Cultural Diversity Newsletter


Welcome to this issue of the Cultural Diversity Newsletter. The purpose of this newsletter is to help bring about a greater understanding and tolerance of the many peoples and cultures on this planet. Each month we choose a new country to write about.

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This issue covers a country with an ancient history that we generally don't hear much about.


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This anient country lies in the northeastern part of Africa. It borders on the Sudan to the west, Kenya to the south, Somalia to the east and southeast, Somalia, Djibouti to the northeast, and Eritrea to the north.

Eritrea, which borders on the Red Sea after which it has been named (Erythraea is Greek for red) was at times a part of Ethiopia, but now that Eritrea is an independent nation, Ethiopia is landlocked and dependent on the sea ports of other nations. The Red Sea, by the way, provides the route for ships between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean, via the Suez Canal that was opened in 1869.

The central part of the country consists of a high plateau (about 5,500 feet elevation), which is divided from southwest to northeast by the Great Rift Valley—the 3,000-mile long split in the table land, that runs from Syria in the north to Mozambique in the south.

The fertile plateau is used for agriculture and is surrounded by lowland desert. Lake T'ara in the central highlands of Ethiopia is known as the source of the Blue Nile, which later joins the White Nile at Khartoum in the Sudan and flows through Egypt into the Mediterranean.

The wildlife of Ethiopia includes larger animals, such as elephant, giraffe, leopard, hippopotamus, lion, rhinoceros, and a variety of antelope.

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Blue Nile Falls

The population of Ethiopia, formerly called Abyssinia, is extremely varied. The about sixty million inhabitants are a mixture of many ethnic origins and over 70 different languages are spoken. Amharic is the official language, while Arabic and English are also spoken by many. The capital and largest city, Addis Ababa, has a population of about two million.

ethiopia_icon.jpg (42842 bytes) Ethiopian history goes back a long, long time. In fact, the earliest known fossils of human-like skeletons have been found in Ethiopia. During the 1st millennium B.C., the country was invaded by Semetic people from across the Red Sea, resulting in the kingdoms of Aksum and Sheba. In the 4th century A.D., the Ethiopian ruler was converted to Christianity by Egyptian missionaries and a strong, Coptic Christian Church was established. In the 8th century, Muslim invaders took control of the coastal regions, but a truce was arrived at, which lasted almost seven hundred years.

Starting in the 13th century, a new royal dynasty was started that claimed descendancy from the union of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. In the 16th century, the coastal Muslims started a   war that destroyed many churches and historical religious artifacts. The Ethiopian ruler at that time appealed for help from the Portuguese, who helped the Ethiopians defeat the Muslims. This was the start of Western influence in Ethiopia, which has continued since and has not always been in the Ethiopians' best interests, to put it mildly..

In the 1870's, Egyptian forces attacked Ethiopia, but were defeated. Ethiopia won a battle with the Sudanese in 1889, though the Ethiopian ruler was killed in the battle. Ethiopia became attractive to European nations after the opening of the Suez canal in 1869, and Italy tried to grab Ethiopia, but was soundly defeated in 1895. However, the Ethiopians weren't so fortunate in 1935, when under Mussolini the country was again invaded. Emperor Haile Selassi, who ruled Ethiopia from 1930 until 1974, appealed in vain to the League of Nations to stop the Italians.

Haile Selassi lived in exile in England until he was reinstated in 1941, after British forces took Addis Ababa away from the Italians. In 1974, the emperor, who helped mediate disputes between other African countries, but who did not do enough to help his own country, was deposed by a military group, called the Derg. Since then, the country has been involved in power struggles, which it could ill afford. ras_dashen.jpg (7466 bytes)

In 1952, Eritrea was joined into a federation with Ethiopia, with UN approval, which resulted in a long war and Eritrean independence in 1993. Since then, conflicts have occurred between the two nations, as well as with other countries, such as the Sudan and Somalia.

kes.jpg (11523 bytes) Ethiopia is one of the world's poorest nations; a situation worsened by the wars it has been fighting, as well as droughts and famine. How can conditions be improved for this country? I firmly believe that the first step should be education. Great strides have been made in literacy since the 1950s, when only about 4 percent of the adult population were literate, but much work remains to be done. Achieving universal literacy will not be an easy task. Travel is difficult in many parts of the country, because there are few roads, and poverty and periodic droughts make that goal difficult to achieve.

Literacy is a first requirement, because a person who can read is in a position to expand his or her knowledge. Language instruction should cover the person's own language, as well as another commonly used language. English would be a good choice, because probably more books have been published in English than in any other language.

Education should further cover basic nutritional information and hygiene. Students should also be taught about the customs, cultures and religions of the more than forty ethnic groups in this culturally diverse part of the world. A tolerance of viewpoints other than one's own is vital in achieving political stability.

The Ethiopian rulers should help the general population by teaching them how to help themselves and others. Broad, basic education as outlined above, would do a great deal to help bring that about. Second, the government should set about improving relationships with neighboring countries and its own provinces. This is done by dialog and giving their people a voice in decision making processes. The gulf of enmity can be bridged, for no matter how many differences exist, we are all people, with very similar hopes and dreams.

Finally, with political stability attained and a literate population, effective measures should be taken to lessen the impact of droughts and other natural disasters, and to build an extensive network of good roads, electrical power and telecommunications, as well as schools and hospitals where they are needed. With that, Ethiopia could become a model to the rest of Africa and the world.

That's all for now, this month. Until next month! Stay well and productive!

Peter Verhoeff