Eritrea

Introduction

Eritrea was awarded to Ethiopia in 1952 as part of a federation. Ethiopia's annexation of Eritrea as a province 10 years later sparked a 30-year struggle for independence that ended in 1991 with Eritrean rebels defeating governmental forces; independence was overwhelmingly approved in a 1993 referendum. A two-and-a-half-year border war with Ethiopia that erupted in 1998 ended under UN auspices in December 2000. Eritrea currently hosts a UN peacekeeping operation that is monitoring a 25 km-wide Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) on the border with Ethiopia. An international commission, organized to resolve the border dispute, posted its findings in 2002. However, both parties have been unable to reach agreement on implementing the decision. On 30 November 2007, the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission remotely demarcated the border by coordinates and dissolved itself, leaving Ethiopian still occupying several tracts of disputed territory, including the town of Badme. Eritrea accepted the EEBC's "virtual demarcation" decision and called on Ethiopia to remove its troops from the TSZ which it states is Eritrean territory. Ethiopia has not accepted the virtual demarcation decision.

History

The oldest written reference to the territory now known as Eritrea is the chronicled expedition launched to the fabled Punt (or Ta Netjeru, meaning land of the Gods) by the Ancient Egyptians in the twenty-fifth century BC under Pharaoh Sahure. Later sources from the Pharaoh Hatshepsut in the fifteenth century BC present a more detailed portrayal of an expedition in search of incense. The geographical location of the missions to Punt is described as roughly corresponding to the southern west coast of the Red Sea.

The modern name Eritrea was first employed by the Italian colonialists in the late nineteenth century. It is the Italian form of the Greek name Erythraîa (Ερυθραία; see also List of traditional Greek place names), which derives from the Greek term for the Red Sea `Erithrá thálassa (Ἐρυθρὰ Θάλασσα).

Pre-history

One of the oldest hominids, representing a link between Homo erectus and an archaic Homo sapiens, was found in Buya (Eritrean Danakil) in 1995 by Italian scientists. The cranium was dated to over 1 million years old.[6] Furthermore, the Eritrean Research Project Team, composed of Eritrean, Canadian, American, Dutch, and French scientists, discovered in 1999, some of the earliest remains in the world, of humans using tools to harvest marine resources, at a site near the bay of Zula south of Massawa. The site contained obsidian tools dated to over 125,000 years old, from the paleolithic era.[7] Epipaleolithic or mesolithic cave paintings in central and northern Eritrea attest to early hunter-gatherers in this region.

A US paleontologist, William Sanders of the University of Michigan also discovered the missing link between ancient and modern elephants in the form of the fossilized remains of a pig-sized creature in Eritrea. Sanders claims that the dating of the fossil to 27 million years ago also pushes the origins of elephants and mastodons five million years further into the past than previously recorded and asserts that modern elephants originated in Africa, in contrast to mammals such as rhinos that had their origins in Europe and Asia and migrated into Africa. In addition to Sanders, the research team included scientists from the Elephant Research Foundation of Wayne State University in Michigan, USA, University of Asmara in Eritrea; Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA, USA; the Eritrean ministry of mines and energy; Global Resources in Asmara, Eritrea; the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle in Paris; the National Museum of Eritrea; and German Primate Center in Gottingen, Germany.

Early history

The earliest evidence of agriculture, urban settlement and trade in Eritrea was found in the western region of the country consisting of archeological remains dating back to 3500 BC in sites called the Gash group. Based on the archaeological evidence, there seems to have been a connection between the peoples of the Gash group and the civilizations of the Nile Valley namely Ancient Egypt and Nubia.[8] Ancient Egyptian sources also give references to cities and trading posts along the southwestern Red Sea coast, roughly corresponding to modern day Eritrea, calling this the land of Punt famed for its incense. Expeditions to this very land were launched by the Ancient Egyptians as early as the 25th century BC and were chronicled in more detail in later expeditions during the reign of the female Pharaoh Hatshepsut in the 15th century BC.

In the highlands, in one of the capital city Asmara's suburbs: Sembel; at the mouth of the river Anseba, another site was found from the ninth century BC of another agricultural and urban settlement that traded both with the Sabaeans across the Red Sea and with the civilizations of the Nile Valley further west along caravan routes that followed the Anseba River. Around this time, several cities with a high amount of Sabean remains (inscriptions, artifacts, monuments, architecture, etc.) seem to emerge in the central highlands and along the central coast including one called Saba. Some are undoubtedly built on top of older sites.

Around the eighth century BC, a kingdom known as D'mt was established in what is today Eritrea and northern Ethiopia (Tigray), with its capital at Yeha in northern Ethiopia and which had extensive relations with the Sabeans in present day Yemen across the Red Sea.[9][10] After D'mt's decline around the fifth century BC, the state of Aksum arose in much of Eritrea and northern Ethiopian Highlands. It grew during the fourth century BC and came into prominence during the first century AD, minting its own coins by the third century, converting in the fourth century to Christianity, as the second official Christian state (after Armenia) and the first country to feature the cross on its coins. According to Mani, it grew to be one of the four greatest civilizations in the world, on a par with China, Persia, and Rome. In the seventh century; with the advent of Islam across the Red Sea in Arabia, Aksum's trade and power on the Red Sea began to decline and the center moved farther inland to the highlands of what is today Ethiopia.

Medieval history

During the medieval period, contemporary with and following the disintegration of the Axumite state, several states as well as tribal and clan lands emerged in the area known today as Eritrea. Between the eighth and thirteenth century, northern and western Eritrea had largely come under the domination of the Beja, an Islamic, Cushitic people from northeastern Sudan. They formed five independent kingdoms known as: Naqis, Baqlin, Bazin, Jarin and Qata.[11] The Beja brought Islam to large parts of Eritrea and connected the region to the greater Islamic world dominated by the Ummayad Caliphate, followed by the Abbasid (and Mamluk) and later the Ottoman Empire. The Ummayads had taken the Dahlak archipelago by 702.

In the main highland area and adjacent coastline of what is now Eritrea there emerged a Kingdom called Midir Bahr or Midri Bahri (Tigrinya) ruled by the Bahr negus (or Bahr negash, "ruler of the sea"),[12] Parts of the southwestern lowlands were under the dominion of the Funj sultanate of Sinnar. The Eastern parts of what is now Eritrea, inhabited by the Afar since ancient times, came to form part of the sultanate of Adal in the early 13th century, and when that disintegrated in the mid 16th century, these same areas had become Ottoman vassals. As the kingdom of Midre Bahri and feudal rule was weakened in the 16th and 17th centuries, the main highland (Kebessa) areas in Eritrea would later be known as Mereb Mellash by locals and neighboring Ethiopians alike, meaning "beyond the Mereb" (in Tigrinya), defining the region as the area north of the Mareb River which to this day is a natural boundary between the modern states of Eritrea and Ethiopia.[13] Roughly the same area also came to be referred to as Hamasien in the nineteenth century, before the invasion of Ethiopian King Yohannes IV which immediately preceded and was partly repulsed by Italian colonialists. In these areas, feudal authority was particularly weak or inexistent and the autonomy of the landowning peasantry was particularly strong, a kind of Republic was prevalent, governed by local customary laws legislated by elected elder's councils (shimagile).[14] In 1770, the Scottish researcher James Bruce describes Eritrea and Abyssinia as "different countries who are often fighting" (SUKE, p.25). Hamasien later came to designate a much smaller area in Eritrea, a province immediately surrounding the capital, until being absorbed into the new administrative divisions in 1994.

An Ottoman invading force under Suleiman I conquered Massawa in 1557, building what is now considered the "old town" of Massawa on Batsi island. They also conquered the towns of Hergigo, and Debarwa, the capital city of the contemporary Bahr negus (ruler), Yeshaq. Suleiman's forces fought as far south as southeastern Tigray in Ethiopia before being repulsed. Yeshaq was able to retake much of what the Ottomans captured with Ethiopian assistance, but he later twice revolted against the Emperor of Ethiopia with Ottoman support. By 1578, all revolts had ended, leaving the Ottomans in control of the important ports of Massawa and Hergigo and their environs, and leaving their domains (province) which they had dubbed: "Habesh", to Beja Na'ibs (deputies). The Ottomans maintained their dominion over the northern coastal areas for nearly 300 years. Their possessions were left to their Egyptian heirs in 1865 and were taken over by the Italians in 1885.

Colonial era

A Roman Catholic Priest by the name of Giuseppe Sapetto acting on behalf of a Genovese shipping company called Rubattino in 1869 purchased the locality of Assab from the Afar Sultan of Obock, an Ottoman vassal. This happened in the same year as the opening of the Suez Canal.[15] In the ongoing Scramble for Africa, Italy as one of the European colonial powers, began vying for a possession along the strategic coast of what was to become the world's busiest shipping lane. With the approval of the Italian parliament and King Umberto I of Italy (later succeeded by his son Victor Emmanuel III), the government of Italy bought the Rubattino company's holdings and expanded its possessions northward along the Red Sea coast toward and beyond Massawa, encroaching on and quickly expelling previously 'Egyptian' possessions. The Italians met with stiffer resistance in the Eritrean highlands from the invading army of the Ethiopian Emperor Yohannes IV of Ethiopia.

Nevertheless the Italians consolidated their possessions into one colony, henceforth known as Eritrea, territory of Italy as of New Years Day 1890. This led to Italy's first attempt to colonize Ethiopia, under prime minister Francesco Crispi. Refusing their offering of an Italian protectorate for Ethiopia, Emperor Menelik - intent on creating an Ethiopian empire uniting Abyssinia, Ethiopia and the surrounding territories, after defeating Emperor Yohannes IV, declared war to the Italians, defeating them at Adowa in 1896. The northern territories around Assab and Massawa remained to the Italians, under the ancient name of Eritrea (land on the red sea) suggested by Crispi's advisor, the linguist and writer Carlo Dossi. Thus was born the modern nation state we know today as Eritrea, while the rest of Ethiopia remained under Menelik's control, until 1936, when under Fascism and Mussolini, Italy attempted to colonize Ethiopia again fighting against Menelik's nephew, Emperor Halie Salassie - with internationally banned chemical weapons which led to an international crisis and then to the demise of The League Of Nations - using its colony of Eritrea as its base. The Kingdom of Italy ruled Eritrea from 1890 to 1940. In 1936, fascist dictator Benito Mussolini created the Italian Empire (Italian East Africa), with the union of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Italian Somalia. Eritrea enjoyed considerable industrialization and development of modern infrastructure during Italian rule (such as roads and the Eritrean Railway).

The Italians remained the colonial power in Eritrea throughout the lifetime of fascism and the beginnings of World War II when they were defeated by Allied forces in 1941, and Eritrea became a United Nations protectorate.[15] Noted artist Aldo Giorgini was a young child caught up in this difficult transitional period, and his experiences during this time became a recurrent theme in his artwork. The best Italian colonial forces were the Eritrean Ascari, who were defined by Amedeo Guillet as "the Prussians of Africa, but without the defects of the Prussians". They actively supported even the Italian guerrilla against the British between 1941 and 1943.

After the war, the United Nations conducted a lengthy inquiry regarding the status of Eritrea, with the superpowers each vying for a stake in the state's future. Britain, the last administrator at the time, put forth the suggestion to partition Eritrea between Sudan and Ethiopia, separating Christians and Muslims. The idea was instantly rejected by Eritrean political parties as well as the UN.[16] The United States point of view was expressed by its then chief foreign policy advisor John Foster Dulles who said:

From the point of view of justice, the opinions of the Eritrean people must receive consideration. Nevertheless, the strategic interests of the United States in the Red Sea Basin and considerations of security and world peace make it necessary that the country [Eritrea] be linked with our ally, Ethiopia.
—John Foster Dulles, 1952

A UN plebiscite voted 46 to 10 to have Eritrea be federated with Ethiopia which was later stipulated on December 2, 1950 in resolution 390 (V). Eritrea would have its own parliament and administration and would be represented in what had been the Ethiopian parliament and was now the federal parliament.[3] In 1961 the 30-year Eritrean Struggle for Independence began after years of peaceful student protests against Ethiopian violations of Eritrean democratic rights and autonomy had culminated in violent repression and the Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie I's dissolution of the federation in 1961 followed by shutting down the parliament and declaring Eritrea the fourteenth province of Ethiopia in 1962.[17]

Struggle for independence

The sandals worn by the fighters of independence have become iconic. This monument in Asmara was erected in memoriam.

Eritreans formed the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and rebelled. The ELF was initially a conservative grass-roots movement dominated by Muslim lowlanders and thus received backing from Arab socialist governments such as Syria and Egypt. Ethiopia's imperial government received support from the United States which had established a radio listening base (the Kagnew base) in Eritrea's Ethiopian-occupied capital, Asmara. Internal divisions within the ELF based on religion, ethnicity, clan and, sometimes, personalities and ideologies, led to the weakening and factioning of the ELF from which sprung the Eritrean People's Liberation Front.

The EPLF professed Marxism and egalitarian values devoid of gender, religion, or ethnic bias. Its leadership was educated in China. It came to be supported by a growing Eritrean diaspora. Bitter fighting broke out between the ELF and EPLF during the late 1970s and 1980s for dominance over Eritrea. The ELF continued to dominate the Eritrean landscape well into the 1970s when the struggle for independence neared victory due to Ethiopia's internal turmoil caused by a socialist revolution against monarchy there.

The ELF's gains suffered when Ethiopia's ailing US-backed Emperor was deposed and replaced by the Derg, a Marxist military junta with backing from the Soviet Union and other communist countries, who continued the Ethiopian policy of repressing Eritrean "separatists" with increased military assistance and fervour. Nevertheless, the Eritrean resistance which saw itself forced to retreat from most of the Eritrean countryside it had previously occupied, became instead entrenched in the northern parts of the country around the Sudanese border from where the most important supply lines came. The heavily bombarded and embattled northern town of Nakfa came to symbolize the Eritrean struggle. (The Eritrean currency is named after it.)[18]

The numbers of the EPLF swelled in the 1980s as did that of Ethiopian resistance movements with which the EPLF struck alliances to overthrow the communist Ethiopian regime, weakening and all but annihilating the precursor ELF. However, due to their own Marxist orientation, neither EPLF nor any of the Ethiopian resistance movements were able to acquire any significant US/Western or Arab support against the Soviet backed might of the Ethiopian military which has since been sub-Saharan Africa's largest, outside of South Africa. The EPLF relied largely on armaments captured from the Ethiopian army itself as well as financial and political support from the Eritrean diaspora and the cooperation of neighbouring states hostile to Ethiopia such as Somalia and Sudan (although the support of the latter was briefly interrupted and turned into hostility against EPLF and Eritrean refugees at large, in agreement with Ethiopia during the Gaafar Nimeiry administration between 1971 and 1985).

Drought, famine, and intensive offensives launched by the Ethiopian army on Eritrea took a heavy toll on the population — more than half a million fled to Sudan as refugees. Amid the culmination of Soviet support to Ethiopia and a major fall-out between Eritrean and Ethiopian anti-government rebels, the EPLF achieved two of its greatest and most decisive victories alone and unsupported. In 1985, Eritrean elite commandos infiltrated the Ethiopian and Soviet held air force base in Asmara and destroyed all 30 fighter jets there, suffering only one casualty. In 1988 during a massive Ethiopian military offensive against Eritrean rebels, a third of the Ethiopian army was annihilated in the northern Eritrean town of Afabet.[19]

Following the decline of the Soviet Union in 1989 and diminishing support for the Ethiopian war, Eritrean rebels advanced further, capturing the port of Massawa and putting the Ethiopian and Soviet naval capabilities there out of action. By 1990 and early 1991 virtually all Eritrean territory had been liberated by EPLF except for the capital, whose only connection with the rest of government-held Ethiopia during the last year of the war was by an air-bridge. In 1991, Eritrean and Ethiopian rebels jointly held the Ethiopian capital under siege as the Ethiopian president Mengistu Haile Mariam fled to Zimbabwe where he lives to this day despite requests for extradition by both Eritrea and Ethiopia.

The Ethiopian army finally capitulated and Eritrea was completely in Eritrean hands in May 24, 1991 when the rebels marched into Asmara while Ethiopian rebels with Eritrean assistance overtook the government in Ethiopia. The new Ethiopian government conceded to Eritrea's demands to have an internationally (UN) supervised referendum dubbed UNOVER to be held in Eritrea which ended in April 1993 with an overwhelming vote by Eritreans for independence. Independence was declared on May 24, 1993.[20]

Independence

Map of Eritrea

Upon Eritrea's declaration of independence, the leader of the EPLF, Isaias Afewerki, became Eritrea's first Provisional President, and the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (later renamed the People's Front for Democracy and Justice, or PFDJ) created a government.[21]

Faced with limited economic resources and a country shattered by decades of war, the government embarked on a reconstruction and defense effort later called the Warsai Yikalo Program project based on the labour of national servicemen and women. It is still ongoing and combines military service with construction, teaching as well as agricultural work to improve the country's food security.

The government also attempts to tap into the resources of the Eritreans living abroad by levying a 2% tax on the gross income of those who wish to gain full economic rights and access as citizens in Eritrea (land ownership, business license etc).[23] while at the same time encouraging tourism and investment both from Eritreans living abroad and people of other nations and nationalities.

This has been complicated by Eritrea's tumultuous relations with its neighbours, lack of stability and subsequent political problems.

Eritrea severed diplomatic relations with Sudan in 1994 citing that the latter was hosting islamic terrorist groups to destabilize Eritrea and both countries entered into an acrimonious relationship, each accusing the other of hosting various opposition rebel groups or "terrorists" and soliciting outside support to destabilize the other. Diplomatic relations were resumed over 10 years later in 2005 following a reconciliation agreement reached with the help of Qatar's negotiation in 1999.[24][25] Eritrea now plays a prominent role in the internal Sudanese peace and reconciliation effort.[26]

Eritrea was also embroiled in a brief war with Yemen over a border dispute surrounding the Hanish Islands in 1996 which was later resolved by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 1998[27]. Yemen was granted full ownership of the larger islands while Eritrea was awarded the peripheral islands to the southwest of the larger islands[28]. Relations between both states have since normalized.

Perhaps the conflict with the deepest impact on independent Eritrea has been the renewed hostility with Ethiopia. In 1998, a border war with Ethiopia over the town of Badme occurred. The Eritrean-Ethiopian War ended in 2000 with a negotiated agreement known as the Algiers Agreement, which assigned an independent, UN-associated boundary commission known as the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC), whose task was to clearly identify the border between the two countries and issue a final and binding ruling. Along with the agreement the UN established a Temporary Security Zone consisting of a 25 kilometre demilitarized buffer zone within Eritrea running along the length of the disputed border between the two states and patrolled by UN troops in the mission named UNMEE. Ethiopia was to withdraw to positions held before the outbreak of hostilities in May of 1998 there among Badme. The peace agreement would be completed with the implementation of the Border Commission's ruling, also ending the task of the peacekeeping mission of UNMEE. The EEBC's verdict came in April 2002 which awarded Badme to Eritrea. However, Ethiopia still refuses to implement the ruling it had signed, resulting in the continuation of the UNMEE mission and a continued hostility between the two states who as of yet do not have any diplomatic relations.[29] Diplomatic relations with Djibouti were briefly severed during the border war with Ethiopia in 1998 but later resumed in 2000 due to a dispute over Djibouti's intimate relation with Ethiopia during the war.

Geography Location: Eastern Africa, bordering the Red Sea, between Djibouti and Sudan
Geographic coordinates: 15 00 N, 39 00 E
Map references: Africa
Area: total: 121,320 sq km
land: 121,320 sq km
water: 0 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly larger than Pennsylvania
Land boundaries: total: 1,626 km
border countries: Djibouti 109 km, Ethiopia 912 km, Sudan 605 km
Coastline: 2,234 km (mainland on Red Sea 1,151 km, islands in Red Sea 1,083 km)
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: hot, dry desert strip along Red Sea coast; cooler and wetter in the central highlands (up to 61 cm of rainfall annually, heaviest June to September); semiarid in western hills and lowlands
Terrain: dominated by extension of Ethiopian north-south trending highlands, descending on the east to a coastal desert plain, on the northwest to hilly terrain and on the southwest to flat-to-rolling plains
Elevation extremes: lowest point: near Kulul within the Denakil depression -75 m
highest point: Soira 3,018 m
Natural resources: gold, potash, zinc, copper, salt, possibly oil and natural gas, fish
Land use: arable land: 4.78%
permanent crops: 0.03%
other: 95.19% (2005)
Irrigated land: 210 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources: 6.3 cu km (2001)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 0.3 cu km/yr (3%/0%/97%)
per capita: 68 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazards: frequent droughts; locust swarms
Environment - current issues: deforestation; desertification; soil erosion; overgrazing; loss of infrastructure from civil warfare
Environment - international agreements: party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Ozone Layer Protection
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - note: strategic geopolitical position along world's busiest shipping lanes; Eritrea retained the entire coastline of Ethiopia along the Red Sea upon de jure independence from Ethiopia on 24 May 1993
Politics Eritrea is a single-party state, run by the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ). No other political groups are allowed to organise, although the non-implemented Constitution of 1997 provided for the existence of multi-party politics. The National Assembly of 150 seats (of which 75 were occupied by handpicked EPLF guerilla members while the rest went to local candidates and diasporans more or less sympathetic of the regime), formed in 1993 shortly after independence, "elected" the current president, Isaias Afewerki. No time frame was announced for the alleged obscure presidency. National elections have been periodically scheduled and cancelled; none have ever been held in the country. Independent local sources of political information on Eritrean domestic politics are scarce; in September 2001 the government closed down all of the nation's privately owned print media, and outspoken critics of the government have been arrested and held without trial, according to various international observers, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. In 2004 the U.S. State Department declared Eritrea a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for its alleged record of religious persecution (see below). In 2007, Reporters Without Borders, a lobby group, ranked Eritrea bottom in the world for overall press freedom in its annual study.
People Population: 4,906,585 (July 2007 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 43.5% (male 1,073,404/female 1,060,674)
15-64 years: 52.9% (male 1,286,613/female 1,310,294)
65 years and over: 3.6% (male 85,052/female 90,548) (2007 est.)
Median age: total: 17.9 years
male: 17.7 years
female: 18.2 years (2007 est.)
Population growth rate: 2.461% (2007 est.)
Birth rate: 33.97 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Death rate: 9.36 deaths/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.012 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.982 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.939 male(s)/female
total population: 0.993 male(s)/female (2007 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 45.24 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 51.05 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 39.25 deaths/1,000 live births (2007 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 59.55 years
male: 57.88 years
female: 61.28 years (2007 est.)
Total fertility rate: 4.96 children born/woman (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: 2.7% (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS: 60,000 (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths: 6,300 (2003 est.)
Major infectious diseases: degree of risk: high
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever
vectorborne disease: malaria (2008)
Nationality: noun: Eritrean(s)
adjective: Eritrean
Ethnic groups: Tigrinya 50%, Tigre and Kunama 40%, Afar 4%, Saho (Red Sea coast dwellers) 3%, other 3%
Religions: Muslim, Coptic Christian, Roman Catholic, Protestant
Languages: Afar, Arabic, Tigre and Kunama, Tigrinya, other Cushitic languages
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 58.6%
male: 69.9%
female: 47.6% (2003 est.)
Government Country name: conventional long form: State of Eritrea
conventional short form: Eritrea
local long form: Hagere Ertra
local short form: Ertra
former: Eritrea Autonomous Region in Ethiopia
Government type: transitional government
note: following a successful referendum on independence for the Autonomous Region of Eritrea on 23-25 April 1993, a National Assembly, composed entirely of the People's Front for Democracy and Justice or PFDJ, was established as a transitional legislature; a Constitutional Commission was also established to draft a constitution; ISAIAS Afworki was elected president by the transitional legislature; the constitution, ratified in May 1997, did not enter into effect, pending parliamentary and presidential elections; parliamentary elections were scheduled in December 2001, but were postponed indefinitely; currently the sole legal party is the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ)
Capital: name: Asmara (Asmera)
geographic coordinates: 15 20 N, 38 56 E
time difference: UTC+3 (8 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Administrative divisions: 6 regions (zobatat, singular - zoba); Anseba, Debub (Southern), Debubawi K'eyih Bahri (Southern Red Sea), Gash Barka, Ma'akel (Central), Semenawi Keyih Bahri (Northern Red Sea)
Independence: 24 May 1993 (from Ethiopia)
National holiday: Independence Day, 24 May (1993)
Constitution: a transitional constitution, decreed on 19 May 1993, was replaced by a new constitution adopted on 23 May 1997, but not yet implemented
Legal system: primary basis is the Ethiopian legal code of 1957, with revisions; new civil, commercial, and penal codes have not yet been promulgated; government also issues unilateral proclamations setting laws and policies; also relies on customary and post-independence-enacted laws and, for civil cases involving Muslims, Islamic law; does not accept compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal
Executive branch: chief of state: President ISAIAS Afworki (since 8 June 1993); note - the president is both the chief of state and head of government and is head of the State Council and National Assembly
head of government: President ISAIAS Afworki (since 8 June 1993)
cabinet: State Council is the collective executive authority; members appointed by the president
elections: president elected by the National Assembly for a five-year term (eligible for a second term); the most recent and only election held 8 June 1993 (next election date uncertain as the National Assembly did not hold a presidential election in December 2001 as anticipated)
election results: ISAIAS Afworki elected president; percent of National Assembly vote - ISAIAS Afworki 95%, other 5%
Legislative branch: unicameral National Assembly (150 seats; members elected by direct popular vote to serve five-year terms)
elections: in May 1997, following the adoption of the new constitution, 75 members of the PFDJ Central Committee (the old Central Committee of the EPLF), 60 members of the 527-member Constituent Assembly, which had been established in 1997 to discuss and ratify the new constitution, and 15 representatives of Eritreans living abroad were formed into a Transitional National Assembly to serve as the country's legislative body until countrywide elections to a National Assembly were held; although only 75 of 150 members of the Transitional National Assembly were elected, the constitution stipulates that once past the transition stage, all members of the National Assembly will be elected by secret ballot of all eligible voters; National Assembly elections scheduled for December 2001 were postponed indefinitely
Judicial branch: High Court - regional, subregional, and village courts; also have military and special courts
Political parties and leaders: People's Front for Democracy and Justice or PFDJ [ISAIAS Afworki] (the only party recognized by the government); note - a National Assembly committee drafted a law on political parties in January 2001, but the full National Assembly has not yet debated or voted on it
Political pressure groups and leaders: Eritrean Islamic Jihad or EIJ (also including Eritrean Islamic Jihad Movement or EIJM (also known as the Abu Sihel Movement)); Eritrean Islamic Salvation or EIS (also known as the Arafa Movement); Eritrean Liberation Front or ELF [ABDULLAH Muhammed]; Eritrean National Alliance or ENA (a coalition including EIJ, EIS, ELF, and a number of ELF factions) [HERUY Tedla Biru]; Eritrean Public Forum or EPF [ARADOM Iyob]; Eritrean Democratic Party (EDP) [HAGOS, Mesfin]
International organization participation: ACP, AfDB, AU, COMESA, FAO, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICCt (signatory), IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS (observer), ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, ISO (correspondent), ITU, ITUC, LAS (observer), MIGA, NAM, OPCW, PCA, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO
Diplomatic representation in the US: chief of mission: Ambassador GHIRMAI Ghebremariam
chancery: 1708 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20009
telephone: [1] (202) 319-1991
FAX: [1] (202) 319-1304
consulate(s) general: Oakland (California)
Diplomatic representation from the US: chief of mission: Ambassador Ronald MCMULLEN
embassy: 179 Alaa Street, Asmara
mailing address: P. O. Box 211, Asmara
telephone: [291] (1) 120004
FAX: [291] (1) 127584
Flag description: red isosceles triangle (based on the hoist side) dividing the flag into two right triangles; the upper triangle is green, the lower one is blue; a gold wreath encircling a gold olive branch is centered on the hoist side of the red triangle
Culture

The Eritrean region has traditionally been a nexus for trade throughout the world. Because of this, the influence of diverse cultures can be seen throughout Eritrea. Today, the most obvious influences in the capital, Asmara, are that of Italy. Throughout Asmara, there are small cafes serving beverages common to Italy. In Asmara, there is a clear merging of the Italian colonial influence with the traditional Tigrinya lifestyle. In the villages of Eritrea, these changes never took hold.

In the cities, before the Occupation and during the early years, the import of Bollywood films was commonplace, while Italian and American films were available in the cinemas as well. In the 1980s and since Independence, however, American films have certainly become the most common. Vying for market share are films by local producers, who have slowly come into their own. The global broadcast of Eri-TV has brought cultural images to the large Eritrean population in the Diaspora who frequents the country every summer. Successful domestic films are produced by government and independent studios with revenue from ticket sales typically covering the production costs.

Traditional Eritrean dress is quite varied with the Kunama traditionally dressing in brightly colored clothes while the Tigrinya and Tigre traditionally dress in bright white costumes, resembling traditional Oriental and Indian clothing. The Rashaida women are ornately bejeweled and scarfed.

Popular sports in Eritrea are football and bicycle racing. In recent years Eritrean athletes have seen increasing success in the international arena.

Almost unique on the African continent, the Tour of Eritrea is a bicycle race from the hot desert beaches of Massawa, up the winding mountain highway with its precipitous valleys and cliffs to the capital Asmara. From there, it continues downwards onto the western plains of the Gash-Barka Zone, only to return back to Asmara from the south. This is, by far, the most popular sport in Eritrea, though, as of late long-distance running has garnered its own supporters. The momentum for long-distance running in Eritrea can be seen in the successes of Zersenay Tadesse and Mebrahtom (Meb) Keflezighi, both Olympians.

Economy Economy - overview: Since independence from Ethiopia in 1993, Eritrea has faced the economic problems of a small, desperately poor country, accentuated by the recent implementation of restrictive economic policies. Eritrea has a command economy under the control of the sole political party, the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ). Like the economies of many African nations, the economy is largely based on subsistence agriculture, with 80% of the population involved in farming and herding. The Ethiopian-Eritrea war in 1998-2000 severely hurt Eritrea's economy. GDP growth fell to zero in 1999 and to -12.1% in 2000. The May 2000 Ethiopian offensive into northern Eritrea caused some $600 million in property damage and loss, including losses of $225 million in livestock and 55,000 homes. The attack prevented planting of crops in Eritrea's most productive region, causing food production to drop by 62%. Even during the war, Eritrea developed its transportation infrastructure, asphalting new roads, improving its ports, and repairing war-damaged roads and bridges. Since the war ended, the government has maintained a firm grip on the economy, expanding the use of the military and party-owned businesses to complete Eritrea's development agenda. The government strictly controls the use of foreign currency, limiting access and availability. Few private enterprises remain in Eritrea. Eritrea's economy is heavily dependent on taxes paid by members of the diaspora. Erratic rainfall and the delayed demobilization of agriculturalists from the military continue to interfere with agricultural production, and Eritrea's recent harvests have not been able to meet the food needs of the country. The government continues to place its hope for additional revenue on the development of several international mining projects. Despite difficulties for international companies in working with the Eritrean government, a Canadian mining company signed a contract with the GSE in 2007 and plans to begin mineral extraction in 2010. Eritrea also anticipates opening a free trade zone at the port of Massawa in 2008. Eritrea's economic future depends upon its ability to master social problems such as illiteracy, unemployment, and low skills, and more importantly, on the government's willingness to support a true market economy.
GDP (purchasing power parity): $4.751 billion (2006 est.)
GDP (official exchange rate): $1.425 billion (2007 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 2% (2007 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP): $1,000 (2007 est.)
GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 21.7%
industry: 22.6%
services: 55.7% (2007 est.)
Labor force: NA
Labor force - by occupation: agriculture: 80%
industry and services: 20% (2004 est.)
Unemployment rate: NA%
Population below poverty line: 50% (2004 est.)
Household income or consumption by percentage share: lowest 10%: NA%
highest 10%: NA%
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 15.5% (2007 est.)
Investment (gross fixed): 21% of GDP (2007 est.)
Budget: revenues: $232.7 million
expenditures: $467.6 million (2007 est.)
Agriculture - products: sorghum, lentils, vegetables, corn, cotton, tobacco, sisal; livestock, goats; fish
Industries: food processing, beverages, clothing and textiles, light manufacturing, salt, cement
Industrial production growth rate: 2% (2007 est.)
Electricity - production: 274 million kWh (2005)
Electricity - production by source: fossil fuel: 100%
hydro: 0%
nuclear: 0%
other: 0% (2001)
Electricity - consumption: 228 million kWh (2005)
Electricity - exports: 0 kWh (2005)
Electricity - imports: 0 kWh (2005)
Oil - production: 0 bbl/day (2005 est.)
Oil - consumption: 5,000 bbl/day (2005 est.)
Oil - exports: 54.59 bbl/day (2004)
Oil - imports: 4,924 bbl/day (2004)
Oil - proved reserves: 0 bbl (1 January 2006 est.)
Natural gas - production: 0 cu m (2005 est.)
Natural gas - consumption: 0 cu m (2005 est.)
Natural gas - exports: 0 cu m (2005 est.)
Natural gas - imports: 0 cu m (2005)
Natural gas - proved reserves: 0 cu m (1 January 2006 est.)
Current account balance: -$343.1 million (2007 est.)
Exports: $16.82 million f.o.b. (2007 est.)
Exports - commodities: livestock, sorghum, textiles, food, small manufactures (2000)
Exports - partners: Italy 26.7%, France 13.8%, Australia 8.2%, Sudan 7.9%, US 7.8%, China 6.2%, Saudi Arabia 5.5%, Jordan 5.2% (2006)
Imports: $565.9 million f.o.b. (2007 est.)
Imports - commodities: machinery, petroleum products, food, manufactured goods
Imports - partners: Italy 15.8%, Saudi Arabia 15.7%, China 15.6%, Netherlands 6.7%, Turkey 6.2%, Germany 5.3%, Brazil 4.3% (2006)
Economic aid - recipient: $355.2 million (2005)
Reserves of foreign exchange and gold: $22.08 million (31 December 2007 est.)
Debt - external: $311 million (2000 est.)
Currency (code): nakfa (ERN)
Currency code: ERN
Exchange rates: nakfa (ERN) per US dollar - 15.5 (2007), 15.4 (2006), 14.5 (2005), 13.788 (2004), 13.878 (2003)
note: the official exchange rate is 15 nakfa to the dollar
Fiscal year: calendar year
Communications Telephones - main lines in use: 37,700 (2006)
Telephones - mobile cellular: 62,000 (2006)
Telephone system: general assessment: inadequate
domestic: inadequate; most telephones are in Asmara; government is seeking international tenders to improve the system (2002)
international: country code - 291; note - international connections exist
Radio broadcast stations: AM 2, FM NA, shortwave 2 (2000)
Radios: 345,000 (1997)
Television broadcast stations: 2 (2006)
Televisions: 1,000 (1997)
Internet country code: .er
Internet hosts: 1,446 (2007)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 5 (2001)
Internet users: 100,000 (2006)
Transportation Airports: 18 (2007)
Airports - with paved runways: total: 4
over 3,047 m: 2
2,438 to 3,047 m: 2 (2007)
Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 14
over 3,047 m: 1
2,438 to 3,047 m: 1
1,524 to 2,437 m: 6
914 to 1,523 m: 4
under 914 m: 2 (2007)
Heliports: 1 (2007)
Railways: total: 306 km
narrow gauge: 306 km 0.950-m gauge (2006)
Roadways: total: 4,010 km
paved: 874 km
unpaved: 3,136 km (1999)
Merchant marine: total: 5 ships (1000 GRT or over) 12,529 GRT/15,023 DWT
by type: cargo 2, liquefied gas 1, petroleum tanker 1, roll on/roll off 1 (2007)
Ports and terminals: Assab, Massawa
Military Military branches: Eritrean Armed Forces: Ground Forces, Navy, Air Force (2008)
Military service age and obligation: 18-40 years of age for male and female voluntary and compulsory military service; 16-month conscript service obligation (2006)
Manpower available for military service: males age 18-49: 893,361
females age 18-49: 891,662 (2005 est.)
Manpower fit for military service: males age 18-49: 555,553
females age 18-49: 562,426 (2005)
Manpower reaching military service age annually: males age 18-49: 50,156
females age 18-49: 49,746 (2005 est.)
Military expenditures - percent of GDP: 6.3% (2006 est.)
Transnational Issues Disputes - international: Eritrea and Ethiopia agreed to abide by 2002 Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission's (EEBC) delimitation decision but, neither party responded to the revised line detailed in the November 2006 EEBC Demarcation Statement; UN Peacekeeping Mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), which has monitored the 25-km-wide Temporary Security Zone in Eritrea since 2000, is extended for six months in 2007 despite Eritrean restrictions on its operations and reduced force of 17,000; Sudan accuses Eritrea of supporting eastern Sudanese rebel groups
Refugees and internally displaced persons: IDPs: 40,000-45,000 (border war with Ethiopia from 1998-2000; most IDPs are near the central border region) (2006)