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Eritrea

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Cities of Eritrea
Adekeieh | Afabet | Akurdet | Asmara | Assab | Barentu | Dekemhare | Ghinda | Keren | Kulul | Massawa | Mendefera | Nakfa | Tessenie | Tio

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THE ERITREA COAT OF ARMS
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Location of Eritrea within the continent of Africa
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Map of Eritrea
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Flag Description of Eritrea:The flag of Eritrea was officially adopted on May 24, 1993.

The green, blue and red are the official colors of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF). The olive branch within the red triangle is circled by a wreath, and collectively they represent the country's autonomy.

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Official name State of Eritrea1
Form of government transitional regime2 with one interim legislative body ([transitional] National Assembly [1503])
Head of state and government President: Isaias Afwerki
Capital Asmara
Official language none4
Official religion none
Monetary unit nakfa (Nfa)
Population (2013 est.) 5,748,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 46,774
Total area (sq km) 121,144
Urban-rural population

Urban: (2011) 21.3%
Rural: (2011) 78.7%

Life expectancy at birth

Male: (2012) 60.7 years
Female: (2012) 65.1 years

Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate

Male: (2010) 78.7%
Female: (2010) 57.5%

GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2012) 450

1The name in Tigrinya, the most widely spoken local language, is Hagere Iertra.

2New constitution ratified in May 1997 was not implemented in February 2013.

3All seats indirectly elected; last elections were held in 1994.

4The de facto “working” languages of government are Tigrinya, English, and Arabic.


Background of Eritrea

Eritrea, country of the Horn of Africa, located on the Red Sea. Eritrea’s coastal location has long been important in its history and culture—a fact reflected in its name, which is an Italianized version of Mare Erythraeum, Latin for “Red Sea.” The Red Sea was the route by which Christianity and Islam reached the area, and it was an important trade route that such powers as Turkey, Egypt, and Italy hoped to dominate by seizing control of ports on the Eritrean coast. Those ports promised access to the gold, coffee, and slaves sold by traders in the Ethiopian highlands to the south, and, in the second half of the 20th century, Ethiopia became the power from which the Eritrean people had to free themselves in order to create their own state. In 1993, after a war of independence that lasted nearly three decades, Eritrea became a sovereign country. During the long struggle, the people of Eritrea managed to forge a common national consciousness, but, with peace established, they faced the task of overcoming their ethnic and religious differences in order to raise the country from a poverty made worse by years of drought, neglect, and war. Eritrea’s capital and largest city is Asmara (Asmera).


Geography of the State of Eritrea

  • Area: 125,000 sq. km. (48,000 sq. mi.); about the size of Pennsylvania.
  • Capital City -- Asmara (est. pop. 435,000).
  • Other cities--Keren (57,000); Assab (28,000); Massawa (25,000); Afabet (25,000); Tessenie (25,000); Mendefera (25,000); Dekemhare (20,000); Adekeieh (15,000); Barentu (15,000); Ghinda (15,000).
  • Terrain: Central highlands straddle escarpment associated with Rift Valley, dry coastal plains, and western lowlands.
  • Climate: Temperate in the highlands; hot in the lowlands.

Eritrea is located in the Horn of Africa and is bordered on the northeast and east by the Red Sea, on the west and northwest by Sudan, on the south by Ethiopia, and on the southeast by Djibouti. The country has a high central plateau that varies from 1,800 to 3,000 meters (6,000-10,000 ft.) above sea level. A coastal plain, western lowlands, and some 300 islands comprise the remainder of Eritrea's landmass. Eritrea has no year-round rivers.

The climate is temperate in the mountains and hot in the lowlands. Asmara, the capital, is about 2,300 meters (7,500 ft.) above sea level. Maximum temperature is 26o C (80o F). The weather is usually sunny and dry, with the short or belg rains occurring February-April and the big or meher rains beginning in late June and ending in mid-September.


The Land

Eritrea’s coastline, forming the northeastern edge of the country, extends for roughly 600 miles (1,000 km) from Cape Kasar, in the north, to the Strait of Mandeb, separating the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aden in the south. The country is bounded to the southeast by Djibouti, to the south by Ethiopia, and to the west by The Sudan.

  • Relief

Eritrea’s land is highly variegated. Running on a north-south axis through the middle of the country are the central highlands, a narrow strip of country some 6,500 feet (2,000 metres) above sea level that represents the northern reaches of the Ethiopian Plateau. The highest point is Mount Soira, at 9,885 feet (3,013 metres). Geologically, the plateau consists of a foundation of crystalline rock (e.g., granite, gneiss, and mica schist) that is overlain by sedimentary rock (limestone and sandstone) and capped by basalt (rock of volcanic origin). The upper layers have been highly dissected by deep gorges and river channels, forming small, steep-sided, flat-topped tablelands known as ambas. Encouraged by the steady expansion of cultivation, soil erosion on the plateau has left few wooded areas.

In the north of Eritrea the highlands narrow and then end in a system of hills, where erosion has cut down to the basement rock. To the east the plateau drops abruptly into a coastal plain. North of the Gulf of Zula, the plain is only 10 to 50 miles (15 to 80 km) wide, but to the south it widens to include the Danakil Plain. This barren region contains a depression known as the Kobar Sink (more than 300 feet [90 metres] below sea level), the northern end of which extends into Eritrea. The coastal plain and the Danakil Plain are part of the East African Rift System and are sharply delimited on the west by the eastern escarpment of the plateau, which, although deeply eroded, presents a formidable obstacle to travelers from the coast.

The western flank of the central highlands is a broken and undulating plain that slopes gradually toward the border with The Sudan. It lies at an average elevation of 1,500 feet (460 metres). The vegetation is mostly savanna, consisting of scattered trees, shrubs, and seasonal grasses.

Off the coast in the Red Sea is the Dahlak Archipelago, a group of more than 100 small coral and reef-fringed islands. Only a few of these islands have a permanent population.

  • rainage

The Eritrean highlands are drained by four major rivers and numerous streams. Two of the rivers, the Gash and the Tekeze, flow westward into The Sudan. The Tekeze River (also known as the Satit) is a major tributary of the Atbara River, which eventually joins the Nile. The Gash River reaches the Atbara only during flood season. As it crosses the western lowlands, the Tekeze forms part of Eritrea’s border with Ethiopia, while the upper course of the Gash, known as the Mereb River, forms the border on the plateau.

The other two major rivers that drain the highlands of Eritrea are the Baraka and the Anseba. Both of these rivers flow northward into a marshy area on the eastern coast of The Sudan and do not reach the Red Sea. Several seasonal streams that flow eastward from the plateau reach the sea on the Eritrean coast.

  • Climate

Eritrea has a wide variety of climatic conditions, produced mainly by differences in elevation. The effects of elevation are seen most clearly in the wide range of temperatures experienced throughout the country. On the coast, Massawa (Mitsiwa) has one of the highest averages in the world (the mid-80s F [about 30 °C]), while Asmara, only 40 miles (65 km) away yet roughly 7,500 feet (2,300 metres) higher on the plateau, averages in the low 60s F (about 17 °C).

Mean annual rainfall on the plateau is about 16 to 20 inches (400 to 500 mm), while on the western plain it is less than 16 inches. In both the highlands and the western lowlands, rainfall comes in summer, carried on a southwesterly airstream. Toward the northeastern extremes of the plateau, the amount of precipitation decreases, and the length of the rainy season becomes shorter. The eastern edges of the plateau and, to a lesser extent, the coastal fringes receive much smaller quantities of rain from a northeasterly airstream that arrives in winter and spring. The interior regions of the Danakil Plain are practically rainless.

Demography of the State of Eritrea

The Land

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Eritrean(s). Population (2004 est.): 3.6 million. Annual growth rate: 2.5%. Ethnic groups: Tigrinya 50%, Tigre 31.4%, Saho 5%, Afar 5%, Beja 2.5%, Bilen 2.1%, Kunama 2%, Nara 1.5%, and Rashaida 0.5%. Religions: Christian 50%, mostly Orthodox, Muslim 48%, indigenous beliefs 2%. Education: Years compulsory--none. Attendance--elementary (net 2002) 45.2%; secondary (net 2002) 21.2%. Health: Infant mortality rate (2003)--45/1,000. Life expectancy--52 yrs. Work force: Agriculture--80%. Industry and commerce--20%.

Eritrea's population comprises nine ethnic groups, most of which speak Semitic or Cushitic languages. The Tigrinya and Tigre make up four-fifths of the population and speak different, but related and somewhat mutually intelligible, Semitic languages. In general, most of the Christians live in the highlands, while Muslims and adherents of traditional beliefs live in lowland regions. Tigrinya and Arabic are the most frequently used languages for commercial and official transactions. In urban areas, English is widely spoken and is the language used for secondary and university education. Eritrea's population comprises nine ethnic groups, most of which speak Semitic or Cushitic languages. The Tigrinya and Tigre make up four-fifths of the population and speak different, but related and somewhat mutually intelligible, Semitic languages. In general, most of the Christians live in the highlands, while Muslims and adherents of traditional beliefs live in lowland regions. Tigrinya and Arabic are the most frequently used languages for commercial and official transactions. In urban areas, English is widely spoken and is the language used for secondary and university education.

Genealogy of the People of Eritrea. Ancestry records and the Family tree.

  • Ethnic groups and languages

Eritrea’s population consists of several ethnic groups, each with its own language and cultural tradition. In addition to the languages spoken by the various ethnic groups, Arabic and English are widely understood. Italian is occasionally used as well.

The bulk of the people in the Eritrean highlands are Tigray. In Eritrea that group is sometimes called Tigrinya, though linguists of Semitic languages note that -nya is an Amharic suffix meaning “language of.” In any case, proper nomenclature for the people is fluid, given contemporary political sensitivities. The Tigray make up about half the country’s total population. They also occupy the adjacent Ethiopian region of Tigray. The Tigrinya language is one of two major indigenous languages in Eritrea.

Inhabiting the northernmost part of the Eritrean plateau, as well as lowlands to the east and west, are the Tigre people. The Tigre, who constitute nearly one-third of Eritrea’s population, speak the other major Eritrean language—Tigré. Tigré and Tigrinya are written in the same script and are both related to the ancient Semitic Geʿez language, but they are mutually unintelligible.

Also occupying the northern plateau are Bilin speakers, whose language belongs to the Cushitic family. The Rashaida are a group of Arabic-speaking nomads who traverse the northern hills. On the southern part of the coastal region live Afar nomads. The Afars—who also live across the borders in Djibouti and Ethiopia—are known to surrounding peoples as the Danakil, after the region that they inhabit. The coastal strip south of Massawa, as well as the eastern flanks of the plateau, are occupied by Saho pastoralists. In the western plain the dominant people are Beja pastoralists; Beja also live across the border in Sudan. Two small groups speaking Nilotic languages, the Kunama and the Nara, also live in the west.

  • Religion

Historically, religion has been a prominent symbol of ethnic identity in the Horn of Africa. Christianity was established in the 4th century ce on the coast and appeared soon afterward in the plateau, where it was embraced by the Ethiopian highlanders. Prior to Eritrea’s secession from Ethiopia in 1993, about half the population of Eritrea belonged to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, including nearly all the Tigrinya. After the country gained its independence, it appealed to the patriarch of the Coptic church for autocephaly, which was granted.

About one-half of Eritrea’s population is Christian, with members of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church accounting for some two-fifths. The rest of the Christian population is primarily Roman Catholic with a small number of Protestants, stemming from the time of Italian colonial rule (1889–1941), when Roman Catholic and Protestant European missionaries introduced their own versions of Christianity into Eritrea. They had considerable success among the small Kunama group, and they also attracted a few townspeople with the offer of modern education.

Following the rise of Islam in Arabia in the 7th century, Muslim power flowed over the Red Sea coast, forcing the Ethiopians to retreat deep into their mountain fastness. Islam displaced other creeds in the lowlands of the Horn, and it remains the faith of about one-half of the Eritrean population, including nearly all the people inhabiting the eastern coast and the western plain of Eritrea, as well as the northernmost part of the plateau. Thus, while Islam claims nearly all the pastoralists, Christianity is dominant among the cultivators. Muslims are also significantly represented in all towns of Eritrea, where they are prominent in trade. In the perennial competition between cultivators and pastoralists over land, water, control of trade, and access to ports, religion has played an ideological role, and it remains a potent political force.

  • Settlement patterns

The environment is a determining factor in the distribution of Eritrea’s population. Although the plateau represents only one-fourth of the total land area, it is home to approximately one-half of the population, most of them sedentary agriculturalists. The lowlands on the east and west support a population mainly of pastoralists, although most of them also cultivate crops when and where weather conditions permit. As a rule, pastoralists follow various patterns of movement set by the seasons. Only the Rashaida group in the northern hills is truly nomadic.

During the colonial period, Eritrea’s urban sector flourished with the establishment of Asmara as the capital city, Asseb (also spelled Assab or Aseb) as a new port on the Red Sea, and a host of smaller towns on the plateau. In addition, Massawa, an old and cosmopolitan port with strong links to Arabia, was expanded considerably. By the end of the colonial period, Eritrea had by far the largest proportion of urban residents in the Horn of Africa—approximately 15 percent of the population—although a large percentage of urban dwellers were Italian nationals who eventually left the country. Subsequently, a population drift from the countryside to the towns was largely offset by emigration of Eritreans abroad. By the early 21st century about one-fifth of the population was considered urban.

Economy of the State of Eritrea

Real GDP (2004 est.): $700 million. Annual growth rate (2005 est.): 4.8%. Per capita income: $900 (on a purchasing power parity basis); per capita GNI (World Bank Atlas method), 2004 est. $180. Avg. inflation rate (2004 est.): 25%. Mineral resources: Gold, copper, iron ore, potash, oil. Agriculture (12% of GDP in 2004): Products--millet, sorghum, teff, wheat, barley, flax, cotton, papayas, citrus fruits, bananas, beans and lentils, potatoes, vegetables, fish, dairy products, meat, and skins. Cultivated land--10% of arable land. Industry (25% of GDP in 2004): Types--processed food and dairy products, alcoholic beverages, leather goods, textiles, chemicals, cement and other construction materials, salt, paper, and matches. Trade: Exports (2005 est.)--$12 million: skins, meat, live sheep and cattle, gum arabic. Major markets--Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Yemen), Europe (Italy), Djibouti, and Sudan. Imports (2005 est.)--$474 million: food, military materiel, and fuel, manufactured goods, machinery and transportation equipment. Major suppliers--U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Italy, Germany, Belgium.


The Eritrean economy is largely based on agriculture, which employs 80% of the population but currently may contribute as little as 12% to GDP. Agricultural exports include cotton, fruits and vegetables, hides, and meat, but farmers are largely dependent on rain-fed agriculture, and growth in this and other sectors is hampered by lack of a dependable water supply. Worker remittances and other private transfers from abroad currently contribute about 32% of GDP.

While in the past the Government of Eritrea stated that it was committed to a market economy and privatization, the government and the ruling PFDJ party maintain complete control of the economy. The government has imposed an arbitrary and complex set of regulatory requirements that discourage investment from both foreign and domestic sources, and it often reclaims successful private enterprises and property.

After independence, Eritrea had established a growing and healthy economy. But the 1998-2000 war with Ethiopia had a major negative impact on the economy and discouraged investment. Eritrea lost many valuable economic assets in particular during the last round of fighting in May-June 2000, when a significant portion of its territory in the agriculturally important west and south was occupied by Ethiopia. As a result of this last round of fighting, more than one million Eritreans were displaced, though by 2007 nearly all had been resettled. According to World Bank estimates, Eritreans also lost livestock worth some $225 million, and 55,000 homes worth $41 million were destroyed during the war. Damage to public buildings, including hospitals, is estimated at $24 million. Much of the transportation and communication infrastructure is outmoded and deteriorating, although a large volume of intercity road-building activity is currently underway. The government sought international assistance for various development projects and mobilized young Eritreans serving in the national service to repair crumbling roads and dams. However, in 2005, the government asked the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to cease operations in Eritrea.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), post-border war recovery was impaired by four consecutive years of recurrent drought that have reduced the already low domestic food production capacity. The government reports that harvests have improved, but it provides no data to support these claims. Eritrea currently suffers from large structural fiscal deficits caused by high levels of spending on defense, which have resulted in the stock of debt rising to unsustainable levels. Exports have collapsed due to strict controls on foreign currencies and trade, as well as a closed border with Ethiopia, which was the major trading partner for Eritrea prior to the war. In 2006, Eritrea normalized relations with Sudan and is beginning to open the border to trade between the two countries. Large and persistent transfers from Eritreans living abroad offer significant support to the economy.

The port in Massawa has been rehabilitated and is being developed. In addition, the government has begun on a limited basis to export fish and sea cucumbers from the Red Sea to markets in Europe and Asia. A newly constructed airport in Massawa capable of handling jets could facilitate the export of high-value perishable seafood.


  • Agriculture

Agriculture is by far the most important sector of the country’s economy, providing a livelihood for about four-fifths of the population and accounting for a large portion of Eritrea’s exports. Small-scale cultivation and traditional pastoralism are the main forms of agricultural activity. These are not mutually exclusive occupations, since most cultivators also keep animals and most pastoralists cultivate grains when possible. Both cultivators and pastoralists produce primarily for their own subsistence, and only small surpluses are available for trade.

The area of cultivation is limited by climate, soil erosion, and the uneven surface of the plateau. Under Italian and Ethiopian rule, irrigated plantations produced vegetables, fruit, cotton, sisal, bananas, tobacco, and coffee for the growing urban markets, but this agricultural sector was disrupted by the long period of warfare leading to independence. Today staple grain products include sorghum, millet, and an indigenous cereal named teff (Eragostis abyssinica). Pulses, sesame seeds, vegetables, cotton, tobacco, and sisal also are produced. Among the livestock raised are sheep, cattle, goats, and camels.

  • Resources

Salt mining, based on deposits in the Kobar Sink, is a traditional activity in Eritrea; there is a salt works near the port of Massawa. Granite, basalt, and coral are also mined. Deposits of gold, copper, potash, and iron have been exploited at times in a minor way, and numerous other minerals have been identified, including zinc, feldspar, gypsum, asbestos, mica, and sulfur. The proximity of the oil-rich Arabian basin has occasionally raised expectations of discovering petroleum in Eritrea, but intermittent exploration since the days of Italian rule has failed to produce results.

  • Manufacturing

A generation of war damaged Eritrea’s modest manufacturing sector, which appeared during the Italian colonial period and provided many Eritrean workers with skills that later enabled them to find work abroad. Today, as it was in the colonial era, the sector is based largely on the processing of agricultural products; goods produced include food products, beer, tobacco products, textiles, and leather. Asmara is the main industrial centre, although light manufacturing enterprises are found in and around Massawa (which has a cement works), Keren, and other urban areas. A petroleum refinery in the Red Sea port of Asseb, built by the Soviet Union for Ethiopia, was closed in 1997.

  • Trade

Along with food and live animals, fish from the Red Sea constitute a significant percentage of the country’s exports. Principal imports include food, machinery, road vehicles, and chemicals and chemical products. Italy has been Eritrea’s most consistent trading partner, though other European Union countries, the United States, The Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia have all been significant partners at one time or another in the early 21st century.

  • Transportation

Asseb and Massawa are major ports of entry into Eritrea. About one-fifth of the country’s roads are paved. A railway was built by the Italians from Massawa to Asmara, Keren, and Akordat. There is an international airport in Asmara, and major airfields are located in Asseb and Massawa.


Government and Society of the State of Eritrea

Type: Transitional government. Independence: Eritrea officially celebrated its independence on May 24, 1993. Constitution: Ratified May 24, 1997, but not yet implemented. Branches: Executive--president, cabinet. Legislative--Transitional National Assembly (does not meet). Judicial--Supreme Court. Administrative subdivisions: Six administrative regions. Political party: People's Front for Democracy and Justice (name adopted by the Eritrean People's Liberation Front when it established itself as a political party). Suffrage: Universal, age 18 and above (although no national elections have been held). Central government budget (2005 est.): $485 million. Defense (2004 est.): $185 million.

  • Constitutional framework

After liberation from Ethiopia in May 1991, Eritrea was ruled by a provisional government that essentially consisted of the central committee of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). On May 19, 1993, shortly after a national referendum, this body proclaimed the Transitional Government of Eritrea. The intention was that this government would rule the country for four years, until the promulgation of a constitution and the election of a permanent government. The transitional government’s legislative body, called the National Assembly, consisted of the original 30-member central committee of the EPLF augmented by 60 new members.

The National Assembly elected independent Eritrea’s first president, Isaias Afwerki, in 1993. Following his election, Afwerki consolidated his control of the Eritrean government. As president, he was head of state and of government; he also presided over the legislature and the State Council, an executive body whose members were presidential appointees. In addition, he became commander in chief of the army and chair of the country’s sole political party, the EPLF, renamed the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice in 1994.

A constituent assembly ratified a new constitution in May 1997, but it was not implemented, and the anticipated parliamentary and presidential elections never took place. The 150-member Transitional National Assembly, an interim legislative body established in 1997, remained the de facto legislature into the 21st century, and President Afwerki maintained his powerful position. Citing national security concerns, he shut down the national press in 2001.

  • Health and education

Chronic drought and decades of war took a toll on the health of Eritreans in the second half of the 20th century, although conditions had improved somewhat after the first decade of independence. In the early 21st century the infant mortality rate was slightly higher than the world average but significantly lower than the African average. The average life expectancy was in the mid-50s for men and about 60 for women—about a decade shorter than the world average for each sex.

More than three-fifths of Eritreans over age 14 are literate; the male literacy rate is significantly higher than the rate among females. Children are taught in their native languages, and in the higher grades they are also taught foreign languages, especially Arabic and English. There is a university in Asmara.

Culture Life of the State of Eritrea

The “golden oldies” of Tigrinya pop, a style that was popularized throughout Africa in the late 1960s by such artists as Beyene Fre, Tewolde Redda, and Alamin, remain popular in Eritrea. Contemporary popular musicians in Eritrea include Sami Berhane, Wedi Tukul, and Faytinga. Reggae, which originated in Jamaica, also has a presence in Eritrea.

Eritrean cuisine has not yet gained the popularity that its Ethiopian counterpart has found in many countries around the world. The two cuisines share some ingredients, techniques, and staples, including injera, a chewy flatbread made of teff, wheat, or sorghum flour, and kitcha, an unleavened bread. Meals typically are served on a communal platter, and diners use bread, rather than utensils, to serve themselves portions of such dishes as zigni (a stew made of fish, vegetables, and meat), ful (baked beans), dorho (roasted chicken), ga’at (porridge), and shiro (lentils). These dishes are seldom eaten without a side dish of fiery berbere, a locally produced pepper that figures prominently in Eritrean cooking. Eritrean food also shows many influences from the country’s erstwhile Italian occupiers, with such dishes as capretto (goat), frittata (vegetable omelet), and pasta featured on many menus.

Coffee is an important ingredient of Eritrean social life. Making a good cup of coffee, Eritreans say, requires both patience and skill. The commonly accepted method of making coffee suggests the need for both: coffee beans are roasted in a skillet or oven, pounded and ground with a mortar and pestle, and then poured into a pot that is half full of cold water and, sometimes, ginger root. After the mix is boiled, it is poured through an oxtail filter and served in small porcelain cups with sugar cubes. Popcorn or other snacks may be eaten as accompaniments to the coffee.

Eritreans enjoy playing sports, especially football (soccer), which was introduced during the Italian occupation. Eritrea’s national football team is known as the Red Sea Boys. Eritreans also participate in basketball, cycling, and athletics (track and field). Outdoor activities include fishing and snorkeling, which is especially popular on the Dahlak islands.

HISTORY of the State of Eritrea

Prior to Italian colonization in 1885, what is now Eritrea had been ruled by the various local or international powers that successively dominated the Red Sea region. In 1896, the Italians used Eritrea as a springboard for their disastrous attempt to conquer Ethiopia. Eritrea was placed under British military administration after the Italian surrender in World War II. In 1952, a UN resolution federating Eritrea with Ethiopia went into effect. The resolution ignored Eritrean pleas for independence but guaranteed Eritreans some democratic rights and a measure of autonomy. Almost immediately after the federation went into effect, however, these rights began to be abridged or violated.

In 1962, Emperor Haile Sellassie unilaterally dissolved the Eritrean parliament and annexed the country, sparking the Eritrean fight for independence from Ethiopia that continued after Haile Sellassie was ousted in a coup in 1974. The new Ethiopian Government, called the Derg, was a Marxist military junta led by Ethiopian strongman Mengistu Haile Miriam.

During the 1960s, the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) led the Eritrean independence struggle. In 1970, some members of the group broke away to form the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF). By the late 1970s, the EPLF had become the dominant armed Eritrean group fighting against the Ethiopian Government, with Isaias Afwerki as its leader. The EPLF used material captured from the Ethiopian Army to fight against the government.

By 1977, the EPLF was poised to drive the Ethiopians out of Eritrea. That same year, however, a massive airlift of Soviet arms to Ethiopia enabled the Ethiopian Army to regain the initiative and forced the EPLF to retreat to the bush. Between 1978 and 1986, the Derg launched eight major offensives against the independence movement--all of which failed. In 1988, the EPLF captured Afabet, headquarters of the Ethiopian Army in northeastern Eritrea, prompting the Ethiopian Army to withdraw from its garrisons in Eritrea's western lowlands. EPLF fighters then moved into position around Keren, Eritrea's second-largest city. Meanwhile, other dissident movements were making headway throughout Ethiopia. At the end of the 1980s, the Soviet Union informed Mengistu that it would not be renewing its defense and cooperation agreement. With the withdrawal of Soviet support and supplies, the Ethiopian Army's morale plummeted, and the EPLF--along with other Ethiopian rebel forces--advanced on Ethiopian positions.

The United States played a facilitative role in the peace talks in Washington during the months leading up to the May 1991 fall of the Mengistu regime. In mid-May, Mengistu resigned as head of the Ethiopian Government and went into exile in Zimbabwe, leaving a caretaker government in Addis Ababa. Later that month, the United States chaired talks in London to formalize the end of the war. The four major combatant groups, including the EPLF, attended these talks.

Having defeated the Ethiopian forces in Eritrea, EPLF troops took control of their homeland. In May 1991, the EPLF established the Provisional Government of Eritrea (PGE) to administer Eritrean affairs until a referendum could be held on independence and a permanent government established. EPLF leader Isaias became the head of the PGE, and the EPLF Central Committee served as its legislative body.

A high-level U.S. delegation was present in Addis Ababa for the July 1-5, 1991 conference that established a transitional government in Ethiopia. The EPLF attended the July conference as an observer and held talks with the new transitional government regarding Eritrea's relationship to Ethiopia. The outcome of those talks was an agreement in which the Ethiopians recognized the right of the Eritreans to hold a referendum on independence.

Although some EPLF cadres at one time espoused a Marxist ideology, Soviet assistance for Mengistu limited the level of Eritrean interest in seeking Soviet support. The fall of communist regimes in the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc convinced them it was a failed system. The EPLF (and later its successor, the PFDJ) expressed its commitment to establishing a democratic form of government and a free-market economy in Eritrea. The United States agreed to provide assistance to both Ethiopia and Eritrea, conditional on continued progress toward democracy and human rights.

On April 23-25, 1993, Eritreans voted overwhelmingly for independence from Ethiopia in a UN-monitored free and fair referendum. The Eritrean authorities declared Eritrea an independent state on April 27, and Eritrea officially celebrated its independence on May 24, 1993.

More on History of Eritrea

  • Precolonial Eritrea

R:ULE FROM THE HIGHLANDS Beginning about 1000 bce, Semitic peoples from the south Arabian kingdom of Sabaʾ (Sheba) migrated across the Red Sea and absorbed the Cushitic inhabitants of the Eritrean coast and adjacent highlands.--->>>>>Read More.<<<<

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS of the State of Eritrea

Eritrea's Government faced formidable challenges following independence. With no constitution, no judicial system, and an education system in shambles, the Eritrean Government was required to build institutions of government from scratch. Currently, the Government of Eritrea exercises strict control of political, social, and economic systems, with nearly no civil liberties allowed.

On May 19, 1993, the PGE issued a proclamation regarding the reorganization of the government. The government was reorganized, and after a national, freely contested election, the Transitional National Assembly, which chose Isaias as President of the PGE, was expanded to include both EPLF and non-EPLF members. The EPLF established itself as a political party, the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ). The PGE declared that during a 4-year transition period it would draft and ratify a constitution, draft a law on political parties, draft a press law, and carry out elections for a constitutional government.

In March 1994, the PGE created a constitutional commission charged with drafting a constitution flexible enough to meet the current needs of a population suffering from 30 years of civil war as well as those of the future, when prospective stability and prosperity would change the political landscape. Commission members traveled throughout the country and to Eritrean communities abroad holding meetings to explain constitutional options to the people and to solicit their input. A new constitution was ratified in 1997 but has not been implemented, and general elections have not been held. The government had announced that Transitional National Assembly elections would take place in December 2001, but those were postponed and new elections have not been rescheduled.

The present government structure includes legislative, executive, and judicial bodies. The legislature, the Transitional National Assembly, comprises 75 members of the PFDJ and 75 additional popularly elected members. The Transitional National Assembly is the highest legal power in the government until the establishment of a democratic, constitutional government. The legislature sets the internal and external policies of the government, regulates implementation of those policies, approves the budget, and elects the president of the country. The president nominates individuals to head the various ministries, authorities, commissions, and offices, and the Transitional National Assembly ratifies those nominations. The cabinet is the country's executive branch. It is composed of 17 ministers and chaired by the president. It implements policies, regulations, and laws and is accountable to the Transitional National Assembly. The ministries are agriculture; defense; education; energy and mines; finance; fisheries; foreign affairs; health; information; labor and human welfare; land, water, and environment; local governments; justice; public works; trade and industry; transportation and communication; and tourism.

Nominally, the judiciary operates independently of both the legislative and executive bodies, with a court system that extends from the village through to the district, provincial, and national levels. However, in practice, the independence of the judiciary is limited. In 2001, the president of the High Court was detained after criticizing the government for judicial interference.

In September 2001, after several months in which a number of prominent PFDJ party members had gone public with a series of grievances against the government and in which they called for implementation of the constitution and the holding of elections, the government instituted a crackdown. Eleven prominent dissidents, members of what had come to be known as the Group of 15, were arrested and held without charge in an unknown location. At the same time, the government shut down the independent press and arrested its reporters and editors, holding them incommunicado and without charge. In subsequent weeks, the government arrested other individuals, including two Eritrean employees of the U.S. Embassy. All of these individuals remain held without charge and none are allowed visitors.

Principal Government Officials President of the State of Eritrea and Chairman of the Executive Council of the PFDJ--Isaias Afwerki Director, Office of the President--Yemane Ghebremeskel Minister of Defense--Sebhat Ephrem Minister of Foreign Affairs--Osman Saleh Minister of Finance--Berhane Abrehe Minister of National Development--Dr. Woldai Futur Ambassador to the United States--Ghirmai Ghebremariam

Eritrea maintains an embassy in the United States at 1708 New Hampshire Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20009 (tel. 202-319-1991).


DEFENSE of the State of Eritrea

During the war for independence, the EPLF fighting force grew to almost 110,000 fighters, about 3% of the total population of Eritrea. In 1993, Eritrea embarked on a phased program to demobilize 50%-60% of the army, which had by then shrunk to about 95,000. During the first phase of demobilization in 1993, some 26,000 soldiers--most of who enlisted after 1990--were demobilized. The second phase of demobilization, which occurred the following year, demobilized more than 17,000 soldiers who had joined the EPLF before 1990 and in many cases had seen considerable combat experience. Many of these fighters had spent their entire adult lives in the EPLF and lacked the social, personal, and vocational skills to become competitive in the work place. As a result, they received higher compensation, more intensive training, and more psychological counseling than the first group. Special attention was given to women fighters, who made up some 30% of the EPLF's combat troops. By 1998, the army had shrunk to 47,000.

The moves to demobilize were abruptly reversed after the outbreak of war with Ethiopia over the contested border. During the 1998-2000 war, which is estimated to have resulted in well over 100,000 casualties on the two sides, Eritrea's armed forces expanded to close to 300,000 members, almost 10% of the population. This imposed a huge economic burden on the country. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that the economy shrank by more than 8% in 2000, although it rebounded somewhat in 2001. The war ended with a cessation of hostilities agreement in June 2000, followed by a peace agreement signed in December of the same year. A UN peacekeeping mission, the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), was established and monitors a 25-kilometer-wide Temporary Security Zone separating the two sides. Per the terms of the cessation of hostilities agreement, two commissions were established: one to delimit and demarcate the border and the other to weigh compensation claims by both sides. The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission announced its decision in April 2002. Demarcation was expected to begin in 2003, but despite attempts to progress, it has been delayed by a stalemate between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The government has been slow to demobilize its military after the most recent conflict, although it formulated an ambitious demobilization plan with the participation of the World Bank. A pilot demobilization program involving 5,000 soldiers began in November 2001 and was to be followed immediately thereafter by a first phase in which some 65,000 soldiers would be demobilized. This was delayed repeatedly. In 2003, the government began to demobilize some of those slated for the first phase; however, the government maintains a "national service" program, which includes most of the male population between 18-40 and the female population between 18-27. The program essentially serves as a reserve force and can be mobilized quickly. There are estimates that one in twenty Eritreans actively serve in the military.

Presently, the U.S. has no military-to-military cooperation with Eritrea.


FOREIGN RELATIONS of the State of Eritrea

Eritrea is a member of the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the African Union (AU) but does participate actively in the AU. Eritrea maintains diplomatic relations with the United States, Italy, and several other European nations, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, and the Netherlands. Relations with these countries became strained as a result of the 2001 government crackdown against political dissidents and others, the closure of the independent press, and limits on civil liberties.

Eritrea's relations with its neighbors other than Djibouti also are somewhat strained. Although a territorial dispute with Yemen over the Haynish Islands was settled by international arbitration, tensions over traditional fishing rights with Yemen resurfaced in 2002. The relationship to date remains cordial. Relations with Sudan also were colored by occasional incidents involving the extremist group, Eritrean Islamic Jihad (EIJ)--which the Eritrean Government believes is supported by the National Islamic Front government in Khartoum--and by continued Eritrean support for the Sudanese opposition coalition, the National Democratic Alliance; however, Eritrea normalized relations with Sudan in 2006.

U.S.-ERITREAN RELATIONS The U.S. consulate in Asmara was first established in 1942. In 1953, the United States signed a mutual defense treaty with Ethiopia. The treaty granted the United States control and expansion of the important British military communications base at Kagnew near Asmara. In the 1960s, as many as 4,000 U.S. military personnel were stationed at Kagnew. In the 1970s, technological advances in the satellite and communications fields were making the communications station at Kagnew increasingly obsolete. In 1974, Kagnew Station drastically reduced its personnel complement. In early 1977, the United States informed the Ethiopian Government that it intended to close Kagnew Station permanently by September 30, 1977. In the meantime, U.S. relations with the Mengistu regime were worsening. In April 1977, Mengistu abrogated the 1953 mutual defense treaty and ordered a reduction of U.S. personnel in Ethiopia, including the closure of Kagnew Communications Center and the consulate in Asmara. In August 1992, the United States reopened its consulate in Asmara, staffed with one officer. On April 27, 1993, the United States recognized Eritrea as an independent state, and on June 11, diplomatic relations were established, with a chargé d'affaires. The first U.S. Ambassador arrived later that year.

In the past, the United States has provided substantial assistance to Eritrea, including food and development. In FY 2004, the United States provided over $65 million in humanitarian aid to Eritrea, including $58.1 million in food assistance and $3.47 million in refugee support. In 2005, the Government of Eritrea told USAID to cease operations. At the Eritrean Government's request, the United States no longer provides bilateral development assistance to Eritrea.

U.S. interests in Eritrea include consolidating the peace with Ethiopia, encouraging progress toward establishing a democratic political culture, supporting Eritrean efforts to become constructively involved in solving regional problems, assisting Eritrea in dealing with its humanitarian and development needs, and promoting economic reform.

Principal U.S. Officials Ambassador--Ronald K. McMullen Deputy Chief of Mission--Melinda Tabler-Stone Political/Economic Officer--Ajani Husbands Consular Officer--Brian Shelbourn Management Officer--Matthew Smith Public Affairs Officer--vacant Defense Attache--vacant

The address of the U.S. Embassy in Eritrea is 28 Franklin D. Roosevelt Street, P.O. Box 211, Asmara (tel. 291-1-120-004; fax: 291-1-127-584).


TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION of the State of Eritrea

The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans traveling and residing abroad through Country Specific Information, Travel Alerts, and Travel Warnings. Country Specific Information exists for all countries and includes information on entry and exit requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. Travel Alerts are issued to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable. For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Alerts, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.

The Department of State encourages all U.S. citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4-USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778); TDD/TTY: 1-888-874-7793. Passport information is available 24 hours, 7 days a week. You may speak with a representative Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) and a web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. The CDC publication "Health Information for International Travel" can be found at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/contentYellowBook.aspx.

Further Electronic Information Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://www.state.gov, the Department of State web site provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies working abroad through its website http://www.osac.gov

Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.

STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.


Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF)

Political organization, Eritrea

Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), later (from 1994) People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, secessionist movement that successfully fought for the creation of an independent Eritrean nation out of the northernmost province of Ethiopia in 1993.

The historical region of Eritrea had joined Ethiopia as an autonomous unit in 1952. The Eritrean Liberation Movement was founded in 1958 and was succeeded by the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) in 1961. The ELF grew in membership when the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie abolished Eritrea’s autonomous status, annexing it as a province in 1962. In the 1960s and ’70s the ELF undertook a systematic campaign of guerrilla warfare against the Ethiopian government. A faction of the ELF broke away in 1970 to form the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front. The EPLF managed to secure control of much of the Eritrean countryside and build effective administrations in the areas it controlled. Fighting that broke out between the EPLF, ELF, and other Eritrean rebel groups in 1981 prevented further military gains, but the EPLF subsequently emerged as the principal Eritrean guerrilla group.

As Soviet support of Ethiopia’s socialist government collapsed in the late 1980s, the EPLF formed an alliance with guerrilla groups in Tigray province and other parts of Ethiopia, and, when these groups overthrew the central government and captured the Ethiopian capital in May 1991, the EPLF formed a separate provisional government for Eritrea. After the holding of a United Nations-supervised referendum on independence there in April 1993, the EPLF declared the new nation of Eritrea the following month. In February 1994 the EPLF renamed itself the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice as part of its transformation into Eritrea’s ruling political party.


Eritrea in 2006

Eritrea Area: 121,144 sq km (46,774 sq mi) Population (2006 est.): 4,787,000 Capital: Asmara Head of state and government: President Isaias Afwerki Eritrea faced severe challenges in 2006, most ...>>>Read On<<<


Eritrea in 2005

Eritrea Area: 121,144 sq km (46,774 sq mi) Population (2005 est.): 4,670,000 Capital: Asmara Head of state and government: President Isaias Afwerki Despite extreme poverty exacerbated by drought ...>>>Read On<<<