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Ethiopia General Information
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People, Language & Religion


Ethiopia is a composite of more than 70 ethnic groups. The Oromo (Galla) group represents approximately 40% of the population and is concentrated primarily in the southern half of the nation. The Amhara and Tigrean groups constitute approximately 32% of the population and have traditionally been dominant politically. The Sidamo of the southern foothills and savannah regions account for 9%, while the Shankella make up about 6% of the population and reside on the western frontier. The Somali (6%) and Afar (4%) inhabit the arid regions of the east and southeast. Nilotic peoples live in the west and southwest along the Sudan border. The Gurage account for 2% of the population; the remaining 1% is made up of other groups. The Falasha (who call themselves Beta Israel, and are popularly known as "black Jews") live in the mountains of Simen; they were reportedly the victims of economic discrimination before the 1974 revolution and of religious and cultural persecution after that time. Some 14,000 were secretly flown to Israel via the Sudan in 1984-85. About 14,000 more were flown out of Addis Ababa in 1991. Another 4,500 are believed to remain. The Beja of the northernmost region, the Agau of the central plateaus, and the Sidamo of the southern foothills and savannah regions are the remnants of the earliest known groups to have occupied Ethiopia.


Ethiopia has many indigenous languages (some 84 according to the Ethnologue, 77 according to the 1994 census), most of them Afro-Asiatic (Semitic, Cushitic, Omotic), as well as some that are Nilo-Saharan.

English is the most widely spoken foreign language and is the medium of instruction in secondary schools and universities. Amharic was the language of primary school instruction, but has been replaced in many areas by local languages such as Oromifa and Tigrinya.

After the fall of the Derg regime in 1991, the new constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia granted all ethnic groups the right to develop their languages and to establish mother tongue primary education systems. This is a marked change to the language policies of previous governments in Ethiopia.


According to the 2007 National Census, Christians make up 62.8% of the country's population (43.5% Ethiopian Orthodox, 19.3% other denominations), Muslims 33.9%, practitioners of traditional faiths 2.6%, and other religions 0.6%. This is in agreement with the updated CIA World Factbook, which states that Christianity is the most widely practised religion in Ethiopia. Orthodox Christianity has a long history in Ethiopia dating back to the first century, and a dominant presence in central and northern Ethiopia. Both Orthodox and Protestant Christianity have large representations in the South and Western Ethiopia. A small ancient group of Jews, the Beta Israel, live in northwestern Ethiopia, though most emigrated to Israel in the last decades of the 20th century as part of the rescue missions undertaken by the Israeli government, Operation Moses and Operation Solomon. Some Israeli and Jewish scholars consider these Ethiopian Jews as a historical Lost Tribe of Israel.

There are numerous indigenous African religions in Ethiopia, mainly located in the far southwest and western borderlands. In general, most of the (largely members of the non-Chalcedonian Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church) Christians live in the highlands, while Muslims and adherents of traditional African religions tend to inhabit more lowland regions in the east and south of the country.

Ethiopia is also the spiritual homeland of the Rastafari movement, whose adherents believe Ethiopia is Zion. The Rastafari view Emperor Haile Selassie I as Jesus, the human incarnation of God, a view apparently not shared by Haile Selassie I himself, who was staunchly Ethiopian Orthodox Christian.





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