Chapter's Objectives

After the completion of this chapter, you will be able to:
 Discuss the importance and sources of population data
 Compute basic demographic rates
 Develop an understanding of the population characteristics and dynamics of Ethiopia and the Horn
 Describe the spatial distribution of the Ethiopian population and provide justifications for its unevenness.
 Explain the process of urbanization in Ethiopia and look into the opportunities and challenges

7.1 Population Data: Uses and Sources

Regular and reliable population data are vital for effective socioeconomic development planning and administration. Such data are needed to plan for the provision of physical and social infrastructures. Hence, demographic data are crucial to administrators, businessmen, researchers, academicians and planners. Therefore, it becomes inevitable to have population data as demography influences the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services as well as administrative services. There are three conventional sources of obtaining population data.

A census is defined as the total process of collecting, compiling and publishing demographic, economic and social data pertaining at a specified time (s) to all persons in a defined territory. Its major characteristics include:

  • Universality: inclusion of all persons in a given area during the count,
  • Periodicity: census undertaking at regular time intervals with reference to a defined point of time usually 10 years and 5 years,
  • Simultaneity: undertaking census in a very limited time duration called the census day
  • Government sponsorship being an expensive endeavor, and publication

There are two procedures for collecting census data: dejure and defacto approaches

Dejure approach: it involves counting people according to their usual place of residence (where he/she lives most of the time). This system gives a picture of the total permanent population of an area thereby making it suitable for planning and administrative purposes.

Defacto approach: Under this approach each individual is recorded at the place where he/she was found at the time of the census.

This is a method in which a defined population/sample/ is selected with the view that the acquired information would represent the entire population. This method is advantageous over census as costs can be greatly reduced; and it is simple to administer and taken much faster. Sampling may also be used with censuses in order to obtain more detailed information to supplement census data. However, sample surveys have the inherent weaknesses related to sampling errors and inadequate coverage thereby demanding caution in their undertaking.

Data from most censuses and sample surveys include geographic location, age, sex, marital status, citizenship, and place of birth, relationship to the head of household, religion, educational characteristics, occupation, fertility, income, language, ethnic characteristics, disabilities and migration.

Vital registration is a system of continuous, permanent, compulsory and legal recording of the occurrence and the characteristics of vital events like births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and adoptions. Vital registration data tend to be more precise than census/sample survey and the system provides time series data.

Despite the enormous usefulness of population information, it could be noted that population data could experience from inaccuracy resulting from: poor and inadequately financed methods of collection; poorly trained enumerator; suspicion and ignorance of censuses and false statements specially of age and income; constant changes in administrations; omission of more inaccessible areas; as well as wide difference in connotation of terms like language, ethnicity, and occupation. The errors are likely to be introduced at the stage of data collection, data processing, analyses and the writing up of the report. As such, the errors need to be detected and all the necessary adjustments made to enhance their usefulness.

7.2. Population Dynamics: Fertility, Mortality and Migration

7.2.1. Demographic Measurements

In Ethiopia, fertility and mortality are the two principal determinants of population growth as international migration is insignificant. Some basic demographic measurements include:

Crude Birth Rate refers to the number of live births per 1000 population

CBR  =  Total annual live birth    x100 
              Total midyear population

GFR=Total annual live birth    x1000
          Total women aged 15-49                  
GFR is a relatively specific measure of fertility as it specifically relates births to women in the reproductive age.

Total Fertility Rate (T.F.R.) refers to the average number of children that a woman would have at the end of her reproductive period if the current age specific fertility rate remains unchanged.



Where, Bi = Total live births in age group i,
Wi =Total number of women in age group I (i =age group i.e. 1= 15-19, 2=20-24 3=25-29, 4 = 30-34, 5 = 35-39, 6=40-44, 7 = 45-49)


Crude Death Rate refers to the number of deaths per 1000 populations in a year

CDR=Total annual death    x1000
        Total midyear population

Infant Mortality rate refers to the total number of deaths of infants per one thousand live Birth
IMR =    Total annual Infant death    x1000
              Total live birth                 
Infant mortality draws special attention because of its large size and heavy impact it has on the crude death rate. The 2016 demographic and health survey result showed that infant mortality in Ethiopia has decreased from 97 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2000 to 48 in 2016.

Maternal Mortality Rate: refers to death of mothers in connection from pregnancy and birth complications per hundred thousand live births.
MMR   =Total annual maternal death due to birth complication   x100, 000
              Total live birth 

Life Expectancy at birth: refers to the average number of years that a newly born baby is expected to live. It is used as a summary measure of the mortality experience of the whole population.

Natural Rate of Increase: is the difference between crude birth rate and crude death rate expressed in percentage.
NRI= (C.B.R. – C.D.R.)

7.2.2. Levels and trends of Fertility and Mortality rates in Ethiopia

Birth and death rates show significant spatio-temporal variation. Clear differences in birth and death rates are emerging between rural and urban areas of Ethiopia. Urban areas have lower birth and death rates compared to rural areas due to the existence of better living and health conditions. In rural areas Women have an average of 5 children, compared to 2 children among women in urban areas.

Looking at TFR by region, in 2016 fertility was the lowest in Addis Ababa (2 children per woman) followed by Dire Dawa (3), Gambella (4), and Amhara (4); while regions that have TFR rates more than the national average are Somali (7), Afar (6), Oromia (5), and Tigray (5). Recently, fertility is showing a declining trend. Total fertility rate (TFR) Declined from 8 in 1984 to 7 in 1994, and currently, women in Ethiopia have an average of 5 children.

Similarly, mortality rates are also showing a declining trend. Before 2000, almost all regional states recorded more than 100 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, but by 2011 infant mortality in all regions was lower than 100, except for BenishangulGumuz. Mortality rates also show considerable variation by regions. In 2016, IMR at the country level was 54 where it was 48 in urban areas and 62 in rural Ethiopia. Accordingly, lower than national average infant mortality rate was recorded in Addis Ababa followed by Somali and Gambella; while higher IMR was recorded in Benishangul, followed by SNNPR and Tigray.

Life expectancy at birth in Ethiopia increased from about 36.7 years in the 1960s to 62.6 years in 2016. Female life expectancy (65.4 years) is about four years higher than male life expectancy (61.2 years). Life expectancy at birth is greater for urban areas than for rural areas. It exceeds the national average in Addis Ababa; while the lowest is in Benishangul-Gumuz (47 years) followed by SNNPR (49 years).

Table 7.1: Comparison of Birth and Death Rates and Life Expectancy of Ethiopia with Selected Countries.







Life Expectancy (Years)



























Highest Values

Angola/Niger= 44.2




Mali= 43.9




Lowest Values








Guinea Bissau=51.0

Source: Population Reference Bureau, population data sheet, 2017

It is also important to note that the differences between developing and developed countries in crude death rates are not as high as the difference in birth rates. The main reason for this is some degree of improvement in medical services in most developing countries during the last few decades. As opposed to declining death rates, birth rates have remained high due to:

  • Little family planning practices and lack of education;
  • Lower status of women
  • Early marriage, particularly of females;
  • Parents consideration of children as an assets,
  • The relatively high infant and child mortality rates, trigger couples to have more births


Countries of the Horn of Africa have higher population growth rate that exceeds 2.6 percent. Some of the consequences of this rapid population growth under conditions of slowly growing economy include:

  • low per capita GNP
  • increased unemployment and under-employment
  • mounting social ills such as destitution, begging, theft, prostitution
  • continuous inflation that erodes purchasing power of the currency
  • shortage of cultivated land and food shortages
  • overcrowding of infrastructural and social facilities; housing problems and increase in urban slums and squatter settlements
  • Environmental problems such as deforestation, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity and pollution.

7.2.3. Migration in Ethiopia and the Horn

Migration is an old and inevitable phenomenon, although human mobility has accelerated these days as a result of economic and technological progress especially in the fields of communication and transportation. It is considered as a form of geographic mobility involving a permanent or semi-permanent change of residence between clearly defined geographic units.

An assessment of human mobility is pivotal for its diverse effects. Some of the multifaceted implications of migration are indicated hereunder:

  • Migration yields an increased level of urbanization;
  • It enhances rural-urban linkages in creating an integrated economy
  • It influences spatial population distribution
  • Migration negatively influences human fertility and mortality patterns and levels; and affects age and sex composition of the population.
  • It is a means of achieving economic efficiency.
  • It can also be a cause and consequence of inequality and unequal development
  • It is regarded as a cause and consequence of diversity; and a mechanism of spreading cultures
  • It is a necessary condition for the creation and strengthening of a sense of nationhood and national unity
  • It creates a creative and open society to new ideas than a homogenous group of people.


Internal Migration in Ethiopia

 In Ethiopia, both short and long migratory movements have been going on for millennia in time and space influenced by demographic, environmental, socio-economic and political factors. Population movement in Ethiopia accelerated in the early twenty century with the rise in urban centers as well as the Italian occupation. However, voluntary and individual rural out migration during the Derg Regime was low for the following reasons.

  • The 1976/77 ‘land to the tiller’ granted land to the rural landless farmers,
  • Establishment of urban dwellers association and rural peasant associations.
  • The 1975 urban land nationalization that dispossessed landlords’ rights to own more than one house
  • The high level of urban unemployment and underemployment
  • The Derge was also taking away whoever is scrounging around the city as soldiers to the warfront

Other reasons in the current regime

  • During the current regime, the ethnic politics in the country and associated administrative barriers
  • Government’s policy access to agricultural land discourages the movement of rural population.
  • High cost of migration related to expected employment opportunity and return.
  • landlessness of emerging rural youth;
  • drought and rainfall unreliability in the highlands; and land degradation and the resultant diminished carrying capacity of the land

Internal migration in Ethiopia is, therefore, among the highest in Africa. According to the 2007 Census result, the country has a relatively high level of internal migration where out of the total population of the country, 16.6 percent is labeled as migrant population.

International migration

International migration in Ethiopia accelerated after the 1974 revolution where many refugees were attempting to escape political conflict, persecution and famine. Attempt of political centralization and oppression; the independence struggle of Eritrea from 1961-1991 that led to violent clashes in the North; and the period of Red Terror between 1976-79 generated massive emigration from Ethiopia.

Today, Ethiopia could be considered as one of the countries that has a large number of emigrants overseas. Ethiopia’s Diaspora, estimated to be about four million, and is also considered one of the largest of all African countries. Large numbers of Ethiopian migrants are found in the Middle East, USA, Canada, Europe and African countries such as Sudan, Kenya, South Africa and Botswana.

The causes of cross-border migration include:

  • Lack of employment and livelihood opportunities, and negative attitudes attached with low payment
  • Rural underemployment and lack of resources
  • Unfavorable political context and insecurity, civil war and political turmoil,
  • Ethiopia’s location in the instablize region of Horn of Africa and its long boundary that extends over 5,328 km which makes border management difficult
  • Existence of large number of local brokers with networks extending to countries of destination;
  • Misinformation and false promises by brokers/traffickers; success stories of pioneering migrants; family and peer pressure
  • Emergence of ‘culture of migration’ and migration networks
  • Demand-side factors of migration (shortage of labour in low-paying, informal, and perilous jobs, such as domestic work, construction, agriculture in destination countries)

Ethiopia is a country of origin, transit and destination for international migration. Ethiopia appears to be a hub on three land routes of which one leads from the Horn of Africa via Sudan, Chad, Egypt and Libya to the Mediterranean Sea towards Europe; the second through Somalia and Djibouti to Yemen across the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea towards the Middle East. 60 to 70% of Ethiopians migrating to the Middle East are irregular migrants. The third migration route is the Southern irregular route that is an overland route Kenya Tanzania towards South Africa. Bole International Airport is also reported to be a hub of transit on the air route leading to Europe, and the Middle East.

International Labour Organization/ILO/ in 2016 identified the following migration source areas of Ethiopia with high and growing incidence of emigration:

  1. A. Dessie (North and South Wollo) area: it includes Kemise, Bati, Kalu (Kombolcha), Dessie and its surroundings, Tehuledere (Haiq, Girana, Bistima, Bakaksa, Worebabo), Mersa, and Woldia.
  2. Shashemene (Western Arsi and Bale) area: it includes Shashemene-Zuria, Kofele, Kore, and Assassa.
  3. Jimma (Western Ethiopia) area: includes Kaffa, Wolega and Iluababora, and more specifically Mana, Kerisa, Dedo, Agaro, Setema, Sigmo, and Gomma areas.
  4. Mekelle/Tigray area:   specific localities include Alamata,   Kobo,   Raya, Erob, Edagahamus, Gulomekeda, Atsbiwemberta. Other prominent emigration source areas include (Assela-Zuria, Adama-Zuria, Ambo, Fitche, Chancho, and Western Hararghe (Hirna, Gelemso); ShewaRobit, DebreBirhan, and Debre Tabor).

As a major destination country, Ethiopia hosts the second largest number of refugees in Africa. According to UNHCR 2019, refugee and asylum seeker population in Ethiopia was about one million. Many migrants, refugees and asylum seekers entering Ethiopia are escaping political and civil unrest as well as harsh or undesirable conditions (e.g. drought) in neighboring countries of South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan.

7.3. Age and Sex Structure of Ethiopian Population

Age Structure refers to the distribution of population by age groups. The most used age groups are five-year age groups (0-4, 5-9, 10-14, 60-64, 65 and above) and broad age groups (0-14, 15-64, 65 and above).

Table : Percentage distribution of the population of Ethiopia by broad age groups in the three consecutive censuses (1984, 1994 and 2007).

Census year

Broad Age Groups

Dependency ratio

Youth dependency

Old age dependency



O – 14

15 – 64

65 +























Source: CSA, Statistical Abstract, 2007.

Age groups 0-14, 15-64 and 65 and above are known as young age, working age and old age, respectively. Our young age population is very large, about half of the population, while the old age population is very small. Because of the predominance of young age population, the median age of the population is about 17 years. The high percentage for the young age group is the result of high birth rate and natural increase, while the small percentage of the old age group is the reflection of high mortality rate, which results in low life expectancy. On the contrary most developed countries have working age population of about 60 percent or more, and old age population of about 10 percent or more.

It is generally accepted that people in the young and old ages are dependent on the working age population. Age dependency ratio (A.D.R.) can roughly be used to show the magnitude of dependency. It is expressed as:

ADR=P 0-14+    x100

                        P 15-64                     where: P is population in the age groups

Another ratio that can be calculated out of the broad age groups of the population is the old age index. This index expresses the old age population as per the percentage of the working age population expressed as: 

     OAI= P65+    x100


Youth dependency ratio and old age index for Ethiopia’s population in 2007 were about 93 and 6 respectively. This means that for every 100 persons in the working age there were about 93 young dependents and 6 old persons of 65+. In 2015 the total dependency ratio declined to 82.1; and youth dependency ratio was 75.8.

If male and female population is classified into five-year age groups, a population pyramid can be constructed. From population pyramids we can tell which groups have large number of people, which age groups have male-female imbalances, and the fertility and mortality situations.

In general population pyramids of developing countries like Ethiopia have very broad bases showing the preponderance of young age population, and become thinner and thinner upwards as age advances. So the percentages of population in upper age groups are very small.

The age distribution of the population of Ethiopia shows that the country has a youthful population resulting in heavy youth dependency. Heavy youth dependency has many serious implications on socioeconomic development, which include:

  1. Imposition of heavy burden on the working population
  2. allocation of most of the household budget to food and other household needs with little/nothing left for saving; which then affects investment
  • diversion of limited resources on social services
  1. creation of a society with booming babies that require an expansion of employment opportunities
  2. Further promotion of high-level fertility by increased number of women entering
    the reproductive age (ages 15-49) annually.

All these can negatively affecting capital formation, investment and development.

Sex Structure

Sex structure refers to the ratio of male population to female population at different age groups. It is usually expressed as:

Sex ratio= Male x100


According to the 1984 census result, sex ratio for the population of Ethiopia was 99.4. This means that there were about 99 males for every 100 females. The respective figures for rural, urban and Addis Ababa populations were 100.9, 86.8 and 90.2. The 1994 census result shows that it was 101.3 for the country and 102.6, 93.3 and 94, respectively, for rural areas, urban areas and Addis Ababa. In 2015, male to female ratio for Ethiopia was 99.96 males per 100 females. Sex ratios are generally lower for urban areas, and higher for rural areas primarily due to larger female in-migration to urban areas. Sex composition of the population also shows some variation by region. In Afar, Somali and Gambella, the number of males exceeds that of females, while in Addis Ababa the number of females is considerably higher than the number of males. Sex ratios also vary with age. At birth and young ages males tend to be greater in number, but they become increasingly less as age increases. Hence, sex ratios are high in young age groups and low in adult and old age groups. Greater male births account for greater number of males and high sex ratio in young ages, but because mortality of male children is greater, the gap narrows down and the sex ratios decline to fall below 100 in twenties and thirties.

7.4. Population Distribution in Ethiopia

Population distribution refers to the arrangement of people over space that is provided for them to settle and make a living through exploiting resources. The distribution of population in Ethiopia is very uneven as a result of physical and human factors.

7.4.1. Measures of Population Distribution

Population Density

Population density refers to the number of people per unit area. There are three ways of expressing population density. These are:

Crude density is obtained by dividing total population to total area. This kind of density is called crude because it does not show variations in population distribution within a given area. In 1990 crude density for Ethiopia was 41 people/km and this has increased to 52 people /km2 in 1998; and it escalated to more than 100 currently.

There is a considerable variation in population density among the administrative regions of the country.    Excluding the urban based administrative regions, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples (SNNP) region is the administrative area with the largest population density (173 people/km2) followed by Amhara region. Gambella (13 people/km2), Somali, Afar and Benishangul-Gumuz are regions with low densities of population.

Table 7.3: Population Density of Ethiopia for 2015 by Administrative Regions









































Addis Ababa




Dire Dawa City Adm.








Source: CSA, Statistical Abstract, 2015.

Physiological density is a ratio between total population and arable part of a country. Ethiopia’s physiological density (for 1998) is 62 people/km2. Arable part of Ethiopia, which is used as a denominator here, is 969,680 km2.  Compared to Physiological densities of countries like Japan (1,732 people/km), Egypt (1,575 people/km) and Netherlands (1,220 people/km2), Ethiopia’s physiological density is very low.

This is a kind of density, which takes only agricultural population as a numerator and cultivated land as a denominator. It is also called rural density since in most developing countries there is not a significant difference between rural and agricultural population. This density measure is more meaningful than both crude and physiological density measures as it gives a better indication of the pressure of population on land resources.

Rural population per square kilometer of cropland is the highest for Somali Afar and Gambella. The large ratio is due to the smaller proportion of land that is appropriate for agriculture relative to the large landmass and small population. It is also highly likely that through the proper utilization of the land for example by using irrigation in Somali and Afar and investment in Gambella regions, the agricultural density would decline in the years ahead. SNNP region also has a high ratio compared to the national average owing to the high population relative to their agricultural land. The smallest agricultural density lies in Benishangul (3.8), Amahra (5), Oromia (5.6) and Tigray (5.9).

The two factors that explain variations in agricultural density are the proportion of cultivated land and urban population of the regions. Other things being equal, agricultural density tends to be higher where both the percentage of cultivated land and the percentage of urban population are low.

7.4.2. Factors Affecting Population Distribution in Ethiopia

The distribution of population in Ethiopia is uneven. This extreme unevenness is the result of the combined effect of physical and human factors which shall be discussed hereinafter.

The most important physical factors that affect the distribution of population in Ethiopia include climate, mainly rainfall and temperature, soil and vegetation, drainage and slope.

. In Ethiopia most of these physical factors are influenced by altitude.

Table 7.4: Population-Altitude Relationships

Altitude (m)

Percentage of area

Percentage of population

> 2,600






1,400- 1,800












Source: AynalemAdugna, 1987.

Table 7.4 shows that 77.5 percent of the population of the country lives in areas above 1,800 meters above sea level which makes37.6 percent of the total area. The area above 1,400, which makes up 65.7 percent of the total area of Ethiopia, supports 89.0 percent of the population of the country.

Lowlands are characterized by scarcity of rainfall, high temperature, and poor vegetation and soil conditions. In addition, the lowlands tend to be infected with tropical diseases like malaria and yellow fever that contribute to the sparse population distribution.

Human factors which have influenced population distribution in Ethiopia may be divided into two:

  1. The historical pattern of population movement and
  2. Types of economic activities.

The Historical Pattern of Population Movement

After the decline of the Axumite Empire, there was southward movement of the Tegrian, Amhara, Agew and Guraghe populations starting from the 7th century. There was also large-scale northward movement of the Oromos during the 16th and 17th centuries. The two waves of population movements, one from the north, and the other from the south, offer a significant explanation of denser population distribution in and around the central highlands.

Economic Activities

Types of productive activities strongly influence the carrying capacity of land; and the carrying capacity in turn influences the number of people that can inhabit an area. The arid and semi-arid lowlands of Ethiopia that are inhabited by pastoralists and semi-pastoralists are sparsely settled. Hence, with pastoral herding, population density is extremely low.

        Compared to areas of pastoral herding, cultivated lands have greater carrying capacity thereby supporting higher population densities. However, the type of crop cultivated could also result in varying densities. For instance, the northern and north central areas of Ethiopia with cereals as the main crops have relatively low yield per unit area; and hence they have relatively low carrying capacity and moderate density. On the contrary the enset and coffee regions of Ethiopia have greater yield per unit area that gave rise to the very high density of population in some South-central Zones and weredas.

The development of commercial farms in some parts of Ethiopia like the Awash valley is also a significant factor in causing population movements and changes in the population concentration. Likewise, urban and industrial growths as well as transportation routes can be considered as some of the important elements in bringing about population re-distribution over time and explaining density variation.

7.5. Socio-cultural Aspects of Ethiopian Population: Education, Health and Languages

High level of education correlates with higher incomes, better health, longer life span, and lower mortality. Hence, human capital development is a cause and consequence of development. Education is also a human right. The total number of primary schools in Ethiopia was 34,867 in 2016; while gross enrollment at primary first and second cycles (grade 1-8) was 9,407,490. There were 3,156 secondary schools in 2016 in Ethiopia. The national gross enrolment ratio for all secondary grades was 29.04%, (Addis Ababa has the highest GER at 82.27 %.) Nationally GER for males is higher compared to females, though in Tigray, Amhara and Addis Ababa more females are attending secondary education. Afar and Somali regions have the lowest enrolment rate in secondary education.

However, the recent developments are encouraging and primary education is almost universalized and there is at least one primary school in each rural kebele. The number of public universities has reached 45 today from only 2 in the early 1990s; where hundreds of thousands of students are enrolled in the tertiary level of education every year.

The Government of Ethiopia has been investing heavily in the health system strengthening through its pro-poor policies and strategies that brought about significant gains in improving the health status of Ethiopians. Despite recognizable improvements, Ethiopia has still a heavy burden of diseases but a low rate of self-reported illness and low health facility coverage and utilization. The available literature indicates that the majority of ill health in Ethiopia is related to potentially preventable, communicable diseases and nutritional disorders. Some of the root causes of the poor health status of the population are:

  1. Lack of access to clean water: rivers and lakes remain the most important sources of water particularly for people in rural areas although such waters are largely unsafe.
  2. Lack of adequate nutrition: studies reveal that malnutrition is rampant and is among the highest in the world.
  3. Disease related to beliefs, behaviors and traditional practices which have a negative effect on health status include circumcision, early marriage, and low value of girls and children
  4. Lack of health services: The health care infrastructure of the country had suffered from under funding; and health service coverage is less than 50% of the population. The services tend to be urban biased.

The combined problem of poor health and inadequate nutrition are likely to have life-long effect on children making them physically unfit, unproductive, mentally inactive and less dynamic.

The major killer diseases accounting for about 3/4 of all deaths include prenatal-maternal conditions, acute respiratory infection, malaria, nutritional deficiency for children under 5 years, diarrhea, AIDS and Tuberculosis.

Despite significant improvements, Ethiopia’s health situation is still at a staggering situation. The current health workforce represented as: one doctor for 26,943 people, one nurse for 2,311 people, and one midwife for 21,810 people.

Ethiopia is a country where about 80 languages are spoken. According to the 2007 Population and Housing Census of Ethiopia, Afan Oromo and Amharic were the major mother tounges in the country accounting 33.8% and 29.3% respectively. Somaligna (6.2%), Tigrigna (5.9%), Sidamigna (4.0%), Wolaytigna (2.2%), Guragigna (2%), Afarigna (1.7%), Hadyiyagna (1.7%), and Gamogna (1.5%) also have significant number of speakers.

The Ethiopian languages belong to two Supper Families: Afro-Asiatic and Nilo-Saharan. Most Ethiopian languages belong to the Afro-Asiatic Supper Family.

  1. Afro-Asiatic

The Afro-Asiatic Supper Family is divided into three families, namely: Semitic, Cushitic and Omotic.


The Cushitic languages are predominantly spoken in central, southern, eastern and northeastern parts of Ethiopia mainly in Afar, Oromia and Somali Regional States. It has the largest number of speakers and the widest spatial coverage. This family of languages consists of many individual languages such as Oromigna, Somaligna, Sidamigna, Afarigna, Kembatigna, Hadiyigna, Alabigna, Gedeogna, and others.


The Semitic languages are spoken in northern, central and eastern parts of Ethiopia particularly in the regional state of Tigray, Amhara, Harari and Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Regional State. Some of the Semitic Languages include Amarigna, Tigrigna, Guragigna, Siltigna, Aderigna, and Argobigna.


The Omotic languages are predominantly spoken in the south-central and south-western parts of Ethiopia mainly between the Lakes of southern Rift Valley and the Omo River. The languages, which make up this family, are numerous although they are not as widely spread as the Cushitic and Omotic. Wolaitigna, Gamogna, Kullogna, Kefigna, and Kontigna are some of the languages in this family spoken by millions and many thousands of people. Relatively small number of people speaks most of the languages in this group.

2. Nilo Saharan

The Nilo-Saharan languages are spoken in the western lowlands of Ethiopia along the border with Sudan, in Gambella and BenishangulGumuz Regional States. These Languages are spoken by small numbers of people often less than 500,000 people. The individual languages of Nilo-Saharan Supper Family include Kunamigna, Bejigna, Gumuzigna, Maogna, Kewamigna, Nuerigna, Annukigna, and others.

7.6. Settlement Types and Patterns

7.6.1. Types of Settlement

Settlements are places that are inhabited by people more or less on a permanent basis, as distinct for example from camps, and where people carry out a variety of activities such as agriculture, manufacturing and commerce. Different settlement types develop mainly in response to some physical and human factors.

Settlements are divided into two, namely, rural and urban on the bases of the dominant economic activity, population densities and availability of socioeconomic and infrastructural facilities.

Rural Settlement

The vast majority of Ethiopian population still lives in rural settlements consisting of hamlets and villages.

Temporary / Mobile Settlements

The lowlands in most parts of the Rift Valley and peripheral areas, being generally hot and dry, are characterized by pastoral herding and mobile settlements. The settlements are mobile because pastoralists have always been searching for new sites for water and pasture for their livestock.

The major problem often mentioned about mobile settlements is that of providing social services like clean water, schools, hospitals, electricity etc to the people.

Permanent Settlements

Settlements are considered as permanent if there are no frequent changes in their locations. Permanent settlements are of two types. One of them is scattered (also called diffused or dispersed), while the other one is known as grouped/ clustered or nucleated. In areas of dispersed settlements homesteads are separated by relatively long distances which could be associated with individual land tenure and desire of people to live near to their farm holdings. Grouped settlements, on the other hand, are characterized by concentration of large number of homesteads and households at one place as for example for reasons of defense, to provide threshold population to support basic social services as it was the case of villagization program during the Dergue.

7.6.2. Urban Settlements and Urbanization in Ethiopia

Urbanization refers to the increase in the percentage of the population living in urban centers. Linkage between urban and rural areas could foster efficiency of value chains in agro-industry, improve agricultural productivity, promote service expansion and create sufficient industrial jobs in urban centers to absorb the perpetual influx of population from rural areas. The major criteria used to classify settlements as urban in Ethiopia are:

  1. Minimum of 2,000 people;
  2. Two-thirds of the population engaged in non-agricultural activities;
  3. Chartered municipality;
  4. The presence of social services and amenities

The number of settlements meeting these criteria in 1984 was about 322. These settlements had 10.23 percent of the total population of the country and this is one of the least urban population sizes in the world. The number of settlements with greater than 2,000 people in 1994 had increased to 539. These have 12.8 percent of the country’s population. In 2007, the number further rose to 927. Today, the urban population is about 20 percent of the country’s population.

An overview of the History of Urbanization in Ethiopia

Before the foundation of Addis Ababa as a capital city, the earliest capitals and other towns did not have a permanent population exceeding 6000. The only prominent urban centers were Axum, Lalibela and Gondar. For many years, in place of a fixed capital, there had been mobile military camps that followed their peripatetic rulers.

Modern urbanization in Ethiopia is associated with the establishment of Addis Ababa as a capital by Emperor Menelik II in the late 19th century. Unlike earlier capitals, there had been different factors that contributed to the growing and permanency of Addis Ababa as a capital city that are indicated as follows.

❖        Introduction of the fast-growing Australian eucalyptus tree which satisfied the firewood needs of the ever-growing urban population.

❖        Water supplies improved due to the introduction of wells and reservoirs.

❖        Introduction of modern schools, hospitals and health centres, hotels, cafes, bars, bakeries, butcher’s shops, cinema, post office, modern cathedrals, telephone and telegraph system, bank, printing press etc.

❖        The construction of roads that radiate from Addis Ababa; and the arrival of the Franco-Ethiopian railway at Addis Ababa in 1917.

❖        The Italian occupation had also intensified the establishment of small-scale industries and institutions, road construction thereby contributing to the growth of the city.

For the past several decades, the country has experienced a very low level of urban development, despite its high rate of urbanization.

Drivers of and Opportunities for more Urbanization in Ethiopia

These days, urbanization is proceeding at a much faster rate in Ethiopia. The urban population is growing at about 5% a year, primarily driven by migration to urban areas. The proportion of the urban population of Ethiopia in 2015 (20%) is projected to mount to 37% by 2035.Some of the conditions which have been contributing for expansions of urban areas are (drivers of urbanization):

❖        The establishment of Addis Ababa as a centre of expansion

❖        The construction of the Ethio-Djibouti railway line along which many stations have developed into important towns.

❖        The five-year Italian occupation which has contributed to road building, the establishment of small-scale industries and service giving institutions.

❖        Proximity to existing cities and main transportation corridors trigger new urban development through agglomeration and metropolisation effects

❖        High Population density and growth rates in the populous highlands of Ethiopia facilitate the emergence of towns

❖        Presence of new and large commercial farms, mining areas, and agro-industries such as sugar factories; as well as mega projects like fertilizer factories, cement factories that attract people

❖        Large infrastructure investments such as airports and highways, and dry ports that attract investment and create jobs encourage urbanization

❖        Opening of Universities that support entrepreneurial activity and innovation in their local economies

❖        Tourism assets and attractions such as parks, resort centers, and heritage cities and sites contribute to urban expansion.

❖        Development of border towns with strengthened inter-country trade

Distribution of Urban Centers in Ethiopia

The distribution of urban centers in Ethiopia shows considerable spatial variation. Based on varying concentrations of urban centers and urban populations, the Ministry of Urban Development and Construction identified the following hierarchy of urban centers:

  1. The Addis Ababa Metropolitan cluster includes Addis Ababa and its surrounding towns; and Adama and its surrounding towns
  2. Secondary city clusters consist of:
  • Lake Tana Urban Cluster: Bahir Dar, Gondar DebreTabour, DebreMarkos
  • South Rift Valley Urban Cluster: Hawassa-Shashemene-Dila; and Hosana-Sodo-Arba Minch
  • Eastern Urban Cluster: Dire Dawa, Harar, Jigjiga
  • Mekelle Urban Cluster: Mekelle, Adigrat, Shire, Axum
  • Dessie- Kombolcha Urban Cluster.
  • Jima Urban Cluster: Jima, Agaro, Mizan, Tepi, Gambella

iii.        Tertiary urban clusters include:

  • Nekemte Urban Cluster: Nekemte, Dembidolo, Gimbi, Metu, Assosa
  • Gode – Kebri Dar oasis city network
  • Semera-Mille – Asaita oasis city network

Like most developing countries, Ethiopia’s urban population is concentrated in one primate city, Addis Ababa. The population of Addis Ababa grew from 1.4 million in 1984 to 2.2 million in 1995, and to 2.7 million in 2007 representing about 29% of the urban population of the country. Its current estimated population is over four million.

Growth Rate of Urban Centers

The annual average national growth rate of urban population is about 5%. But this being an average, rate of growth of urban population varies from town to town. Ethiopia’s towns are characterized by wide range of growth rates that could be classified into one of the following three broad categories:

  1. Declining Towns: it includes towns whose populations are actually declining in absolute numbers because net out migration is greater than natural increase. Some of the towns that have at least once experienced a decline include Axum, Goba and Maichew.
  2. Slow Growing Towns: This category is composed of towns that grow at the rate which is less than the rate of natural increase. Towns such as Holeta, Harar and Gore have been indicated to grow slowly in the recent past.

iii. Fast Growing Towns: All towns with growth rates of greater than the natural rate of increase make up this group. These towns pull large numbers of people from the declining or slowly growing towns and rural areas.

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