's conquering armies (many of whom became governors in the south), received rist gult rights over large areas occupied by peasants. Rist gult holders, secure in their rights, allocated land rights of various kinds to kinsmen and retainers. The government granted rist gult rights over smaller parcels of land to officials at any level for loyal service. Remaining land was divided between the indigenous population and traditional leaders ( balabats ), who acquired some of the best land. People who had been on the land thus became tenants (gebbars).
Peasants from the north went south as soldiers and settlers. If the soldiers and their heirs continued to perform military or other service, they received land that remained in the family. If they arrived as settlers, the government gave them small parcels of land or allowed them to buy land from the state at low cost. Such land, unencumbered by the residual rights of a kin group but requiring the payment of state taxes, was thus held in an arrangement much like that applied to freehold land. Generally, settlers were armed and were expected to support local officials with force.
Most of the southern population consisted of indigenous peoples, largely deprived of the rights they had held under local systems. They, like Amhara and Tigray peasants, were called gebbars, but they held no rist land and therefore had little security of tenure. The situation of the southern gebbars depended on the rights granted by the state over the land on which they lived. Those working land granted to a minor official paid tribute through him. If the land reverted to state control, the gebbar became a tributary of the state. As salaries for officials became the rule after World War II, the land that formerly served as compensation in lieu of salary was granted in permanent possession (in effect, became freehold land) to those holding contingent rights or to others. In these circumstances, the gebbars became tenants.
The basis of southern social stratification was, as in the north, the allocation of political office and rights in land by the emperor. The method of allocating rights in land and of appointing government officials in the south gave rise to a structure of status, power, and wealth that differed from the arrangement in the north and from the earlier forms of sociopolitical organization in the area. Those appointed as government officials in the south were northerners--mainly Amhara, Tigray, and educated Oromo--virtually all of whom were Orthodox Christians who spoke Amharic. This meant that social stratification coincided with ethnicity. However, the path to social mobility and higher status, as in the north, was education and migration to urban areas.
In 1966, under growing domestic pressure for land reform, the imperial government abolished rist gult in the north and south and siso gult in the south. Under the new system, the gultegna and the gebbar paid taxes to the state. In effect, this established rights of private ownership. The abolition of rist gult left the northern Amhara and Tigray peasant a rist holder, still dependent on the cognatic descent group to verify his rights to rist land. But at least he was formally freed of obligations to the gult holder.
Typically, the landholders and many northern provincial officials came from families with at least several generations of status, wealth, and power in the province-- situations they owed not to Menelik II or to Haile Selassie but to earlier emperors or to great provincial lords. These nobles had some claim to the peasants' loyalty, inasmuch as all belonged to the same ethnic group and shared the same values. Peasants often saw attacks on the northern nobility as challenges to the entire system of which they were a part, including their right to rist land.
By contrast, whether or not they were descended from the older nobility, southern landholders were more dependent on the central government for their status and power. They were confronted with an ethnically different peasantry and lacked a base in the culture and society of the locality in which they held land.
In 1975 the revolution succeeded in eliminating the nobility and landlord classes. Those individual group members who avoided being killed, exiled, or politically isolated were able to do so because they had in some way already modified or surrendered their rights and privileges.
Land reform affected huge numbers of people throughout Ethiopia. However, there were regional differences in its execution. Peasant associations carried out land redistribution in the south, motivated not only by economic need but also by their antipathy toward the landlords. In the north, the government preserved rist tenure, and the peasant associations concerned themselves mainly with litigation over rist rights. Moreover, northern peasants were not driven by the ethnic and class hatred characteristic of southern peasants.
The 1975 Peasant Associations Organization and Consolidation Proclamation granted local self-government to peasant associations. Subsequently, peasant associations established judicial tribunals to deal with certain criminal and civil cases, including those involving violations of association regulations. Armed units, known as peasant defense squads, enforced decisions. Additionally, peasant associations had economic powers, including the right to establish service cooperatives as a prelude to collective ownership (although there was little peasant enthusiasm for the latter). The revolutionary government also established a hierarchy of administrative and development committees in districts, regions, and subregions to coordinate the work of the bodies at each administrative level. The Workers' Party of Ethiopia (WPE) later supplemented the work of these committees. Only a few officials spoke for peasants at the district and subregional levels, and rarely, if at all, were peasants represented in regional organizations, where civilians and military members of the central government were in control.
After World War II, towns, commerce, and bureaucracy gradually became more significant in Ethiopia. Except for Addis Ababa and some Red Sea ports, towns were small, and urbanization had proceeded more slowly than in many other African countries. City and town life had not been a feature of Ethiopian society, and trade was not a full-time occupation for Ethiopians except for itinerant Muslims and Arabized peoples on the Red Sea coast. Manufacturing had arrived only recently, and the role of Ethiopians, except as unskilled laborers, was minimal. Ownership and management, with relatively few exceptions, were in the hands of foreigners.
Most Ethiopians who entered into occupations not associated with the land or with traditional methods of administration worked for the central government, which had expanded to bring Ethiopia under the emperor's control, to provide essential services, and to generate economic development. During the 1940s, Ethiopia's few educated persons, who usually came from families of the nobility and gentry, joined the government.
Beginning in the 1950s, relatively younger Ethiopians with higher education developed hopes and expectations for democratic institutions. Still small in number, perhaps 7,000 to 8,000 by 1970, they were more ethnically varied in origin than the older educated group, although Amhara and Tigray were still represented disproportionately (as they were even among secondary school graduates). These would-be reformers were frequently frustrated by the older ways of the senior officials, who were dependent on Haile Selassie and beholden to him. Nevertheless, sustained opposition to the regime did not occur, largely because even middle- and lower-level government employees were better off than the peasants, small traders, and some of the gentry.
Small traders and craftsmen, below educated government workers in income and status, had little influence on the government, which tended to encourage larger-scale capitalintensive ventures typically requiring foreign investment and management. Although an increasing number of Christians were involved in commercial activities, small traders remained largely a Muslim group. Skilled craftsmen who were not of the traditional pariah groups often belonged to small ethnic groups, such as the weavers (often called Dorze) of Gamo Gofa.
At the bottom of the urban social scale were workers of varied ethnic origins, generally unskilled in a labor market crowded with unskilled workers ready to replace them. Neither government policy, the weak labor unions, nor the condition of the labor market gave them social or political leverage. By the late 1960s, inflation and a lack of jobs for university and secondary school graduates intensified disgruntlement. Urban-based agitation by students, labor, and the military eventually toppled the imperial regime.
Those who had served in senior positions in the imperial government and the military establishment were dismissed, imprisoned, executed, or they fled the country. The survivors of the old social structure were younger persons in government service: bureaucrats, teachers, and technicians. Some benefited from the nationalization of private enterprises and expansion of the government apparatus, filling posts held by senior officials or foreign specialists before the revolution. But this group was excluded from power, and some became militant opponents of the new regime's radical policies.
The position of the middle class--traders and artisans-- varied. Generally, the status of Muslim traders rose after the new regime disestablished the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. As economic conditions worsened and consumer goods became scarce, however, traders became scapegoats and subject to violent attacks.
Notwithstanding allusions to the proletariat's revolutionary role, the urban working class--mainly in Addis Ababa and its environs--gained neither status nor power. The military government replaced the Confederation of Ethiopian Labor Unions (CELU) with the All-Ethiopia Trade Union (AETU) when the CELU leadership started opposing the direction of the revolution. The AETU focused its activities on supporting the government policy of emphasizing production rather than on advancing worker rights. The AETU--unlike the CELU--was a hierarchy rather than a confederation; unions at the base accepted policy decisions made at higher levels. In the next few years, the government had difficulty enforcing this policy. Deteriorating economic conditions caused strikes and demonstrations. In addition, violence often broke out between workers and government officials.
The urban equivalents of the peasant associations were the kebeles. Initially, mid- and lowerlevel bureaucrats were elected to posts in these associations, but the military government soon purged them for opposing the revolutionary regime. New laws excluded from elective office for one year those who had owned rental property and members of their households. Thus, not only were the wealthy excluded from participation, but also many middle-class investors who had built and rented low-cost housing and who were far from rich were excluded as well. This exclusion also deprived many students and other young people of a role in the kebeles. Those who worked full time away from the neighborhood tended to be unwilling to take on kebele positions. Partly by default and partly with the PMAC's encouragement, elections in 1976 filled kebeles posts with (in the words of John Markakis and Nega Ayele) "persons of dubious character, indeterminate occupation, busybodies and opportunists of all sorts . . . . Militia units [attached to the urban associations] charged with local security mustered the perennially unemployed, the shiftless and hangers-on, young toughs and delinquents, who were instantly transformed into revolutionary proletarian fighters." These individuals perpetrated crimes against people they disliked or disagreed with.
The kebeles engaged in some of the revolution's most brutal bloodletting. Increasing criticism eventually forced the regime to restrain them. After the populace recognized the PMAC's permanence, more people participated in kebele administration. By 1990 the kebeles were part of the grassroots WPE organization.
There have been few studies concerning women in Ethiopia, but many observers have commented on the physical hardship that Ethiopian women experience throughout their lives. Such hardship involves carrying loads over long distances, grinding corn manually, working in the homestead, raising children, and cooking. Ethiopian women traditionally have suffered sociocultural and economic discrimination and have had fewer opportunities than men for personal growth, education, and employment. Even the civil code affirmed the woman's inferior position, and such rights as ownership of property and inheritance varied from one ethnic group to another.
As in other traditional societies, a woman's worth is measured in terms of her role as a mother and wife. Over 85 percent of Ethiopian women reside in rural areas, where peasant families are engaged primarily in subsistence agriculture. Rural women are integrated into the rural economy, which is basically labor intensive and which exacts a heavy physical toll on all, including children. The revolution had little impact on the lives of rural women. Land reform did not change their subordinate status, which was based on deep-rooted traditional values and beliefs. An improvement in economic conditions would improve the standard of living of women, but real change would require a transformation of the attitudes of governments and men regarding women.
There have been some changes for women in urban areas, where education, health care, and employment outside the home have become more available. Although a few women with higher education have found professional employment, most hold low-paying jobs. About 40 percent of employed women in urban areas worked in the service sector, mainly in hotels, restaurants, and bars, according to a 1976 government survey. Employment in production and related areas (such as textiles and food processing) accounted for 25 percent of the female work force, followed by sales, which accounted for about 11 percent. The survey also showed that women factory workers in Addis Ababa earned about a quarter of the wages men earned for the same type of work. These differences existed despite a 1975 proclamation stipulating equal pay for equal work for men and women.
Following the revolution, women made some gains in economic and political areas. The Revolutionary Ethiopia Women's Association (REWA), which claimed a membership of over 5 million, took an active part in educating women. It encouraged the creation of women's organizations in factories, local associations, and in the civil service. Some women participated in local organizations and in peasant associations and kebeles. However, the role of women was limited at the national level. In 1984, for example, the government selected only one woman as a full member of the Central Committee of the WPE. Of the 2,000 delegates who attended the WPE's inaugural congress in 1984, only 6 percent were women.
On a more positive note, the Mengistu regime could claim success in increasing literacy among women. The enrollment of women in primary and secondary schools increased from about 32 percent in 1974/75 to 39 percent in 1985/86, although the rate of enrollment of urban women far exceeded the rate for rural women.
The 1955 constitution stated, "The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, founded in the fourth century on the doctrines of Saint Mark, is the established church of the Empire and is, as such, supported by the state." The church was the bulwark of the state and the monarchy and became an element in the ethnic identity of the dominant Amhara and Tigray. By contrast, Islam spread among ethnically diverse and geographically dispersed groups at different times and therefore failed to provide the same degree of political unity to its adherents. Traditional belief systems were strongest in the lowland regions, but elements of such systems characterized much of the popular religion of Christians and Muslims as well. Beliefs and rituals varied widely, but fear of the evil eye, for example, was widespread among followers of all religions.
Officially, the imperial regime tolerated Muslims. For example, the government retained Muslim courts, which dealt with family and personal law according to Islamic law. However, the imperial authorities gradually took over Muslim schools and discouraged the teaching of Arabic. Additionally, the behavior of Amhara administrators in local communities and the general pattern of Christian dominance tended to alienate Muslims.
The revolution brought a major change in the official status of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and other religions. In 1975 the Mengistu regime disestablished the church, which was a substantial landholder during the imperial era, and early the next year removed its patriarch. The PMAC declared that all religions were equal, and a number of Muslim holy days became official holidays in addition to the Christian holidays already honored. Despite these changes, divisions between Muslims and Christians persisted.
<>Demography and Geography of Religious Affiliation
Statistical data on religious affiliation, like those on ethnic groups, are unreliable. Most Orthodox Christians are Amhara and Tigray, two groups that together constitute more than 40 percent of the population. When members of these two groups are combined with others who have accepted Orthodoxy, the total Christian population might come to roughly 50 percent of all Ethiopians.
Muslims have been estimated to constitute 40 percent of the population. The largest ethnic group associated with Islam is the Somali. Several other much smaller Islamic groups include the Afar, Argobba, Hareri, Saho, and most Tigrespeaking groups in northern Eritrea. Oromo also constitute a large proportion of the total Muslim population. There are also Muslims in other important ethnic categories, e.g., the Sidamo speakers and the Gurage. In the far north and the east, and to some extent in the south, Islamic peoples surround Orthodox Christians.
The only people (variously estimated at 5 to 15 percent of the population) who have had little if any contact with Orthodox Christianity or Islam live in the far south and the west. Included among adherents of indigenous religions are most of those speaking Nilo-Saharan languages and many of those speaking Omotic and Cushitic, including sections of the Oromo, such as the pastoral Borana. It is among these peoples that the few converts to missionary Christianity-- Protestant and Roman Catholic--are to be found.
John Markakis has remarked of Ethiopia that "the dominant element in this culture and its major distinguishing feature is the Christian religion." Yet almost all of the analysis of Orthodox Christianity as practiced by Ethiopians has focused on the Amhara and Tigray. The meaning of that religion for the Oromo and others is not clear. For some Oromo who achieved significant political power in Amhara kingdoms in the eighteenth century and after, adherence to Christianity seemed to be motivated by nothing more than expediency.
By the mid-twentieth century, some educated Amhara and Tigray had developed skepticism, not so much of doctrine-- although that also occurred--as of the church's political and economic role. They had developed similar feelings toward the clergy, most of whom were poorly educated. Nevertheless, the effects of the church's disestablishment and of the continuing social upheaval and political repression impelled many Ethiopians to turn to religion for solace.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church's headquarters was in Addis Ababa. The boundaries of the dioceses, each under a bishop, followed provincial boundaries; a patriarch (abun) headed the church. The ultimate authority in matters of faith was the Episcopal Synod. In addition, the Church Council, a consultative body that included clergy and laity, reviewed and drafted administrative policy.
Beginning in 1950, the choice of the abun passed from the Coptic Church of Egypt in Alexandria to the Episcopal Synod in Addis Ababa. When Abuna Tewoflos was ousted by the government in 1976, the church announced that nominees for patriarch would be chosen from a pool of bishops and monks-- archbishops were disqualified--and that the successful candidate would be chosen on the basis of a vote by clergy and laity. The new abun was a fifty-eight-year-old monk who took the name of Tekla Haimanot, after a fourteenth-century Ethiopian saint.
From the Christian peasant's point of view, the important church figures are the local clergy. The priest has the most significant role. An estimated 10 to 20 percent of adult male Amhara and Tigray were priests in the 1960s--a not extraordinary figure, considering that there were 17,000 to 18,000 churches and that the celebration of the Eucharist required the participation of at least two priests and three deacons, and frequently included more. Large churches had as many as 100 priests; one was said to have 500.
There are several categories of clergy, collectively referred to as the kahinat (priests, deacons, and some monks) and the debteras (priests who have lost their ordination because they are no longer ritually pure, or individuals who have chosen not to enter the priesthood). A boy between the ages of seven and ten who wishes to become a deacon joins a church school and lives with his teacher--a priest or debtera who has achieved a specified level of learning--and fellow students near a church. After about four years of study, the diocesan bishop ordains him a deacon.
After three or four years of service and additional study, a deacon can apply to be ordained a priest. Before doing so, he has to commit himself to celibacy or else get married. Divorce and remarriage or adultery result in a loss of ritual purity and loss of one's ordination.
A priest's chief duty is to celebrate the Eucharist, a task to which he is assigned for a fixed period of weeks or months each year. He also officiates at baptisms and funeral services and attends the feasts (provided by laymen) associated with these and other events. His second important task is to act as confessor, usually by arrangement with specific families.
Most priests come from the peasantry, and their education is limited to what they acquire during their training for the diaconate and in the relatively short period thereafter. They are, however, ranked according to their learning, and some acquire far more religious knowledge than others.
Debteras often have a wider range of learning and skills than what is required for a priest. Debteras act as choristers, poets, herbalists, astrologers, fortune-tellers, and scribes (for those who cannot read).
Some monks are laymen, usually widowers, who have devoted themselves to a pious life. Other monks undertake a celibate life while young and commit themselves to advanced religious education. Both kinds of monks might lead a hermit's life, but many educated monks are associated with the great monastic centers, which traditionally were the sources of doctrinal innovation or dispute that had sometimes riven the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Nuns are relatively few, usually older women who perform largely domestic tasks in the churches.
The faith and practice of most Orthodox Christians combine elements from Monophysite Christianity as it has developed in Ethiopia over the centuries and from a non-Christian heritage rejected by more educated church members but usually shared by the ordinary priest. According to Monophysite doctrine, Christ is a divine aspect of the trinitarian God. Broadly, the Christian elements are God (in Amharic, Egziabher), the angels, and the saints. A hierarchy of angelic messengers and saints conveys the prayers of the faithful to God and carries out the divine will. When an Ethiopian Christian is in difficulty, he or she appeals to these angels and saints as well as to God. In more formal and regular rituals, priests communicate on behalf of the community, and only priests may enter the inner sanctum of the usually circular or octagonal church where the ark (tabot) dedicated to the church's patron saint is housed. On important religious holidays, the ark is carried on the head of a priest and escorted in procession outside the church. The ark, not the church, is consecrated. Only those who feel pure, have fasted regularly, and have generally conducted themselves properly may enter the middle ring to take communion. At many services, most parish members remain in the outer ring, where debteras sing hymns and dance.
Weekly services constitute only a small part of an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian's religious observance. Several holy days require prolonged services, singing and dancing, and feasting. An important religious requirement, however, is the keeping of fast days. Only the clergy and the very devout maintain the full schedule of fasts, comprising 250 days, but the laity is expected to fast 165 days per year, including every Wednesday and Friday and the two months that include Lent and the Easter season.
In addition to standard holy days, most Christians observe many saint's days. A man might give a small feast on his personal saint's day. The local voluntary association (called the maheber) connected with each church honors its patron saint with a special service and a feast two or three times a year.
Belief in the existence of active spirits--many malevolent, some benevolent--is widespread among Ethiopians, whether Christian, Muslim, or pagan. The spirits called zar can be male or female and have a variety of personality traits. Many peasants believe they can prevent misfortune by propitiating the zar.
The protective adbar spirits belong to the community rather than to the individual or family. The female adbar is thought to protect the community from disease, misfortune, and poverty, while the male adbar is said to prevent fighting, feuds, and war and to bring good harvests. People normally pay tribute to the adbars in the form of honey, grains, and butter.
Myths connected with the evil eye (buda) vary, but most people believe that the power rests with members of lowly occupational groups who interact with Amhara communities but are not part of them. To prevent the effects of the evil eye, people wear amulets or invoke God's name. Because one can never be sure of the source of illness or misfortune, the peasant has recourse to wizards who can make diagnoses and specify cures. Debteras also make amulets and charms designed to ward off satanic creatures.
The belief system, Christian and other, of peasant and priest was consonant with the prerevolutionary social order in its stress on hierarchy and order. The long-range effects on this belief system of a Marxist-Leninist regime that ostensibly intended to destroy the old social order were difficult to evaluate in mid-1991. Even though the regime introduced some change in the organization of the church and clergy, it was not likely that the regime had succeeded in significantly modifying the beliefs of ordinary Christians.
Islam is a system of religious beliefs and an allencompassing way of life. Muslims believe that God (Allah) revealed to the Prophet Muhammad the rules governing society and the proper conduct of society's members. Therefore, it is incumbent on the individual to live in a manner prescribed by the revealed law and incumbent on the community to build the perfect human society on earth according to holy injunctions. Islam recognizes no distinctions between church and state. The distinction between religious and secular law is a recent development that reflects the more pronounced role of the state in society and of Western economic and cultural penetration. Religion has a greater impact on daily life in Muslim countries than it has had in the largely Christian West since the Middle Ages.
Islam came to Ethiopia by way of the Arabian Peninsula, where in A.D. 610, Muhammad--a merchant of the Hashimite branch of the ruling Quraysh tribe in the Arabian town of Mecca--began to preach the first of a series of revelations he said had been granted him by God through the angel Gabriel. A fervent monotheist, Muhammad denounced the polytheism of his fellow Meccans. Because the town's economy was based in part on a thriving pilgrimage business to the shrine called the Kaaba and to numerous other pagan religious sites in the area, Muhammad's censure earned him the enmity of the town's leaders. In 622 he and a group of followers accepted an invitation to settle in the town of Yathrib, later known as Medina (the city), because it was the center of Muhammad's activities. The move, or hijra, known in the West as the hegira, marks the beginning of the Islamic era and of Islam as a force in history; indeed, the Muslim calendar begins in 622. In Medina, Muhammad continued to preach, and he eventually defeated his detractors in battle. He consolidated the temporal and the spiritual leadership in his person before his death in 632. After Muhammad's death, his followers compiled those of his words regarded as coming directly from God into the Quran, the holy scriptures of Islam. Others of his sayings and teachings, recalled by those who had known him, became the hadith. The precedent of Muhammad's personal behavior is called the sunna. Together, these works form a comprehensive guide to the spiritual, ethical, and social life of the orthodox Sunni Muslim.
The duties of Muslims form the five pillars of Islam, which set forth the acts necessary to demonstrate and reinforce the faith. These are the recitation of the shahada ("There is no god but God [Allah], and Muhammad is his prophet."), salat (daily prayer), zakat (almsgiving), sawm (fasting), and hajj (pilgrimage). The believer is to pray in a prescribed manner after purification through ritual ablutions each day at dawn, midday, midafternoon, sunset, and nightfall. Prescribed genuflections and prostrations accompany the prayers, which the worshiper recites facing toward Mecca. Whenever possible, men pray in congregation at the mosque with an imam, or prayer leader, and on Fridays they make a special effort to do so. The Friday noon prayers provide the occasion for weekly sermons by religious leaders. Women may also attend public worship at the mosque, where they are segregated from the men, although women usually pray at home. A special functionary, the muezzin, intones a call to prayer to the entire community at the appropriate hour. Those out of earshot determine the time by the position of the sun.
The ninth month of the Muslim calendar is Ramadan, a period of obligatory fasting in commemoration of Muhammad's receipt of God's revelation. Throughout the month, all but the sick and weak, pregnant or lactating women, soldiers on duty, travelers on necessary journeys, and young children are enjoined from eating, drinking, smoking, or sexual intercourse during the daylight hours. Those adults who are excused are obliged to endure an equivalent fast at their earliest opportunity. A festive meal breaks the daily fast and inaugurates a night of feasting and celebration. The pious well-to-do usually perform little or no work during this period, and some businesses close for all or part of the day. Because the months of the lunar year revolve through the solar year, Ramadan falls at various seasons in different years. A considerable test of discipline at any time of the year, a fast that falls in summertime imposes severe hardship on those who must do physical work.
All Muslims, at least once in their lifetimes, are strongly encouraged to make the hajj to Mecca to participate in special rites held there during the twelfth month of the lunar calendar. Muhammad instituted this requirement, modifying pre-Islamic custom, to emphasize sites associated with God and Abraham (Ibrahim), considered the founder of monotheism and father of the Arabs through his son Ismail.
Other tenets of the Muslim faith include the jihad (holy war), and the requirement to do good works and to avoid all evil thoughts, words, and deeds. In addition, Muslims agree on certain basic principles of faith based on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad: there is one God, who is a unitary divine being, in contrast to the trinitarian belief of Christians; Muhammad, the last of a line of prophets beginning with Abraham and including Moses (Musa) and Jesus (Isa), was chosen by God to present His message to humanity; and there is to be a general resurrection on the last, or judgment, day.
During his lifetime, Muhammad was spiritual and temporal leader of the Muslim community. Religious and secular law merged, and all Muslims traditionally have been subject to sharia, or religious law. A comprehensive legal system, sharia developed gradually through the first four centuries of the Islamic era, primarily through the accretion of interpretations and precedents set by various judges and scholars.
After Muhammad's death, Muslim community leaders chose Abu Bakr, the Prophet's father-in-law and one of his earliest followers, to succeed him. At that time, some persons favored Ali ibn Abu Talib, Muhammad's cousin and the husband of his daughter Fatima, but Ali and his supporters (the Shiat Ali, or Party of Ali) eventually recognized the community's choice. The next two caliphs (successors)--Umar, who succeeded in A.D. 634, and Uthman, who took power in 644--enjoyed the recognition of the entire community. When Ali finally succeeded to the caliphate in 656, Muawiyah, governor of Syria, rebelled in the name of his murdered kinsman Uthman. After the ensuing civil war, Ali moved his capital to the area of present-day Iraq, where he was murdered shortly thereafter.
Ali's death ended the last of the so-called four orthodox caliphates and the period in which the entire community of Islam recognized a single caliph. Muawiyah proclaimed himself caliph from Damascus. The Shiat Ali refused to recognize him or his line, the Umayyad caliphs, and withdrew in the great schism to establish the dissident sect, known as the Shia, who supported the claims of Ali's line to the caliphate based on descent from the Prophet. The larger faction, the Sunnis, adhered to the position that the caliph must be elected, and over the centuries they have represented themselves as the orthodox branch.
Early in Islam's history the Sufism movement emerged. It stressed the possibility of emotional closeness to God and mystical knowledge of God in contrast to the intellectual and legalistic emphasis of orthodox Sunni theology. By the twelfth century, this tendency had taken a number of forms. Orders, each emphasizing specific disciplines (ways) of achieving that closeness and knowledge, were organized. Disdained by orthodox Islamic theologians, Sufi orders nevertheless became an integral part of Islam, although their importance varied regionally.
Ethiopian Muslims are adherents of the dominant Sunni, or orthodox, branch of Islam. Shia are not represented in Ethiopia. The beliefs and practices of Ethiopian Muslims are embodied in a more or less integrated amalgam of three elements: the Islam of the Quran and the sharia, the worship of saints and the rituals and organization of religious orders, and the still-important remnant of pre-Islamic patterns. Islam in the traditional sense is dominant only on the Eritrean coast among Arab and Arab-influenced populations and in Harer and a few other towns.
In general, the most important practices of the Islamic faith, particularly regular prayer and fasting during the month of Ramadan, are observed in urban centers rather than in the smaller towns and villages and more among settled peoples than among nomads. Records of the pilgrimage to Mecca by Ethiopian Muslims are scarce.
Under Haile Selassie, Muslim communities could bring matters of personal and family law and inheritance before Islamic courts; many did so and probably continued to do so under the revolutionary regime. However, many Muslims dealt with such matters in terms of customary law. For example, the Somali and other pastoralists tended not to follow the requirement that daughters inherit half as much property as sons, particularly when livestock was at issue. In parts of Eritrea, the tendency to treat land as the corporate property of a descent group (lineage or clan) precluded following the Islamic principle of division of property among one's heirs.
In Ethiopia's Muslim communities, as in neighboring Sudan and Somalia, the faithful are associated with, but not necessarily members of, specific orders. Nevertheless, although formal and informal attachment to Sufi orders is widespread, the emphasis is less on contemplative and disciplined mysticism than on the powers of the founders and other leaders of local branches of the orders. Most believe that these persons possess extraordinary powers to intercede with God and have the ability to promote the fertility of women and cure illness. In many cases, these individuals are recognized as saints. People visit their tombs to pray for their help or their intercession with God.
Among indigenous religious systems, the names of certain deities and spirits recur frequently, especially among groups speaking related languages. Certain features of these traditional belief systems are broadly similar--for example, the existence of a supreme god identified with the sky and relatively remote from the everyday concerns of the people and addressed through spirits. Surface similarities notwithstanding, the configuration of the accepted roster of spirits, the rituals addressed to them, the social units (some based on the territorial community, others on common descent, generation, or sex) participating in specific rituals, and the nature and functions of religious specialists are peculiar to each ethnic group or subsection. Common to almost all indigenous systems is a range of spirits, some closely resembling in name and function the spirits recognized by neighboring Christians or Muslims.
Among the Oromo, especially those not fully Christianized, there is a belief in a supreme god called Waka, represented by spirits known as ayana. The ayana are mediators between the high god and human beings and are themselves approached through the kallu, a ritual specialist capable of being possessed by these spirits. The kallu is said to communicate directly with Waka and bless the community in his name. By contrast, some pastoral Oromo, such as the Guji and Borana, are regarded as monotheists.
In a 1944 decree, Haile Selassie forbade missionaries from attempting to convert Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, and they had little success in proselytizing among Muslims. Most missionaries focused their activities on adherents of local religions--but still with only little success. In the 1960s, there were about 900 foreign missionaries in Ethiopia, but many were laypersons. This fact was consistent with the emphasis of many such missions on the education and vocational training of the people they sought to serve. One obstacle to the missions' success in the rural areas may have been the imperial government's insistence that Amharic be used as the medium of religious instruction except in the earliest stages of missionary activity. There was also some evidence that Ethiopian Orthodox priests residing outside the Amhara and Tigray heartland, as well as local administrators, were hostile to the missionaries.
In the late 1960s, there were 350,000 to 400,000 Protestants and Catholics in Ethiopia, roughly 1.5 percent of the population. About 36 percent of these were Catholics, divided among those adhering to the Ethiopian rite (about 60 percent) and those following the Latin rite. The three bishops were Ethiopians. Protestants were divided among a number of denominations. The largest, nearly equaling in number the size of the Catholic congregation, consisted of adherents to the Fellowship of Evangelical Believers, the Ethiopian branch of the Sudan Interior Mission. The next largest group, about half as large, was the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, an entity that was fostered jointly by Scandinavian, German, and American Lutheran groups. This group claimed 400,000 members in the late 1970s and had an Ethiopian head. Several other groups, including the Bethel Evangelical Church (sponsored by the American United Presbyterian Church) and the Seventh-Day Adventists, had between 5,000 and 15,000 members each.
Many missionaries and other observers claimed that the revolutionary regime opposed missions and harassed the clergy and communicants. Although the government denied these accusations, its approach to those accused of not accepting its authority suggests that the mission churches and the regime had not reached a modus vivendi.
Education in Ethiopia was oriented toward religious learning until after World War II, when the government began to emphasize secular learning as a means to achieve social mobility and national development. By 1974, despite efforts by the government to improve the situation, less than 10 percent of the total population was literate. There were several reasons for this lack of progress. According to Teshome G. Wagaw, a former educator at Haile Selassie I University, the primary failure of the education system was its inability to "satisfy the aspirations of the majority of the people and to prepare in any adequate way those passing through its ranks." Teshome described the system as elitist, inflexible, and unresponsive to local needs. He was equally critical of the distribution of educational opportunity, which favored a few administrative regions and urban centers at the expense of a predominantly illiterate rural population. The education system also suffered from inadequate financing.
In the early 1990s, the problems Ethiopians faced in making their education system responsive to national needs remained formidable. Social and political change had affected many traditional elements of national life, but it was too soon to predict what effect the changes would have on the progress of education.
<>Education During Imperial Rule
Until the early 1900s, formal education was confined to a system of religious instruction organized and presented under the aegis of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Church schools prepared individuals for the clergy and for other religious duties and positions. In the process, these schools also provided religious education to the children of the nobility and to the sons of limited numbers of tenant farmers and servants associated with elite families. Such schools mainly served Amhara and Tigray inhabitants of the central highlands. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Menelik II had also permitted the establishment of European missionary schools. At the same time, Islamic schools provided some education for a small part of the Muslim population.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the education system's failure to meet the needs of people involved in statecraft, diplomacy, commerce, and industry led to the introduction of government-sponsored secular education. The first public school was established in Addis Ababa in 1907, and a year later a primary school opened in Harer. Foreign languages, elementary mathematics, and rudimentary science were taught in French to a limited number of students, along with Amharic and religious subjects.
In 1925 the government adopted a plan to expand secular education, but ten years later there were only 8,000 students enrolled in twenty public schools. A few students also studied abroad on government scholarships. Schools closed during the Italian occupation of 1936-41. After the restoration of Ethiopian independence, schools reopened, but the system faced shortages of teachers, textbooks, and facilities. 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.
In May 1961, Ethiopia hosted the United Nations-sponsored Conference of African States on the Development of Education. Among other things, the conference highlighted Ethiopia's educational deficiencies. The Ethiopian education system, especially in primary and secondary education, was ranked the bottom among African nations. There were school and teacher shortages, a high dropout rate, and low overall attendance rates (about 10 percent among all school-age children in the country), especially among females, nonChristians , and rural children. Embarrassed by this record, the Ministry of Education developed a new education policy, which was in effect until 1974. Designed in conjunction with the objectives of the government's second and third fiveyear development plans, extending from 1962 to 1973, the policy gave precedence to the establishment of technical training schools, although academic education also was expanded. Curriculum revisions introduced a mix of academic and nonacademic subjects. But Amharic became the language of instruction for the entire primary cycle, which handicapped any child who had a different primary language.
Under the revised system, the two-year junior secondary schools offered a general academic program for individuals who wished to continue their education. A number of vocational subjects prepared others to enter technical or vocational schools. Some practical experience in the use of tools was provided, which qualified graduates as semiskilled workers. The curriculum in the four-year senior secondary schools prepared students for higher education in Ethiopia or abroad. Successful completion of the cycle also qualified some for specialized agricultural or industrial institutes. Others were qualified for intermediate positions in the civil service, the armed forces, or private enterprises.
There were two institutions of higher education: Haile Selassie I University in Addis Ababa, formed by imperial charter in 1961, and the private University of Asmera, founded by a Roman Catholic religious order based in Italy.
Between 1961 and 1971, the government expanded the public school system more than fourfold, and it declared universal primary education a long-range objective. In 1971 there were 1,300 primary and secondary schools and 13,000 teachers, and enrollment had reached 600,000. In addition, many families sent their children to schools operated by missionary groups and private agencies. But the system suffered from a shortage of qualified personnel, a lack of funds, and overcrowded facilities. Often financed with foreign aid, school construction usually proceeded faster than the training and certification of teachers. Moreover, many teachers did not stay long in the profession. Sources such as the United States Peace Corps and teachers from the National Service program (university students who taught for one year after completing their junior year) served only as stopgaps. In addition, most schools were in the major towns. Crowded and understaffed, those schools in small towns and rural areas provided a poor education.
The inadequacies of public education before the mid-1970s resulted partly from the school financing system. To finance primary education, the government levied a special tax on agricultural land. Local boards of education supervised the disbursement of tax receipts. (The central government financed secondary and higher education.) The system's inequities fostered the expansion of primary education in wealthier regions rather than in poorer ones. Moreover, urban inhabitants, who did not have to pay the tax but who were predominantly represented in the schools, sent their children at the expense of the taxpaying rural landowners and poor peasants. The government attempted to rectify this imbalance in 1970 by imposing an education tax on urban landowners and a 2 percent tax on the personal income of urban residents. But the Ministry of Finance treated the funds collected as part of the general revenue and never spent the money for its intended purpose.
Despite the fact that money spent on education increased from 10 percent of total government expenditures in 1968 to 20 percent in the early 1970s, funding remained inadequate. Expenditure on education was only 1.4 to 3 percent of the gross national product (GNP) between 1968 and 1974, compared with 2.5 to 6 percent for other African countries during the same period.
Under the pressure of growing public dissatisfaction and mounting student activism in the university and secondary schools, the imperial government initiated a comprehensive study of the education system. Completed in July 1972, the Education Sector Review (ESR) recommended attaining universal primary education as quickly and inexpensively as possible, ruralizing the curricula through the inclusion of informal training, equalizing educational opportunities, and relating the entire system to the national development process.
The ESR criticized the education system's focus on preparing students for the next level of academic study and on the completion of rigid qualifying examinations. Also criticized was the government's lack of concern for the young people who dropped out before learning marketable skills, a situation that contributed to unemployment. The report stated that, by contrast, "The recommended system would provide a self-contained program at each level that would be terminal for most students."
The report was not published until February 1974, which gave time for rumors to generate opposition among students, parents, and the teachers' union to the ESR recommendations. Most resented what they considered the removal of education from its elite position. Many teachers also feared salary reductions. Strikes and widespread disturbances ensued, and the education crisis became a contributing factor in the imperial regime's fall later that year.
After the overthrow of imperial rule, the provisional military government dismantled the feudal socioeconomic structure through a series of reforms that also affected educational development. By early 1975, the government had closed Haile Selassie I University and all senior secondary schools and had deployed some 60,000 students and teachers to rural areas to participate in the government's Development Through Cooperation Campaign (commonly referred to as zemecha ). The campaign's stated purposes were to promote land reform and improve agricultural production, health, and local administration and to teach peasants about the new political and social order.
In 1975 the new regime nationalized all private schools, except church-affiliated ones, and made them part of the public school system. Additionally, the government reorganized Haile Selassie I University and renamed it Addis Ababa University. It also initiated reforms of the education system based partly on ESR recommendations and partly on the military regime's socialist ideology. However, no meaningful education occurred (except at the primary level) from 1975 to 1978 because of the social turmoil, which pitted the regime against numerous opposition forces, including students.
Beginning in 1975, a new education policy emphasized improving learning opportunities in the rural areas as a means of increasing economic productivity. In the mid-1980s, the education system was still based on a structure of primary, secondary, and higher education levels, much as it was during the imperial regime. However, the government's objective was to establish an eight-year unified education system at the primary level. Preliminary to implementing this program, officials tested a new curriculum in seventy pilot schools. This curriculum emphasized expanded opportunities for nonacademic training. The new approach also decentralized control and operation of primary and secondary schools to the subregional level, where the curriculum addressed local requirements. In each case, committees drawn from the peasant associations and kebeles and augmented by at least one teacher and one student over the age of sixteen from each school administered the public schools. Students used free textbooks in local languages. In late 1978, the government expanded the program to include nine languages, and it adopted plans to add five others.
There were also changes in the distribution and number of schools and the size and composition of the student body. The military regime worked toward a more even distribution of schools by concentrating its efforts on small towns and rural areas that had been neglected during the imperial regime. With technical assistance from the Ministry of Education, individual communities performed all primary school construction. In large part because of such community involvement, the number of primary schools grew from 3,196 in 1974/75 to 7,900 in 1985/86 (the latest years for which figures were available in mid-1991), an average increase of 428 schools annually. The number of primary schools increased significantly in all regions except three, including Eritrea and Tigray, where there was a decline because of continuing insurgencies. In Addis Ababa, the number of primary schools declined because of the closure or absorption of nongovernment schools, especially religious ones, into the government system.
Primary school enrollment increased from about 957,300 in 1974/75 to nearly 2,450,000 in 1985/86. There were still variations among regions in the number of students enrolled and a disparity in the enrollment of boys and girls. Nevertheless, while the enrollment of boys more than doubled, that of girls more than tripled. Urban areas had a higher ratio of children enrolled in schools, as well as a higher proportion of female students, compared with rural areas.
The number of junior secondary schools almost doubled, with fourfold increases in Gojam, Kefa, and Welega. Most junior secondary schools were attached to primary schools.
The number of senior secondary schools almost doubled as well, with fourfold increases in Arsi, Bale, Gojam, Gonder, and Welo. The prerevolutionary distribution of schools had shown a concentration in the urban areas of a few administrative regions. In 1974/75 about 55 percent of senior secondary schools were in Eritrea and Shewa, including Addis Ababa. In 1985/86 the figure was down to 40 percent. Although there were significantly fewer girls enrolled at the secondary level, the proportion of females in the school system at all levels and in all regions increased from about 32 percent in 1974/75 to 39 percent in 1985/86.
The number of teachers also increased, especially in senior secondary schools. However, this increase had not kept pace with student enrollment. The student-teacher ratio went from forty-four to one in 1975 to fifty-four to one in 1983 in primary schools and also increased from thirty-five to one in 1975 to forty-four to one in 1983 in secondary schools.
Although the government achieved impressive improvements in primary and secondary education, prospects for universal education in the near future were not bright. In 1985/86, the latest year for which government statistics were available, enrollment in the country's primary, junior secondary, and senior secondary schools totaled 3.1 million students, up from the nearly 785,000 enrolled a decade earlier. Only about 2.5 million (42 percent) of the 6 million primary school-age children were enrolled in school in 1985/86. Junior secondary school enrollments (grades seven and eight) amounted to 363,000, while at the secondary school level (grades nine through twelve), only 292,385 out of 5.5 million, or 5.3 percent, attended school. In addition, prospects for continued study for most primary school graduates were slim. In 1985/86 there was only one junior secondary school for every eight primary schools and only one senior secondary school for every four junior secondary schools. There were many primary school students for whom space would not be available and who therefore would most likely end up on the job market, where work already was scarce for people with limited educations.
School shortages also resulted in crowding, a situation aggravated by the rural-urban influx of the late 1980s. Most schools operated on a morning and afternoon shift system, particularly in urban areas. A teacher shortage exacerbated the problems created by crowded classrooms. In addition to these problems were those of the destruction and looting of educational facilities as a result of fighting in northern regions. By 1990/91 destruction was especially severe in Eritrea, Tigray, and Gonder, but looting of schools was reported in other parts of the country as well.
In 1977 the revolutionary regime issued Proclamation No. 109, which created the Commission for Higher Education. This document also outlined the main objectives of higher education institutions as follows: to train individuals for high-level positions in accordance with the national plan of development and to provide qualified medium-level personnel to meet the immediate needs of the economy; to improve the quality of education, strengthen and expand tertiary-level institutions, and establish new research and training centers; and to contribute to a better standard of living among the masses by developing science, technology, the arts, and literature.
Additionally, Addis Ababa reoriented institutions of higher education to reflect the new regime's objectives and modified admission criteria to benefit students from small towns and rural areas. But the government also assigned many students to specialize in certain fields, which denied them the opportunity to decide on careers of their choosing.
Higher education expanded modestly in the period after 1975. The College of Agriculture at Alemaya, which was part of Addis Ababa University, was granted independent university status in 1985. A postgraduate studies program was established in 1978, which had an enrollment of 246 students in 1982/83, of whom 15 were women. Graduate programs were offered in several fields, including engineering, natural science, agriculture, the social sciences, and medicine. Several research institutes supported these institutions of higher education. Addis Ababa University also provided an evening extension program offering courses in many fields.
Other diploma-granting independent colleges trained middlelevel manpower in several fields. These included the College of Teacher Education, the Junior College of Commerce, and the Municipal Technical College, all in Addis Ababa. There were also junior colleges of agriculture in Ambo and Jima, the Institute of Animal Health Assistants in Debre Zeyit, and the Institute of Health Sciences in Jima. Altogether, there were approximately twelve colleges or universities in the country in the early 1990s, with intense competition among students for admission.
Enrollment in higher education grew from 4,500 in 1970 to more than 18,400 in 1985/86, of whom nearly 11 percent were women. But enrollment was low, considering the size of the population. Space limitations at the colleges and universities caused the government to raise admission standards. To narrow the gap somewhat, the number of students sent abroad on scholarships and fellowships grew from an annual average of 433 during 1969-73 to about 1,200 during 1978-82.
The number of Ethiopians on teaching staffs also grew. The faculty of Addis Ababa University increased from 437 in 1970 to 1,296 in 1983, with a corresponding increase in Ethiopian faculty from 48 percent to 74 percent of this total during the same period.
There was also more emphasis on the creation of technical and vocational schools, most of which were operated by the government. The Ministry of Education operated or supervised nine such schools scattered around the country. These schools had an enrollment of more than 4,200 in 1985/86, and their graduates were in great demand by industries. With Soviet assistance, Ethiopia established its first polytechnic institute, in Bahir Dar, in the 1960s. It trained personnel in agromechanics, industrial chemistry, electricity, and textile and metal-working technology. In addition, a system of general polytechnic education had been introduced into the senior secondary school curriculum so that those who did not continue their education still could venture into the skilled job market.
The government also introduced vocational training to upgrade peasant skills. The peasant training centers, operated by the Ministry of Agriculture, provided training in vocational trades related to agriculture for periods ranging from three weeks to six months. The country had twelve such centers, which trained more than 200,000 farmers from 1974 to 1988.
Among the revolutionary regime's few successes was the national literacy campaign. The literacy rate, under 10 percent during the imperial regime, increased to about 63 percent by 1984, according to government figures. Others sources, however, estimated it at around 37 percent. In 1990/91 an adult literacy rate of just over 60 percent was still being reported in government as well as in some international reports. As with the 1984 data, it several wise to exercise caution with regard to the latest figure. As some observers pointed out, defining just what the term "literacy" means presented a problem; in addition, the military government's desire to report as high a literacy rate as possible had to be taken into account.
The national literacy campaign began in early 1975 when the government mobilized more than 60,000 students and teachers, sending them all over the country for two-year terms of service. This experience was crucial to the creation in 1979 of the National Literacy Campaign Coordinating Committee (NLCCC) and a nationwide effort to raise literacy levels. The government organized the campaign in rounds, which began in urban centers and spread outward to the remote parts of the country up to Round 12. Officials originally conducted the literacy training in five languages: Amharic, Oromo, Tigrinya, Welamo, and Somali. The number of languages was later expanded to fifteen, which represented about 93 percent of the population. By the end of Round 12, in the late 1980s, about 17 million people had been registered, of whom 12 million had passed the literacy test. Women represented about half of those enrolled.
According to government sources, about 1.5 million people eventually worked in the campaign. They included students, civil servants, teachers, military personnel, housewives, and members of religious groups, all of whom, it was claimed, offered their services freely. Adult literacy classes used primary and secondary school facilities in many areas. Officials distributed more than 22 million reading booklets for beginners and more than 9 million texts for postliteracy participants. The Ministry of Education also stocked reading centers with appropriate texts. These books focused on topics such as agriculture, health, and basic technology. To consolidate the gains from the literacy campaign, the government offered follow-up courses for participants up to grade four, after which they could enroll in the regular school system. In addition, national newspapers included regular columns for new readers. The literacy campaign received international acclaim when the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) awarded Ethiopia the International Reading Association Literacy Prize in 1980.
The regime's efforts to resolve the country's educational problems received considerable support from abroad. The initial cost of reorienting the education system toward national development goals through improving opportunities in remote rural areas had been estimated at US$34.7 million. Of this amount, US$23 million was received from the International Development Association (IDA). By late 1978, the European Economic Community had contributed US$2.6 million to help with the government's education development plan. The German Democratic Republic (East Germany) sent teachers, training specialists, and curriculum development experts. The Soviet Union provided hundreds of scholarships. In 1978 there were 1,200 Ethiopian children (aged nine to fifteen years) from poor families who attended two special schools in Cuba for an undetermined period. Other students followed this initial group. In 1990 the Swedish International Development Authority granted US$10.5 million for elementary education. This aid helped make possible the construction of about 300 schools. The Swedish agency already had contributed to the construction of 7,000 elementary schools.
The main cause of many of Ethiopia's health problems is the relative isolation of large segments of the population from the modern sector. Additionally, widespread illiteracy prevents the dissemination of information on modern health practices. A shortage of trained personnel and insufficient funding also hampers the equitable distribution of health services. Moreover, most health institutions were concentrated in urban centers prior to 1974 and were concerned with curative rather than preventive medicine.
Western medicine came to Ethiopia during the last quarter of the nineteenth century with the arrival of missionary doctors, nurses, and midwives. But there was little progress on measures to cope with the acute and endemic diseases that debilitated large segments of the population until the government established its Ministry of Public Health in 1948. The World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and the United States Agency for International Development (AID) provided technical and financial assistance to eliminate the sources of health problems.
In addition to establishing hospitals, health centers, and outpatient clinics, the government initiated programs to train Ethiopian health care personnel so that they could supplement the private institutions that existed in a few major urban centers. The few government campaigns that exhorted the people to cooperate in the fight against disease and unhealthful living conditions were mainly directed at the urban population.
By the mid-1970s, the number of modern medical facilities had increased relatively slowly--particularly in rural areas, where at least 80 percent of the people still did not have access to techniques or services that would improve health conditions. Forty-six percent of the hospital beds were concentrated in Addis Ababa, Asmera, Dire Dawa, and Harer. In the absence of modern medical services, the rural population continued to rely on traditional folk medicine. According to official statistics, in 1983/84 there were 546 physicians in the country to serve a population of 42 million, a ratio of roughly one physician per 77,000 people, one of the worst ratios in the world. Less than 40 percent of the population was within reach of modern health services.
As in most developing countries in the early 1990s, Ethiopia's main health problems were communicable diseases caused by poor sanitation and malnutrition and exacerbated by the shortage of trained manpower and health facilities. Mortality and morbidity data were based primarily on health facility records, which may not reflect the real incidence of disease in the population. According to such records, the leading causes of hospital deaths were dysentery and gastroenteritis (11 percent), tuberculosis (11 percent), pneumonia (11 percent), malnutrition and anemia (7 percent), liver diseases including hepatitis (6 percent), tetanus (3 percent), and malaria (3 percent). The leading causes of outpatient morbidity in children under age five were upper respiratory illnesses, diarrhea, eye infections including trachoma, skin infections, malnutrition, and fevers. Nearly 60 percent of childhood morbidity was preventable. The leading causes of adult morbidity were dysentery and gastrointestinal infections, malaria, parasitic worms, skin and eye diseases, venereal diseases, rheumatism, malnutrition, fevers, upper respiratory tract infections, and tuberculosis. These diseases were endemic and quite widespread, reflecting the fact that Ethiopians had no access to modern health care.
Tuberculosis still affected much of the population despite efforts to immunize as many people as possible. Venereal diseases, particularly syphilis and gonorrhea, were prevalent in towns and cities, where prostitution contributed to the problem. The high prevalence of worms and other intestinal parasites indicated poor sanitary facilities and education and the fact that potable water was available to less than 14 percent of the population. Tapeworm infection was common because of the popular practice of eating raw or partially cooked meat.
Schistosomiasis, leprosy, and yellow fever were serious health hazards in certain regions of the country. Schistosomiasis, a disease caused by a parasite transmitted from snails to humans through the medium of water, occurred mainly in the northern part of the highlands, in the western lowlands, and in Eritrea and Harerge. Leprosy was common in Harerge and Gojam and in areas bordering Sudan and Kenya. The incidence of typhoid, whooping cough, rabies, cholera, and other diseases had diminished in the 1970s because of school immunization programs, but serious outbreaks still plagued many rural areas. Frequent famine made health conditions even worse.
Smallpox has been stamped out in Ethiopia, the last outbreak having occurred among the nomadic population in the late 1970s. Malaria, which is endemic in 70 percent of the country, was once a scourge in areas below 1,500 meters elevation. Its threat had declined considerably as a result of government efforts supported by WHO and AID, but occasional seasonal outbreaks were common. The most recent occurrence was in 1989, and the outbreak was largely the result of heavy rain, unusually high temperatures, and the settling of peasants in new locations. There was also a report of a meningitis epidemic in southern and western Ethiopia in 1989, even though the government had taken preventive measures by vaccinating 1.6 million people. The logistics involved in reaching the 70 percent of Ethiopians who lived more than three days' walk from a health center with refrigerated vaccines and penicillin prevented the medical authorities from arresting the epidemic.
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) was a growing problem in Ethiopia. In 1985 the Ministry of Health reported the country's first AIDS case. In subsequent years, the government sponsored numerous AIDS studies and surveys. For example, in 1988 the country's AIDS Control and Prevention Office conducted a study in twenty-four towns and discovered that an average of 17 percent of the people in each town tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the precursor of full-blown AIDS. A similar survey in Addis Ababa showed that 24 percent tested positive.
In 1990 Mengistu Mihret, head of the Surveillance and Research Coordination Department of the AIDS Control and Prevention Office, indicated that AIDS was spreading more rapidly in heavily traveled areas. According to the Ministry of Health, there were two AIDS patients in the country in 1986, seventeen in 1987, eighty-five in 1988, 188 in 1989, and 355 as of mid-1990. Despite this dramatic growth rate, the number of reported AIDS cases in Ethiopia was lower than in many other African countries. However, the difference likely reflected the comparatively small amount of resources being devoted to the study of AIDS.
Starting in 1975, the regime embarked on the formulation of a new health policy emphasizing disease prevention and control, rural health services, and promotion of community involvement and self-reliance in health activities. The ground for the new policy was broken during the student zemecha of 1975/76, which introduced peasants to the need for improved health standards. In 1983 the government drew up a ten-year health perspective plan that was incorporated into the ten-year economic development plan launched in September 1984. The goal of this plan was the provision of health services to 80 percent of the population by 1993/94. To achieve such a goal would have required an increase of over 10 percent in annual budget allocations, which was unrealistic in view of fiscal constraints.
The regime decentralized health care administration to the local level in keeping with its objective of community involvement in health matters. Regional Ministry of Health offices gave assistance in technical matters, but peasant associations and kebeles had considerable autonomy in educating people on health matters and in constructing health facilities in outlying areas. Starting in 1981, a hierarchy of community health services, health stations, health centers, rural hospitals, regional hospitals, and central referral hospitals were supposed to provide health care. By the late 1980s, however, these facilities were available to only a small fraction of the country's population.
At the bottom of the health-care pyramid was the community health service, designed to give every 1,000 people access to a community health agent, someone with three months of training in environmental sanitation and the treatment of simple diseases. In addition to the community health agent, there was a traditional birth attendant, with one month of training in prenatal and postnatal care and safe delivery practices. As of 1988, only about a quarter of the population was being served by a community health agent or a traditional birth attendant. Both categories were made up of volunteers chosen by the community and were supported by health assistants.
Health assistants were full-time Ministry of Health workers with eighteen months of training, based at health stations ultimately to be provided at the rate of one health station per 10,000 population. Each health station was ultimately to be staffed by three health assistants. Ten health stations were supervised by one health center, which was designed to provide services for a 100,000-person segment of the population. The Regional Health Department supervised health centers. Rural hospitals with an average of seventy-five beds and general regional hospitals with 100 to 250 beds provided referral services for health centers. The six central referral hospitals were organized to provide care in all important specialties, train health professionals, and conduct research. There were a few specialized hospitals for leprosy and tuberculosis, but overall the lack of funds meant emphasis on building health centers and health stations rather than hospitals.
Trained medical personnel were also in short supply. As noted previously, the ratio of citizens to physicians was one of the worst in the world. Of 4,000 positions for nurses, only half were filled, and half of all health stations were staffed by only one health assistant instead of the planned three. There were two medical schools--in Addis Ababa and Gonder--and one school of pharmacy, all managed by Addis Ababa University. The Gonder medical school also trained nurses and sanitation and laboratory technicians. The Ministry of Health ran three nursing schools and eleven schools for health assistants. Missionaries also ran two such schools. The regime increased the number of nurses to 385 and health assistants to 650 annually, but the health budget could not support this many new graduates. The quality of graduates had also not kept pace with the quantity of graduates.
Since 1974 there have been modest improvements in national expenditures on public health. Between 1970 and 1975, the government spent about 5 percent of its total budget on health programs. From 1975 to 1978, annual expenditures varied between 5.5 and 6.6 percent of outlays, and for the 1982-88 period total expenditures on the Ministry of Health were about 4 percent of total government expenditures. This was a low figure but comparable to that for other low-income African countries. Moreover, much of the real increases of 7 to 8 percent in the health budget went to salaries.
A number of countries were generous in helping Ethiopia meet its health care needs. Cuba, the Soviet Union, and a number of East European countries provided medical assistance. In early 1980, nearly 300 Cuban medical technicians, including more than 100 physicians, supported local efforts to resolve public health problems. Western aid for long-term development of Ethiopia's health sector was modest, averaging about US$10 million annually, the lowest per capita assistance in sub-Saharan Africa. The main Western donors included Italy and Sweden. International organizations, namely UNICEF, WHO, and the United Nations Population Fund, also extended assistance.
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