How are the Ethiopians


Since the end of the military dictatorship at the beginning of the 1990s, foreign influences on everyday life in Ethiopian society have expanded and intensified considerably. After the fall of the Mengistu regime, many Ethiopians returned from all parts of the world who had lived in political exile, studied abroad or worked in the Gulf States. With their return new experiences and ideas came to the young republic. Even today, the Ethiopian diaspora, which can be found all over the world, has a great influence on social development in Ethiopia.

The liberalization of trade, the development of the media, the Internet and tourism promote cultural exchange and have thus become important factors in the country's social change. Development projects by bilateral and multilateral donors and by non-governmental organizations also make a significant contribution to change.

All of these factors have both fertilizing and conflicting effects.

age structure

Ethiopia is a very young society. More than 70 percent of the population are younger than 30 years old, and almost half are under 15 years old.

The falling birth rate means that Ethiopia is gradually moving closer to the demographic dividend, which is conducive to economic growth. So far, however, the proportion of young economically dependent remains high, so that the government has to devote a relatively large proportion of its resources to youth. Despite presentable growth forecasts, this is hampering the country's economic strength.


Ethiopia is a multi-ethnic state with a large number of ethnicities and languages. The number of ethnic groups is given as at least 80, in some sources up to 120. The language diversity is just as pronounced. The ethnic groups are either very small, with only a few thousand people (e.g. Mursi) or very large with over 25 million (e.g. Oromo). According to the 2007 census, the Oromos with 34.5% and Amharas with 29.6% are the two largest ethnic groups, followed by Somalis with 6.2% and Tigrays with 6.1%. The other ethnic groups together make up a good 23% of the population.

One result of the centuries-long confrontation of the Ethiopian Empire with European powers is the identity-creating commonality of preserved independence, the victory against foreign colonizers. The battle of Adwa against the Italian invaders in 1896 is considered to be a key event in this context and the founding time of the modern Ethiopian state. However, this unifying factor cannot hide the internal conflicts that have been part of the history of the Ethiopian state from the beginning.

The disintegration of traditional structures of power is also fueling these conflicts. Traditionally influential councils of elders, clan leaders or other people who are respected within an ethnic group have lost reputation and influence. Conflicts are therefore increasingly being carried out in an "uncoordinated" manner and traditional mechanisms of conflict resolution work less and less.

The government's response to the ethnic conflicts raging in Ethiopia is ethnic federalism. It is intended to satisfy the desire for self-determination of the ethnic groups - for example in the form of native language schooling of the children - through extensive autonomy of the federal states, which are divided according to ethnic aspects, and thus make them satisfied members of the Ethiopian nation. However, critics complain that the administrative structure, which is based on ethnic borders, increases awareness of ethnic differences and thus intensifies existing conflicts. The retention of Amharic as the only official language is also controversial.

Conflicts over political freedoms, but also essential basic goods such as access to water and land, are ongoing challenges that are exacerbated by droughts, armed conflicts in the Horn of Africa and the associated refugee movements from neighboring countries.

The efforts of the government to integrate the members of the various ethnic groups into an Ethiopian nation comprising all ethnic groups and to enable them to participate appropriately in the political process have so far only been crowned with modest success. The Ethiopian Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Day, which is always celebrated on December 8th, is intended to celebrate the diversity of Ethiopians and at the same time strengthen the national feeling of togetherness. He can thus be seen as the figurehead of the government's “Unity in Diversity” campaign, but cannot hide the fact that ethnic affiliation also plays a major role in everyday political life: it is significant that the vast majority of those admitted in Ethiopia Parties are ethnically based associations (e.g. Tigrayan People's Liberation Front, Oromo People's Congress and many more).

Gender ratio

Women's rights are enshrined in the Ethiopian constitution. The country - like many others - is still a long way from realizing these rights and gender equality.

The situation of women is often characterized by very hard physical work, discrimination and tutelage, traditional role ascription and experiences of violence.

About 85 percent of all women in Ethiopia live in the countryside. They and their families live from subsistence farming and are integrated into their respective rural communities. Carrying water and firewood many kilometers home is a matter for women and girls. Although they bear at least half of the workload, they are still disadvantaged in terms of property rights and inheritance - despite existing laws.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is prohibited by law, but it is still very widespread. Around 65 percent of all girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 are currently affected. There are clear regional differences in the prevalence. The fight against this serious violation of human rights is showing success: among girls and women between the ages of 15 and 19, only about 47% are affected.

The very early marriage of girls is also a persistent problem: for example, one in three girls is married before their 18th birthday, and it is also widespread that girls under the age of 15 marry. In many cases, kidnapping plays a role. In order to avoid paying a high bride price, young men kidnap the girl of their choice, rape her and afterwards negotiate - mostly through mediating elders - with the parents. They usually agree to a marriage, since a later marriage of the no longer virgin daughter would be considerably more difficult. According to a study published in 2003, between 80 and 90 percent of all marriages in some regions of Ethiopia were through kidnapping.

In 2014, Ethiopia set itself the goal of eliminating this practice by 2025 and it has had good successes so far: From 2008 to 2018, the number of marriages of minors was reduced by a third.

The far-reaching consequences of harmful traditional practices such as FGM and child marriage include health problems such as fistulas, a birth injury that, especially in very young mothers, leads to infertility, incontinence and the associated social exclusion. It is estimated that 9,000 women suffer such an injury every year in Ethiopia alone. The only clinic that specializes in this is located in Addis Ababa. It is financed by donations and treats around 2500 women annually, who come from all over the country, completely free of charge.

Family planning was a taboo subject in religious Ethiopia for a long time; in addition, a lack of knowledge and access to contraceptives were problematic. However, the use of hormonal contraceptives is now becoming more and more widespread. The number of married women using hormonal contraceptives has roughly doubled since 2005.

Abortion, on the other hand, remains a socially taboo subject. However, the Ethiopian government relaxed its legislation somewhat in 2005 and has since invested in the training of specialist staff and equipment in clinics. The latest studies suggest that the proportion of abortions performed in health facilities doubled between 2008 and 2014.

Domestic violence is a widespread problem in Ethiopia. Since 2005, after years of work by women's rights groups, it has been anchored in the Ethiopian penal code as a separate offense. However, most victims never report such acts.

Despite great efforts, girls still go to school significantly less often than boys. This is often related to the poverty of the families. If they can afford school fees for just some of their children, the girls are more likely to stay at home and help out in the fields, with the cattle or in the household. The traditional image of women, which still prevails, also plays a role here: Why should the girls learn to read and write when they will later only be needed as housewives and mothers?

Most women are in a much better situation in cities than in rural areas. Especially in the new middle class, the daughters are at least as well educated as the sons. Working mothers are the order of the day in Addis Ababa. Nevertheless, many urban women are also affected by discrimination and violence: For example, they receive less wages for the same work. In addition, men are more likely to be considered than women for management positions. Thanks to special support programs, the proportion of women among students at universities has been increased, but they drop out far more often than their male fellow students.

Under Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed saw the first symbolic changes within the government with regard to equality between men and women: During a cabinet reshuffle in October 2018, particularly important ministerial posts were awarded to women for the first time, including the Ministry of Defense and the newly created Ministry of Peace, which among others. controlled the secret service. Half of the cabinet is now women. The election of Sahle-Work Zewde as the country's first female president also has a symbolic effect.


The education system provides for ten years of general education. After the tenth school year, there is a separation between pupils who have completed two further school years and those who are prepared for the world of work in two vocational school years.

Access to education has improved enormously since the end of the military dictatorship. Ethiopia invests heavily in the education sector and has one of the best schooling rates in Africa. According to the World Bank, over 85 percent of all children in Ethiopia receive primary education. However, the high number of children who only attend classes irregularly and those who leave school prematurely and consequently without qualifications remains a major challenge. It also becomes clear that girls are more likely to drop out of school and attend irregular school than boys.

The higher education system in Ethiopia has undergone tremendous change in the past few decades. The number of state universities rose from two to 31 in less than 20 years. More are being planned. Private colleges and universities have also taken a not insignificant place in the education market. The attempt to make higher education accessible to more and more people poses several challenges for the government: One problem that must be taken seriously is ensuring the quality of education. The number of those graduating from university is growing rapidly. It is noticeable, however, that it is still mainly male students from higher-income families and urban areas who make it to universities.

Above all in the medical field, the brain drain is a problem. This leads to a deterioration in the medical supply situation in Ethiopia. But skilled workers from other industries are also leaving their country in search of better working conditions (especially better pay) for the USA, Canada, Australia or Europe.

Health and social affairs

Health care in Ethiopia is still poor, despite considerable efforts and progress. However, these efforts are effective: The training of medical personnel has been strongly promoted since 2005 - in 2016 alone, 3,000 doctors completed their studies in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government has invested extensively and continues to work on the health care challenges: Access to essential medicines is only possible for part of the population. Almost half of the population has to travel more than 15 kilometers to get to the nearest health post.

Many people experience frequent diarrhea. These are the most frequent cause of death in children. They are caused by poor hygiene: The lack of clean drinking water is still a major problem, especially in rural areas. This is accompanied by the problem of a lack of sanitary facilities.

Other challenges remain malaria (the prevalence of which varies greatly from region to region in Ethiopia), hepatitis, meningitis, schistosomiasis and HIV / AIDS.

Considerable advances have been made in the field of maternal and infant health in recent years. However, the country still faces major challenges, especially in rural areas.

A sense of health protection and prevention in everyday life is also slowly developing. For example, a smoking ban in public has been in force since 2016.

State social security systems have also entered the government's agenda: With the National Social Protection Policy, work on issues such as child benefit, old-age and occupational disability pensions has begun.

Covid-19 / SARS-CoV-2

Ethiopia has been affected by the global SARS-CoV-2 pandemic since March 2020. The government has taken various measures to prevent the virus from spreading, but the number of cases continues to rise, especially in urban areas. Experts fear that Ethiopia's health system is not adequately prepared for a large number of infected or sick people. Significant negative effects on the country's political and economic stability are also feared.


HIV / AIDS is widespread in Ethiopia. UNAIDS assumes a prevalence of 1 percent (among 15 to 49 year olds).

The Ethiopian government is making great efforts in the fight against HIV / AIDS in cooperation with international donors. In addition to education and prevention, the main aim is to improve medical care for people with HIV / AIDS. There has been presentable success here. The new infection rate among adults was reduced by 90% in the 2000s and has been falling continuously since then. According to UNAIDS estimates, there were around 23,000 new infections in 2018. Significant successes have also been achieved in the treatment of the disease: the proportion of HIV-positive people receiving retroviral therapy was 65% in 2018.

About 690,000 people (UNAIDS, 2018) live with HIV / AIDS in Ethiopia, more than 63% of them are women.

Although more and more people have knowledge about HIV / AIDS, routes of infection and treatment options, HIV-positive people are often confronted with stigma and exclusion. Here it is above all civil society, small organizations or church parishes that try to counteract this in their communities.

Arts and Culture

Ethiopia, which is considered the cradle of mankind and the origin of coffee, can look back on traditions that are thousands of years old. Above all Christian traditions and the historical isolation of the country shape its unique culture. Of course, it also reflects the ethnic and religious diversity of the Ethiopians.

There is often a strong sense of tradition within the individual ethnic groups. Legends, songs and dances are still passed on from one generation to the next. Some of the over 80 ethnic groups, their traditions and customs, have so far been little explored. The Institute of Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University has been trying to collect and analyze knowledge about the various cultural identities since 1963. Publications are currently only available in printed form.
A large number of universities in Germany, Great Britain and the USA deal with selected questions about the cultural identities of Ethiopia.


Ethiopian music is very different from that of the rest of Africa. The traditional music is played in five-tone scales. Similar to the minstrels of the European Middle Ages, singer-poets (Azmari) move through the country with their ballads, tell old stories or comment on current events. Their price and abuse songs are usually accompanied by the krar, a lyre, or the masinko, a skewer lute. Playing the flute (on the Waschint) is also widespread. The beganna, a large lyre, is used for religious celebrations.

From the 1950s, Ethiopian popular music developed alongside traditional forms of music, especially in Addis Ababa. She combines different western styles and instruments with the local melodies. Not only traditional chants were combined with western influences, but also military music.

In the 1960s, elements from rhythm and blues and soul as well as jazz and Latin American music were increasingly integrated. The best-known representative of the resulting Ethiojazz is Mulatu Astatke, who has achieved international fame at least since the soundtrack for the Hollywood film "Broken Flowers". Another great Ethiopian musician is Tilahun Gessesse. The singer, who is known as "the voice of Ethiopia", who died in 2009, became famous in the 1960s for his collaboration with the Orchestra of the Imperial Bodyguard, one of the leading bands at the time.

With the fall of Haile Selassie and the takeover of power by the military, Ethiopian popular music plunged into a crisis. Most of the well-known artists fled the dictatorship. Aster Aweke, who is now Ethiopia's most internationally known musician, also emigrated to the USA in 1981 due to the political situation. Other important representatives of these so-called "Golden Years of Ethiopian Music" are Mahmoud Ahmed, Alemayehu Eshete, Hirut Bekele and Muluken Melesse.

Classical pop music from Ethiopia became known in Europe and the USA primarily through the series Ethiopiques, which has been published regularly by the French label Buda Musique since 1994. It now includes more than 20 CDs.
In the current music scene, too, Ethiopian (and Ethiopian-born) musicians have made themselves heard internationally.


Traditionally, Ethiopian literature was of Christian Orthodox origin. Most of them were theological treatises written in Ge’ez, the liturgical language of the Ethiopian Church. The early writings were mainly translations of these treatises from Greek or Arabic. The heyday of the Ethiopian literature written in Ge’ez began with the rule of the Solomon dynasty. A highlight from this period is the Kebra Negest (the Book of Kings). Its central theme is the founding of the Solomon dynasty by Menelik I, the son of King Salamon and Queen of Sheba.

In the 16th century, Amharic, which had long since become the spoken lingua franca of the empire, increasingly established itself as the new literary language. Even in royal chronicles traditionally written only in Ge’ez, Amharic terms increasingly appeared. The subjects of the literature, however, remained predominantly religious in nature. Only after the end of the Italian occupation in 1941 did the authors turn to secular issues: In line with the political optimism after the victory over the colonizers, patriotism and morality dominated.

To date, a lively modern literary scene has developed. Internationally, Ethiopian writers (among the better known are e.g. Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin and Hama Tuma) and their works are so little known because, unlike many other African works, they are not in a European, internationally used language (especially the colonial languages French and English) and therefore knowledge of the Ethiopian languages ​​would be necessary to understand them.

Visual arts

Painting has a long tradition in Ethiopia. The characteristic form of painting and the production of fine handicrafts have their roots in the old North African-Near Eastern cultural area. Up until the 20th century, painting was closely associated with the Orthodox Church. Only then did artists begin to artistically develop other areas of life. Despite this diversification, religion often plays a role in contemporary painting as well.
A lively art scene has established itself in the capital in particular, with more and more galleries and exhibitions.

Other art forms include carving, sculpting, and other forms of making sculptures and other art objects. The headrests, which are mainly used in the south of the country, are traded as works of art and souvenirs, but are still normal everyday objects in their region of origin.

Performing arts and film

The emergence of modern theater in Ethiopia in the 20th century goes back to Bejrond Teklehawariat Teklemariam, who was trained in France. The content and forms of the theater always reflected the respective religious, political and economic conditions in the country. Under Haile Selassie I. the main subjects were morality and manners. The military dictatorship mainly used the theater for propaganda.

Although there are more and more cinemas in the big cities, the theater is still very popular with the Ethiopians. The auditoriums of the big theaters in Addis Ababa, such as the National Theater, are fully occupied every Sunday. Mostly pieces are played that reflect everyday life in Ethiopia. Comedies are particularly popular.

There is a growing film industry in Ethiopia. While the Ethiopian state television shows mainly series and comedy programs in addition to news programs and music, dramas and action films have also established themselves in the cinema.
The Ethiopian filmmaker Haile Gerima, who lives and works in the USA, enjoys international fame. Among other things, he is known for his partly autobiographical film Teza.


A lot of sport is done in Ethiopia. Football is very popular and 'kicked' with just about anything that looks like a ball. The Ethiopian national soccer team is not very successful. She experienced a high point in 2013 when she qualified for the African Cup of Nations for the first time in 30 years.

Ethiopia has many internationally very successful runners. And above all, Ethiopia produced the African runner of all runners, Abebe Bikila, the role model for a subsequent generation of runners that was very successful in many respects. Today, for example, Haile Gebreselassie enjoys the status of a national hero because of his exemplary personal integrity. There are now regular running events, e.g. the Great Ethiopian Run with several thousand participants.

Trend sports such as skateboarding have also gained a foothold in Ethiopia.


Almost all Ethiopians are deeply religious people, for whom their faith is an integral part of their everyday life. The two largest religious communities are the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians (approx. 43%) and predominantly Sunni Muslims (approx. 34%). The remaining 23 percent mostly belong to other Christian churches or traditional religions.

Ethiopia is known for the peaceful coexistence of the various religious communities, especially for the peaceful coexistence of Muslims and Christians.

This was expressed, for example, in April 2015 after it became known that Ethiopian Christians were murdered by the jihadist terrorist militia "Islamic State" in Libya. Hundreds of thousands then took to the streets in Addis Ababa to commemorate the dead, but also to demonstrate unity (across religious boundaries). The act had been condemned by both the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the chairman of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in Ethiopia. The government imposed a three-day state mourning.

In recent years, however, there have been increasing conflicts, primarily due to the influence of (Islamic and Christian) fundamentalist forces.

In 2012 there had been repeated protests by Muslims complaining that the government was overly influencing their religious affairs. They accused the government of supporting a particular movement of Islam from Lebanon and of criminalizing those who follow other currents as terrorists. They also rejected the composition of the Islamic Affairs Supreme Council as being dominated by government and government-related forces and called for new elections.

The Ethiopian government, in turn, lamented the increasing influence of Islamist fundamentalists and took rigorous action against the protests. Four people were killed in clashes between demonstrators and the police in April 2012. During protests in August 2013 during the holidays at the end of Ramadan, several demonstrators are said to have been injured, and there was also talk of arbitrary arrests in mosques and of fatalities. A major amnesty campaign by the government caused a stir, in the course of which a number of those convicted of Islamist terrorists were released from prison in autumn 2016. According to experts, however, this gesture does not mark the end of the underlying conflict.

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