Ethiopia has an unequalled range of natural habitats, ranging from the extraordinary peaks and ambas (flat-topped summits) of the Simien Mountains at over 4,000 meters, to the Danakil Depression, 120 meters below sea-level, one of the lowest points as well as the hottest place on Earth. There are Afro-Alpine highlands, moors and mountains, deep gorges, the Sof Omar caves (the most extensive in Africa), the Great Rift Valley and its many lakes, tropical rain forests, white-water rivers and rock climbing faces, savannahs, waterfalls, volcanic hot springs and a volcano or two. These are supplemented by a wealth of historic, cultural, religious, archaeological and anthropological sites, including the northern "historic route" which incorporates the former capitals of Gondar (17and 18th centuries), Axum (1st-8th centuries), and Lalibela (12th-13th centuries) with its spectacular rock-hewn churches, as well as the monasteries on Lake Tana (and the Blue Nile falls), and the numerous rock churches of Tigray region, many dating to the 14-16th centuries, or even earlier.
The capital, Addis Ababa, this year is celebrating the 125th year of its foundation by the Emperor Minelik in 1887. The story goes that he built a palace on top of the Entoto Hills a thousand metres above the future site of Addis Ababa. His wife, the Empress Taitu, finding the hilltop too cold and wet, removed to the hot springs at the bottom of the hill and refused to return. After waiting two years, Minelik had to relocate his palace as the only way to see his wife again. There is now a museum, the Entoto St. Mary Museum, on top of the Entoto Hills, the original site of the imperial settlement, 3,200 meters above sea level. It holds articles of historical significance including imperial crowns, ceremonial dresses of the Emperor Minelik and the Empress Taitu, and drums used on the march to the battle of Adwa where the Italians were defeated in 1896.
The National Museum of Ethiopia holds the earliest hominid skeletons of Lucy (3.4 million years old) and Ramidus (4.4 million years old), as well as jewellery, costumes, paintings and sculptures. The Ethnographic Museum of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies is on the site of the former imperial palace of Emperor Haile Selassie and now part of Addis Ababa University. The Zoological Natural History Museum has displays of Ethiopia's wealth of wildlife, including many examples of the country's endemic species of rodents, bats, carnivores, primates, birds, snakes, lizards, amphibians, fishes and invertebrates. There are a number of church museums in the city with fascinating wall paintings. The Ethiopian Postal Museum has a collection of the country's stamps, the Addis Ababa Museum in the former palace of Ras Biru built at the turn of the 19th century, has a collection of photographs depicting the development of the city, and the nearby Red Terror Museum contains details of the disastrous Red Terror 1977-78. The city has a number of parks including the Lion Park with its rare Black-maned Lions near the Addis Ababa University, the country's oldest University at Sedist Kilo.
World Heritage Sites
Ethiopia now has nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the most recent of which is the Konso Cultural Landscape, a 55 sq km area of stone-walled terraces and fortified settlements in the Konso highlands of Ethiopia. It is a spectacular example of a living cultural tradition stretching back 21 generations (more than 400 years) adapted to a largely dry and hostile environment. It is features anthropomorphic wooden statues, grouped to represent respected members of their communities and heroic events, a testimony to funerary traditions that are on the verge of disappearing. Stone steles in the towns express a complex system of marking the passing of generations of leaders.
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.