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Translation and Localization for Africa: Ethiopia

In our African blog series we have covered two of the three main countries at the Horn of Africa. The biggest of the three, Ethiopia, is the topic of this blog and has special significance for me as I learned about this ancient country at a very young age due to my older brother’s love and admiration for reggae music. Most people may not be aware that reggae music’s biggest icon, Bob Marley, and many other Jamaican reggae artists like him were devout Rastafarians and found inspiration and a deep spiritual connection with Ethiopia and its revered Emperor Haile Selassie whose effort to bring justice and peace to his people even inspired Bob Marley’s song “War”.

Today, Ethiopia, one of our planet’s most ancient civilizations and the only African nation to defeat European colonialism in the late 19th century, is mostly known for political corruption and instability, and droughts that have ravaged the country for many years contributing to widespread poverty and hunger.

Let’s take a closer look at some statistics:


Ethiopian Demographics
  • Population of c. 100,000,000 making it the most populous landlocked country in the world.
  • Neighboring countries are Somalia, Sudan, Kenya and Djibouti.
  • Main ethnic groups: Oromo, Amhara, Somali, Tigrinya.
  • Main religions: Ethiopian Orthodox (43%), Muslim (34%), and Protestant (18.5%).
  • 64% of the population is 24 years old and under.
  • Addis Ababa is the capital of Ethiopia with a population of over 5 million people.
  • One third of its population live in poverty.
  • 17% of the total population is considered urban.
Ethiopian Languages
  • Primary spoken languages are Oromo, Amharic and Somali.
  • English is the main foreign language taught in schools.
  • Other languages spoken are Tigrinya, Sidamo, Afar and Arabic.
  • The literacy rate is 39%.


Ethiopian Culture
  • Ethiopia’s culture is a diverse mix of over 80 ethnic and linguistic backgrounds.
  • The most important aspect of its culture is its literature which is a representation of ancient Greek and Hebrew religious texts translated into Ge’ez and modern Amharic.
  • Ge’ez is one of the oldest languages in the world and is still applied by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
  • Gender roles are clearly defined and men are traditionally responsible for providing for their families and representing them to the outside world whereas women are in charge of domestic responsibilities and raising the children.
  • The traditional attire for women is Kemis (woven dresses) and men often wear clothing called Gabbi or Netella.
  • The national dish of Ethiopia is a stew called wat, with many varieties such as beef, lamb, chicken and/or lentils and served hot and spicy thanks to a hot spice called berbere.
  • The main drink in Ethiopia is bunna, meaning coffee, and is typically served in a ceremonious fashion.
Ethiopian Consumers
  • Although it’s still one of the world’s poorest countries, Ethiopia has enjoyed double-digit GDP growth over the last 10 years.
  • 80% of its GDP is driven by agriculture.
  • Consumers routinely shop at open markets and kiosks.
  • In an unorganized retail landscape retailers are concerned with government imposed price controls.
  • 40% of household spending goes to food and groceries on a monthly basis.
  • TV and radio are the most popular media. TV has a 92% penetration rate and radio an 80% rate.
  • The extremely low literacy rate may be to blame for an almost non-existent print media and low internet penetration.
Ethiopia’s Future
  • The IMF (International Monetary Fund) ranks Ethiopia as one of the five fastest growing economies in the world.
  • With an average 10.8% yearly GDP, Ethiopia will continue to see solid growth although hampered a bit by constraints on private sector development.
  • Coffee exports remain strong and one of the major industries.
  • Ethiopia is Africa’s second most-populous nation and its need for energy has helped fuel the hydro-electric industry although much of that power is exported to other countries.
  • Significant investment in national infrastructure will help expand electricity domestically.
  • Three new dams are in the planning phase within the next decade which would significantly improve the provision of electricity to Ethiopians.
  • Ethiopia is also putting emphasis on developing its manufacturing sector which will help develop a business climate more attractive to investors and open the doors for small and medium sized businesses to establish themselves.

Due to Ethiopia’s remarkable economic expansion and steady GDP over the past decade, the opportunities for sustainable growth and upward mobility are possible. With the right investments coupled with the easing of strict tariffs and trade restrictions this culturally and agriculturally rich country should be able to overcome the persistent presence of hunger and poverty and help pave the way to more prosperity and stability.