human evolution in Ethiopia
It is appropriate to start with the fossil evidence as Ethiopia has remains that cover much of human evolution ranging from Chororapithecus Abyssinicus, (12 to 7 million years ago), a possible ape relative of humanity, to Homo Sapiens Idaltu (‘Elder') the earliest modern human fossil at 160,000 year old found in the Afar Regional State at Horto. Recent discoveries include the 4.4 million year old Ardipithecus Kadaba and Selam, an almost complete skeleton of a three year old female child dating to 3.3 million years ago. The most famous of the discoveries in the Afar region, of course, is that of Lucy (‘Dinkenesh' – ‘wonderful'), the most complete skeleton of an early hominid yet found and dating back some 3.2 million years. A replica of her skeleton is on display in the National Museum of Ethiopia. Lucy (Australopithecus Afarensis) walked on two legs and stood about 3.5 feet tall. Australopithecus subsequently evolved towards the genus Homo, with the appearance of Homo Habilis (2.4 - 1.8 million years) and Homo Erectus (1.4 – 1 million years), and then Homo Sapiens, probably about 200,000 years ago. There are several notable fossil sites in Ethiopia including the lower Omo Valley and the Awash Valley, both registered as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the latter including the Hadar area, Aramis and Melko Kunture, the scenes of numerous paleontological discoveries.
History 1000 BCE – 1991 CE
Ethiopia's history as an organized and independent polity dates back to the first millennium BCE. Earlier, Egyptian pharaohs traded with the Land of Punt, probably somewhere along what is now the coast of Eritrea or possibly Somaliland. Around the 8th century BCE a kingdom known as Da*ma*t probably had its capital at Yeha, but the first state about which there is much real information is the kingdom at Axum in the northern Regional State (Killil) of Tigray. Axum emerged at the beginning of the Christian Era and flourished until around 800CE, before suffering prolonged decline over the next few centuries. Axum's period of greatest power lasted from the 4th through the 6th centuries CE. Its core area lay in the highlands of what's today southern Eritrea, in Tigray and in Lasta and Angot, now part of the Amhara Regional State; its major centers were at Axum and the port of Adulis. Earlier centers, such as Yeha, also contributed to its growth. At the kingdom's height, its rulers controlled the Red Sea coast from Sawak in present day Sudan in the North to Berbera in the present-day Somaliland to the south. They were also active as far as the Nile valley in modern Sudan, attacking and destroying the kingdom of Meroe in the 4th century CE. On the Arabian side of the Red sea, Axumite rulers also controlled much of the coast and extensive areas of modern Yemen. The rulers of Axum were converted to Christianity in the mid 4th century CE.
The rise of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula had a significant impact on Axum kingdom during the seventh and eighth centuries. By the time of the Prophet Mohammed's death (A.D.632), the Arabian Peninsula, and the entire opposite shore of the Red sea, had come under the influence of the new religion. The steady advance of Islam over the next century resulted in Islamic conquest of all of the former Sassanian empire and much of the Byzantine empire. Relations with Axum were not hostile at first. According to Islamic tradition, members of the Prophet's family and some of his early converts had taken refuge in Axum during the troubled years preceding the Prophet's rise to power, and Axum was declared exempt from the Jihad, or Holy war. The Arabs also considered the Axumite state to be one of the great powers of the time alongside the Islamic State, the Byzantine and Sassanian empires and China. Commerce between Axum and at least some ports on the Red sea continued, albeit on an increasingly reduced scale.
The New Constitution
Under the new constitution, thee elections for Ethiopia's first popularly-chosen national parliament and regional legislatures were held in May 1995. Most opposition parties chose to boycott these elections as they did in 2000, in both cases giving the EPRDF a landslide victory. Opposition parties as a whole did finally participate in the 2005 election and the election produced a record number of voters, with 90% of the electorate turning out to cast their vote. The African Union report on the process commended the election for a "display of genuine commitment to democratic ideals ; the US Carter Center concluded that the majority of
the constituency results were credible and reflected competitive conditions; the US Department of State said the elections stood out as a milestone in creating a new, more competitive multi-party political system. The EU Observer Mission, however, uncritically accepting some opposition claims, suggested the election had fallen short of international standards, though it actually classified nearly ninety percent of the polling processes as good or very good. The final results showed opposition parties had increased their seats in Parliament from 12 to an impressive 176, and that they had won all but one of the seats for the Addis Ababa City Council. Despite this, the main opposition coalition refused to accept the results, claiming against all the evidence that it had won. It called for a boycott of parliament, and organized a series of street protests in Addis Ababa at the beginning of November. These rapidly turned violent, and nearly 200 people including 7 policemen died in three days of rioting. A subsequent judicial commission of enquiry deplored the deaths but cleared the police of using unnecessary force. Thousands of people were temporarily detained. A number of opposition political leaders were convicted of various offences and jailed, but pardoned two years later.
Before the next election, in 2010, most of the parties, determined to avoid another outbreak of violence, signed an Election Code of Conduct. The exception was the largest opposition coalition, the Forum for Democratic Dialogue (MEDREK), a coalition of eight parties which included most of the groups that boycotted Parliament in 2005. When it came to the vote, the electorate proved unimpressed by the opposition refusal to take up its seats in 2005, and equally disenchanted by MEDREK's failure to sign the Code of Conduct, by the opposition's lack of alternative policies, its failure to do more than criticize the EPRDF and the public bickering and quarrelling among its leaders prior to 2010. In sharp contrast, after 2005 the EPRDF had revitalized its structures, building up extensive Women's and Youth organizations and reorganizing itself through the country. It won an overwhelming majority in local elections in 2008 and used this as a springboard for the national and federal elections in 2010. By then it also had the added advantage of presiding over significant growth and development, in infrastructure, primary education and health, and of achieving double-digit growth for the whole period between 2005 and 2010. It was hardly surprising that the results were a landslide victory for the EPRDF, including a total reversal of the Addis Ababa results of 2005 - in 2010 it was the opposition which only won a single seat, although over 40% of the city did vote for opposition parties.
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