Ethiopia is in east-central Africa, bordered on the west by the Sudan, the east by Somalia and Djibouti, the south by Kenya, and the northeast by Eritrea. It has several high mountains, the highest of which is Ras Dashan at 15,158 ft (4,620 m). The Blue Nile, or Abbai, rises in the northwest and flows in a great semicircle before entering the Sudan. Its chief reservoir, Lake Tana, lies in the northwest.
Ethiopia is a landlocked country in the northeast African region known as the Horn of Africa. The country has a high central plateau, with some mountains reaching more than 4,000 meters (13,000 feet). The Great Rift Valley splits the plateau diagonally. The western highlands get summer rainfall; the lowlands and eastern highlands are hot and dry. Most people reside in the western highlands as does the capital, Addis Ababa—the highest capital city in Africa at 2,400 meters (8,000 feet). The population is almost evenly split between Christians, living in the highlands, and Muslims inhabiting the lowlands. The Oromo, Amhara, and Tigreans are the largest ethnic groups.
Hunger and war plague this nation, whose history spans 2,000 years. During the first millennium A.D. the Ethiopian Orthodox Church held the kingdom’s Christianity secure against Islamic holy wars. Emperor Haile Selassie, dethroned in 1974, was the last of the monarchs, all of whom avoided European colonialism, except for Italian occupation from 1936 to 1941.
Most Ethiopians are farmers and herders. But deforestation, drought, and soil degradation have caused crop failures and famine during the past few decades; seven million people face starvation. A high birthrate and refugees from Somalia further strain economic resources. In May 1991, a 30-year civil war between the government and rebel forces aligned with Eritrean nationalists ended with the government’s downfall. Under a transitional government, Eritrea became independent in 1993, cutting off Ethiopia’s access to the Red Sea. The 1994 constitution divided the newly landlocked country into nine ethnically based regions. A 1998-2000 border war with Eritrea killed tens of thousands and ended with a UN-sponsored agreement to demarcate the ill-defined border.