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Eritrea ( , ) (Ge'ez: , Arabic: إرتريا Iritriya), officially the State of Eritrea, is a country in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Sudanmarker in the west, Ethiopiamarker in the south, and Djiboutimarker in the southeast. The east and northeast of the country have an extensive coastline on the Red Seamarker, directly across from Saudi Arabiamarker and Yemenmarker. The Dahlak Archipelagomarker and several of the Hanish Islandsmarker are part of Eritrea. Its size is just under with an estimated population of 5 million. The capital is Asmaramarker.

The history of the land that is now called Eritrea, in one way or another, is associated with its coastline on the Red Sea, which extends more than 1000 km. From across the seas came various invaders (and colonizers) such as the South Arabians hailing from the present-day Yemen area, the Ottoman Turks, the Portugese from Goa (India), the Egyptians, the British and, in the 19th century, the Italians. Over the centuries, invaders also came from the neighboring countries of Africa to the south (Ethiopia) and to the west (Sudan). However, present-day Eritrea was largely impacted by the Italian invaders in the 19th century. In the period following the opening of the Suez canal in 1869, when European powers scrambled for territory in Africa and tried to establish refuling bases for their ships, Italy invaded and occupied Eritrea. On January 1, 1890 Eritrea offically became a colony of Italy. In 1936 it became a province of Italian East Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana), along with Ethiopia and Italian Somaliland. The British armed forces expelled those of Italy in 1941 and took over the administration of the country which had been set up by the Italians. The British continued to administer the territory under a UN Mandate until 1951 when Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia as per UN resolution 390(A) under the prompting of the United States adopted in December 1950; the resolution was adopted after a referendum to consult the people of Eritrea.

The strategic importance of Eritrea — because of its Red Sea coastline and mineral resources — was the main cause for the federation with Ethiopia, which was the first step in the annexing of Eritrea as its 14th province in 1962, even though many nations favored independence. This was the culmination of a gradual process of takeover by the Ethiopian authorities, a process which included a 1959 edict establishing the compulsory teaching of Amharic, the main language of Ethiopia, in all Eritrean schools. The lack of regard for the Eritrean population led to the formation of an independence movement in the early 1960s, which erupted into a 30-year war against successive Ethiopian governments that ended in 1991. Following a UN-supervised referendum in Eritrea (dubbed UNOVER) in which the Eritrean people overwhelmingly voted for independence, Eritrea declared its independence and gained international recognition in 1993.

English is used in the government's international communication and is the language of instruction in all formal education beyond the fifth grade.

Eritrea is a single-party state. Though its constitution, adopted in 1997, stipulates that the state is a presidential republic with a unicameral parliamentary democracy, it has yet to be implemented. According to the government, this is due to the prevailing border conflict with Ethiopia, which began in May 1998.



One of the oldest hominids, representing a possible link between Homo erectus and an archaic Homo sapiens, was found in Buya (Eritrean Danakil) in 1995 by Italianmarker scientists. The cranium was found to be over 1 million years old. Furthermore, in 1999, the Eritrean Research Project Team discovered some of the earliest evidence of human tool-use in the harvesting of marine resources. The site contained obsidian tools dated to the paleolithic era, over 125,000 years old. Epipaleolithic or mesolithic cave paintings in central and northern Eritrea attest to early hunter-gatherers in this region. An American paleontologist, William Sanders of the University of Michiganmarker, also discovered a possible missing link between ancient and modern elephants in the form of the fossilized remains of a pig-sized creature in Eritrea. The fossil, which is 27 million years old, pushes the origins of elephants and mastodons five million years further into the past and indicates that modern elephants originated in Africa.

Pre-colonial civilization

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 frankincense. The geographical location of the missions to Punt is described as roughly corresponding to the southern west coast of the Red Seamarker. The name Eritrea is a rendition of the ancient Greek name Ἐρυθραία, Erythraía, meaning the "Red Land". 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.

In the highlands, especially in Asmara's suburbs, scores of ancient sites have been documented, including Sembel, Mai Chiot, Ona Gudo, Mai Temenai, Weki Duba and Mai Hutsa. Mostly dating to the early and mid-1st millennium BCE (800 to 350 BCE), these communities consisted of small towns, villages, and hamlets built of stone. The proximity of these ancient communities to gold mines suggest that part of their prosperity was linked to the mining and processing of gold. Around the mid-1st millennium, several sites with Sabaean remains (inscriptions, artifacts, and monuments) seem to emerge in the central highlands, for example, at Keskese. Between the eighth and fifth century BCE, a kingdom known as D'mt was supposedly established in what is today Eritrea and the Tigray province of northern Ethiopia.

After D'mt's decline around the fifth century BC, the state of Aksum arose in much of Eritrea and the northern Ethiopian Highlandsmarker. It grew during the fourth century BC and came into prominence during the first century AD, minting its own coins by the third century, and converting in the fourth century to Christianity, thereby becoming the second official Christian state (after Armeniamarker), 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 and the Arab invasion and subsequent destruction of Adulis, Aksum's main port city, Aksum's trade and power on the Red Sea began to decline and the empire gradually diminished and was overtaken by smaller rival kingdoms.

During the medieval period, contemporary with and following the gradual disintegration of the Aksumite state between the 9th and 10th centuries, 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 northwestern Eritrea had largely come under the domination of the Beja, a Cushitic people from northeastern Sudanmarker. The Beja brought Islam to large parts of Eritrea and connected the region to the greater Islamic world. Nonetheless, Christians of the Axumite era continued to inhabit these areas and retain their religion.

In the main highland area and adjacent coastline of what were previously Muslim (Beja) ruled areas, a Christian Kingdom called Midir Bahr or Midri Bahri (Tigrinya for land of the sea) arose, ruled by the Bahr Negus or Bahr Negash, ("ruler of the sea") emerged in the 15th century. The southeastern parts of Eritrea, inhabited by the independent Afar since ancient times, came to form part of the Islamic Adal Sultanate in the early 13th century. Parts of the southwestern lowlands of Eritrea were under the dominion of the then Christian/Animist Funj Sultanate of Sinnar.

An invading force of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, under Suleiman I, conquered Massawamarker in 1557 from the Christians, building what is now considered the "old town" of Massawa on Batsi island. They also conquered the towns of Hergigomarker and Debarwamarker, the capital city of Yeshaq, the contemporary Christian Bahr Negus, before being repulsed back to the coast by 1578. The Ottomans remained in control of the important ports of Massawa and Hergigo and their environs, and maintained their dominion over the coastal areas for nearly 300 years, absorbing the coastal areas of the disintegrated Adal Sultanate as vassals in the 16th century. The Funj Sultanate of Sinnar converted to Islam in the 16th century but maintained independent control of the southwestern areas of Eritrea until being absorbed into the Ottoman Empire in the early 19th century.

With the feudal rule of the Bahr Negus in the predominantly Christian highland interior severely weakened from the 17th century up until modern times, the area was dubbed Mereb Mellash by locals and neighboring Ethiopians alike, meaning "beyond the Mereb" (in Tigrinya). This name defined the territory as being north of the Mareb Rivermarker which to this day is a natural boundary between the modern states of Eritrea and Ethiopia. Roughly the same area also came to be referred to as Hamasienmarker, a name that survived until modern times, designating a much smaller area (province) immediately surrounding the capital Asmara, until being absorbed into the new administrative divisions in 1994. In these areas, feudal authority was particularly weak or nonexistent, and the autonomy of the landowning peasantry was particularly strong; a kind of republican rule was prevalent, governed by local customary laws legislated by elected elder's councils (shimagile). In 1770, the Scottish researcher James Bruce describes Hamasien and Abyssinia as "different countries who are often fighting" (SUKE, p. 25).


Italianmarker colonisation began arguably with the purchase of the locality of Assabmarker by a Roman Catholic priest by the name of Giuseppe Sapeto acting on behalf of a Genovesemarker shipping company called "Rubattino" who bought the land from the Afar Sultan of Obock (a vassal of the Ottomans) in 1869. This happened in the same year as the opening of the Suez Canalmarker. 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 in 1879 bought the Rubattino company's holdings and from 1882 expanded its possessions northward along the Red Sea coast toward and beyond Massawa, encroaching on and quickly expelling previous 'Egyptian' possessions but meeting stiffer resistance in the Eritrean highlands from the invading army of the Emperor Yohannes IV of Ethiopia.

"Colonia Primigenia"

Italy declared Eritrea a territory of Italy as of New Years Day 1890. The Kingdom of Italy ruled Eritrea from 1890 to 1941. Approximately 100,000 Italian colonists settled during the 1930s in the Colonia Primigenia (as Eritrea was called by the Italians, meaning they considered Eritrea their first and most important colony), mainly in Asmaramarker.

Between 1936 and 1941, dictator Benito Mussolini briefly created the Italian Empire, with the short-lived union of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Italian Somaliland. 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, until they were defeated by Allied forces in 1941, and Eritrea came under British administration.

In the Peace Treaty of February 1947, Italy surrendered all her colonies, including Eritrea. While under Britishmarker trusteeship, the United Nations decided after a lengthy inquiry regarding the status of Eritrea, to federate it with Ethiopiamarker in 1950.

Struggle for independence

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

Barely 10 years into the federation with Ethiopia, in 1961, the 30-year Eritrean Struggle for Independence began, following the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I's dissolution of the federation and shutting down of Eritrea's parliament.

The Emperor declared Eritrea the fourteenth province of Ethiopia in 1962. Eritreans formed the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and rebelled.

The ELF was initially a conservative grass-roots movement dominated by Muslim lowlanders. The ELF received backing from Nasser's Egyptmarker as part of a policy of expanding Arab Nationalist political influence in the region (some Eritreans were Arabic-speakers - one of the rather loose conditions for being part of the 'Arab Nation'). Ethiopia's imperial government received support from the United States which had established a radio listening base, called The Kagnew Base, in Eritrea's Ethiopian-occupied capital, Asmara. Internal divisions within the ELF based on religion, ideology, ethnicity, clan and, sometimes, personalities, 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 the 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 fervor. 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 Nakfamarker came to symbolize the Eritrean struggle. (The Eritrean currency is named after it.)

The numbers of the EPLF swelled in the 1980s. 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 neighboring states hostile to Ethiopia's government Somaliamarker and Sudanmarker (although the support of the latter turned into hostility in agreement with Ethiopia during the Gaafar Nimeiry administration between 1971 and 1985) as well as Ethiopian resistance and separatist movements. 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. 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, a massive Ethiopian military offensive against Eritrean rebels backfired with a third of the Ethiopian army annihilated in the northern Eritrean town of Afabetmarker.

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 the 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, the Ethiopian army finally capitulated and its leader Mengistu Hailemariam fled to Zimbabwemarker where he resides to this day. Eritrean rebels entered the capital Asmara and began to govern Eritrea on May 24, 1991. The new Ethiopian government consisting of a coalition of Ethiopian resistance and separatist movements allied with Eritrea's rebels, 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.


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.

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, based on the labour of national servicemen and women. It is still ongoing and deploys the enlisted, which consists of any one male or female who has graduated high school, into a combination of duties ranging from military service to construction projects, health care, teaching and training/education 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 licenses and other privileges for nationals etc), while at the same time encouraging tourism and investment both from Eritreans living abroad and other foreign investors. This has been complicated by Eritrea's tumultuous relations with its neighbours, lack of stability and subsequent political problems.

Eritrea severed diplomatic relations with Sudanmarker 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 in 2005 following a reconciliation agreement reached with the help of Qatarmarker's negotiation in 1999. Eritrea now plays a prominent role in the internal Sudanese peace and reconciliation effort.

Perhaps the conflict with the deepest impact on independent Eritrea has been the renewed hostility with Ethiopia. In 1998, a border warmarker with Ethiopiamarker over the town of Badmemarker occurred. The Eritrean-Ethiopian Warmarker 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 1998. 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 Badmemarker to Eritrea. However, Ethiopia refused to withdraw its military from positions in the disputed areas, including Badme, and also refused to implement the EEBC's ruling, and the dispute is ongoing.

Eritrea's diplomatic relations with Djibouti were briefly severed during the border war with Ethiopia in 1998 due to a dispute over Djibouti's intimate relation with Ethiopia during the war but were restored and normalized in 2000. Relations are again tense due to a renewed border dispute. Similarly, Eritrea and Yemen had a border conflict between 1996 to 1998 over the Hanish Islandsmarker and the maritime border, which was resolved in 2000 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague.

Politics and government

Eritrea is a authoritarian single-party state, run by the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ). Other political groups are not allowed to organise, although the non-implemented Constitution of 1997 provides for the existence of multi-party politics. The National Assembly has 150 seats, of which 75 are occupied by the PFDJ. 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.marker State Departmentmarker declared Eritrea a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for its record of religious persecution.

National elections

Eritrean National elections were set for 1995 and then postponed until 2001; it was then decided that because 20% of Eritrea's land was under occupation, elections would be postponed until the resolution of the conflict with Ethiopia. However, local elections have continued in Eritrea. The most recent round of local government elections were held in May 2004. On further elections, the President's Chief of Staff, Yemane Ghebremeskel said,

Regions and districts

Eritrea is divided into six regions (zobas) and subdivided into districts ("sub-zobas"). The geographical extent of the regions is based on their respective hydrological properties. This a dual intent on the part of the Eritrean government: to provide each administration with sufficient control over its agricultural capacity, and to eliminate historical intra-regional conflicts.

The regions, followed by the sub-region, are:
No. Region ( ) Sub-region ( )
1 Centralmarker

( )
Berikh, Ghala-Nefhi, Semienawi Mibraq, Serejaka, Debubawi Mibraq, Semienawi Mi'erab, Debubawi Mi'erab
2 Southern

( )
Adi Keyhmarker, Adi Qualamarker, Areza, Debarwamarker, Dekemhare, Mai Ayni, Mai Mne, Mendefera, Segeneitimarker, Senafemarker, Tserona
3 Gash-Barkamarker

( )
Agordatmarker, Barentu, Dghe, Forto, Gogne, Haykota, Logo-Anseba, Mensura, Mogolo, Molki, Guluj, Shambuko, Tesseney, La'elay Gash
4 Anseba

( )
Adi Tekelezanmarker, Asmat, Elabered, Geleb, Hagaz, Halhal, Habero, Kerenmarker City, Kerkebet, Sel'a
5 Northern Red Seamarker

( )
Afabetmarker, Dahlakmarker, Ghel'alo, Foro, Ghindamarker, Karura, Massawamarker, Nakfamarker, She'eb
6 Southern Red Seamarker

( )
Are'eta, Central Dankalia, Southern Dankalia, Assabmarker

Foreign relations

Eritrea is a full member of the African Union (AU), the successor of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). But it has withdrawn its representative to the AU in protest of the AU's alleged lack of leadership in facilitating the implementation of a binding border decision demarcating the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Relations with the West

Eritrea's relationship with the United Statesmarker is complicated. Although the two nations have a close working relationship regarding the on-going war on terror, there has been a growing tension in other areas. Relations worsened in October 2008 when U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Jendayi Frazer, called the nation a 'state sponsor of terrorism' and the U.S. government might add Eritrea to its list of rogue states, along with Iranmarker and Sudanmarker. The reason for this is the presence of Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, an exiled Somali Islamist leader, whom the U.S. suspects of having links to Al Qaeda, at a recent Somali opposition conference in Asmaramarker.

Eritrea's relationship with Italy and the EU is still reasonably strong and does not seem to be as strained as is its relationship with the U.S. On 27 January 2009, the Netherlands Ambassador Yoka Brandt, Director General of International Development Cooperation, paid an official visit to the country for bilateral talks with President Isaias' government, which were held in Massawa.

During the week of August 2, 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed that Eritrea is supplying weapons to the Somalian militant group al-Shabab. Eritrea again denied this accusation in a public statement the next day, however the United Statesmarker, with backing from the African Union, has announced it is ready to pursue sanctions.

Relations with neighboring countries

Eritrea's relations with its neighbors have been strained due to a series of wars and disputes. These include an undemarcated border with Sudanmarker, a war with Yemenmarker over the Hanish Islandsmarker in 1996, and a recent border conflict with Ethiopiamarker.

The undemarcated border with Sudan has posed a problem for Eritrean external relations for most of the nation's existence. However, after a high-level delegation to Sudan from the Eritrean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, relations have been somewhat normalized. Meanwhile, Eritrea has been recognized as a broker for peace between the separate factions of the Sudanese civil war: "It is known that Eritrea played a role in bringing about the peace agreement [between the Southern Sudanese and Government]," In addition, the Sudanese government and Eastern Front rebels requested Eritrea to mediate peace talks in 2006.

A dispute with Yemenmarker over the Hanish Islandsmarker in 1996 resulted in a brief war. As part of an agreement to cease hostilities the two nations agreed to refer the issue to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Haguemarker in 1998. Yemen was granted full ownership of the larger islands while Eritrea was awarded the peripheral islands to the southwest of the larger islands. At the conclusion of the proceedings, both nations acquiesced to the decision. Since 1996 both governments have remained wary of one another but relations are relatively normal.

A train tunnel on the Eritrean Plateau.
The undemarcated border with Ethiopia is the primary external issue currently facing Eritrea. Eritrea's relations with Ethiopia turned from that of cautious mutual tolerance, following the 30-year war for Eritrean independence, to a deadly rivalry that led to the outbreak of hostilities from May 1998 to June 2000 in which has claimed approximately 70,000 Eritrean and Ethiopian casualties. The claim also stated that each family that lost a member in the war would receive $350 in indemnity, but this number has not been verified, although it has been often cited by other groups (see Number of war dead soldiers reportedly 123,000 – internet news message; and audio button), and no indemnities have been paid . were killed. As a result, the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) is meant to be occupying a 25 kilometers by 900 kilometers area on the border to help stabilize the region.

Disagreements following the war have resulted in stalemate punctuated by periods of elevated tension and renewed threats of war. The stalemate led the President of Eritrea to urge the UN to take action on Ethiopia with the Eleven Letters penned by the President to the United Nations Security Council. The situation is further escalated by the continued efforts of the Eritrean and Ethiopian leaders in supporting opposition in their counterpart's countries. On July 26, 2007, the Associated Press reported that Eritrea had been supplying weapons to the Somali insurgent group Al-Shabaab, which is allegedly tied to al Qaeda, but no evidence of this has been discovered. The incident has fueled concerns that Somaliamarker may become the grounds for a de facto war between Eritrea and Ethiopiamarker.

Amid fears of an emerging Islamic and nationalist Somalia, Ethiopia with US assistance invaded Somalia, putting in place the weak and locally unpopular UN/AU-backed Transitional Federal Government, which without Ethiopian support had been unable to exercise any control beyond its base in Baidoamarker and along the Ethio-Somali border. For its part, Eritrea is hosting members of the ousted Union of Islamic Courts and the Somali Free Parliament. The Eritrean government has been accused of sponsoring, arming and hosting numerous militant leaderships and separatist rebels in the horn of Africa.

According to the United States, Isaias's government is "sponsoring and supporting the rebel groups" who are "also attacking civilians and are a part of the problem in Darfurmarker." According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Eritrean government was coercing the Somali Islamist opposition group Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) so that the peace talks in Somalia will fail. In its report, HRW stated that:
"Eritrea's efforts to control the ARS and coerce its leaders into rejecting the idea of a negotiated peace were a primary reason that the mainstream core of the opposition alliance relocated to Djibouti in 2008.
Eritrea continues to play host to a small breakaway faction of the ARS led by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys and has reportedly continued to provide weapons and funds to abusive insurgent groups.
One member of the ARS central committee in Djibouti told Human Rights Watch that, "Eritrea will make a maximum effort to make the [Djibouti peace] agreement fail."


Eritrean highlands.

Eritrea is located in Northeast Africa, more specifically in the Horn of Africa, and is bordered on the northeast and east by the Red Seamarker. The country is virtually bisected by one of the world's longest mountain ranges, the Great Rift Valley, with fertile lands to the west, descending to desert in the east. Eritrea, at the southern end of the Red Sea is the home of the fork, in the rift. The Dahlak Archipelagomarker and its fishing grounds are situated off the sandy and arid coastline. The land to the south, in the highlands, is slightly drier and cooler.

The Afar Trianglemarker or Danakil Depression of Eritrea is the probable location of a triple junction where three tectonic plates are pulling away from one another: the Arabian Plate, and the two parts of the African Plate (the Nubian and the Somali plate) splitting along the East African Rift Zone (USGS). The highest point of the country, Emba Soiramarker, is located in the center of Eritrea, at above sea level.

The main cities of the country are the capital city of Asmaramarker and the port town of Assebmarker in the southeast, as well as the towns of Massawamarker to the east, and Kerenmarker to the north.


Houses in the Gash-Barka region of Eritrea.
Eritrea formerly supported a large population of elephants. The Ptolemaic kings of Egypt used the country as a source of war elephants in the third century BC. Between 1955 and 2001 there were no reported sightings of elephant herds, and they are thought to have fallen victim to the war of independence. In December 2001 a herd of about 30, including 10 juveniles, was observed in the vicinity of the Gash Rivermarker. The elephants seemed to have formed a symbiotic relationship with olive baboons. It is estimated that there are around 100 elephants left in Eritrea, the most northerly of East Africa's elephants. The endangered Painted Hunting Dog (lycaon pictus) was previously found in Eritrea, but is now deemed extirpated from the entire country.

In 2006, Eritrea announced it would become the first country in the world to turn its entire coast into an environmentally protected zone. The 1,347 km (837 mile) coastline, along with another 1,946 km (1,209-miles) of coast around its more than 350 islands, will come under governmental protection.


Like the economies of many other African nations, the economy is largely based on subsistence agriculture, with 80% of the population involved in farming and herding. Drought has often created trouble in the farming areas.

The Eritrean-Ethiopian Warmarker severely hurt Eritrea's economy. GDP growth in 1999 fell to less than 1%, and GDP decreased by 8.2% in 2000. In May 2000, Ethiopian offensive into southern 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 as a part of the Warsay Yika'alo Program. The most significant of these projects was the building of a coastal highway of more than 500 km connecting Massawamarker with Assebmarker as well as the rehabilitation of the Eritrean Railway. The rail line now runs between the Port of Massawa and the capital Asmara.

Eritrea's economic future remains mixed. The cessation of Ethiopian trade, which mainly used Eritrean ports before the war, leaves Eritrea with a large economic hole to fill. Eritrea's economic future depends upon its ability to master fundamental social problems like illiteracy, and low skills.

As of May 6, 2008 Eritrea is the most expensive place in the world to buy fuel. At $9.58 per gallon, gasoline is 85¢ a gallon higher than in the next most expensive country, Norway.



A map indicating the ethnic composition of Eritrea.

Eritrean society is ethnically heterogeneous. An independent census has yet to be conducted, but the Tigrinya people and the Tigre people together make up about 80% of the population. These form the bulk of the country's predominantly Semitic-speaking population.

The rest of the population is from other Afro-Asiatic groups such as the Saho, Hedareb, Afar, and Bilen. These Cushitic-speaking peoples are thought to be the oldest inhabitants of the Horn of Africa.

There are also a number of Nilotic peoples who are represented in Eritrea by the Kunama and Nara.

Each ethnicity speaks a different native tongue but, typically, many of the minorities speak more than one language.

There exist minorities of Italian Eritreans (concentrated in Asmara) and Ethiopian Tigrayans. Neither is generally given citizenship unless through marriage or, more rarely, by having it conferred upon them by the State.

The most recent addition to the nationalities of Eritrea is the Rashaida. The Rashaida came to Eritrea in the 19th century from the Arabian Coast. The Rashaida intermarried with the Tigre and Beja clans, and are typically nomadic, and number approximately 61,000, less than 1% of the population.

Ethnic groups with low population have little influence on life in Eritrea.


Many languages are spoken in Eritrea today.There is no official language as such, as the Constitution establishes the "equality of all Eritrean languages" but Tigrinya and Arabic are the two predominant languages for official purposes. Italian and English are also widely understood.Most of the languages spoken in Eritrea stem from the Semitic and Cushitic branches of the Afro-Asiatic language family. The Semitic languages in Eritrea are Tigre, Tigrinya, the newly recognized Dahlik and the Arabic (spoken natively by the Rashaida Arabs); these languages (primarily Tigre and Tigrinya) are spoken as a first language by over 80% of the population. The Cushitic languages in Eritrea are just as numerous, including Afar, Beja, Blin, and Saho. Kunama and Nara are also spoken in Eritrea and belong to the Nilo-Saharan language family. English is spoken to a degree by more educated Eritreans and a legacy of British occupation. Amharic is spoken by most elder Eritreans educated before independence and those who lived in Ethiopia. Italian is a legacy of colonial times.


There are five levels of education in Eritrea: pre-primary, primary, middle, secondary, and post-secondary. There are nearly 238,000 students in the primary, middle, and secondary levels of education. There are approximately 824 schools in Eritrea and two universities (University of Asmara and the Institute of Science and Technology) as well as several smaller colleges and technical schools.

One of the most important goals of Eritrea's education policy is to provide basic education in each of Eritrea's mother tongues, as well as to develop a self-motivated and conscientious population to fight poverty and disease. Furthermore it is tooled to produce a society that is equipped with the necessary skills to function in the modern economy.

The education system in Eritrea is also designed to promote private sector schooling, equal access for all groups (i.e., to prevent gender discrimination, ethnic discrimination, and class discrimination) and promote continuing education, both formally and informally.

Education in Eritrean include kindergartens for young children of both genders.

Barriers to education in Eritrea include traditional taboos, school fees (for registration and materials), and the opportunity costs of low-income households.


Eritrea has two dominant religions, Islam and Christianity, with approximately half of the population belonging to each faith. Most Muslims follow Sunni Islam. The Christians consist primarily of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church, which is the local Oriental Orthodox church, while considerable groups of Roman Catholics (including Italian Eritreans), Protestants, and other denominations also exist.

Since May 2002, the Government of Eritrea has officially recognized the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church, Sunni Islam, Catholicism, and the Evangelical Lutheran church. All other faiths and denominations are required to undergo a registration process. Among other things, the Government's registration system requires religious groups to submit personal information on their membership to be allowed to worship. The few organizations that have met all of the registration requirements have still not received official recognition.

Jehovah's Witnesses, Bahá'í Faith, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and numerous Protestant denominations are not registered and cannot worship freely. They have effectively been banned, and measures have been taken against their adherents. Many have been incarcerated for months or even years. Three named men are known to have been imprisoned since 1994. None have been charged officially or given access to the judicial process. In its 2006 religious freedom report, the U.S. State Department for the third year in a row named Eritrea a "Country of Particular Concern", designating it one of the worst violators of religious freedom in the world.

There is one last native Jew in Eritrea, formerly from a community of hundreds in Asmara, whose ancestors had crossed from Aden in the late 19th century.


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 those 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 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 women of most lowland ethnicities traditionally dressing in brightly colored clothes, while the Tigrinya traditionally dress in bright white costumes. Of the Muslim ethnicities, only the Arab or Rashaida tribeswomen maintain a tradition of covering their faces.

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, is the Tour of Eritrea, whose first race was created by the Italians in 1946. The Tour 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.

Recently long-distance running has garnered its own supporters. The momentum for long-distance running in Eritrea can be seen in the successes of Zersenay Tadese.

See also


  1. Regions of Eritrea (accessed Nov 17, 2009)
  2. " . Library of Congress. Retrieved 18 July 2006
  4. Peter Schmidt, Matthew Curtis, and Zelalem Teka, The Ancient Ona Communities of the First Millennium BCE: Urban Precursors and Independent Development on the Asmara Plateau. In The Archaeology of Ancient Eritrea, eds. P. R. Schmidt, M. C. Curtis, and Z. Teka. Trenton NJ: Red Sea Press, 2008, pp. 109-162.
  5. Matthew Curtis, New Perspectives for Examining Change and Complexity in the Northern Horn of Africa during the First Millennium BCE. In The Archaeology of Ancient Eritrea, eds. P. R. Schmidt, M. C. Curtis, and Z. Teka. Trenton, NJ: Red Sea Press, 2008, pp. 329-348.
  6. Stuart Munro-Hay, Aksum: An African Civilization of Late Antiquity. Edinburgh: University Press, 1991, pp.57.
  7. Taddesse Tamrat, Church and State in Ethiopia: 1270-1527 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972), pp.5-13.
  9. Daniel Kendie, The Five Dimensions of the Eritrean Conflict 1941 – 2004: Deciphering the Geo-Political Puzzle (United States of America: Signature Book Printing, 2005), pp. 17-8.
  10. Daniel Kendie, The Five Dimensions of the Eritrean Conflict
  11. Dennis J. Duncanson Sir'at 'Adkeme Milga'. A Native Law Code of Eritrea
  12. Semere Haile The Origins and Demise of the Ethiopia-Eritrea Federation Issue: A Journal of Opinion, Vol. 15, 1987 (1987), pp. 9-17
  13. Killion, Tom (1998). Historical Dictionary of Eritrea. ISBN 0-8108-3437-5.
  15. Warsai-Yikalo Campaign for Radical Development Change
  16. US Department of State's travel page for Eritrea (accessed Nov 17, 2009)
  17. Sudan-Eritrea: Reconciliation Agreement Signed, 5/3/99 at the University of Pennsylvania African Studies Center (accessed Nov 17, 2009)
  18. Sudan, Eritrea resume severed diplomatic relations
  19. East Africa: Darfur And Somalia - Two Peace Efforts, Different Strokes (Page 1 of 3)
  20. Eritrea-Ethiopia Conflict Information Page
  21. Djibouti - Foreign policy
  23. PCA - Documents: Eritrea-Yemen Award - CHAPTER I
  24. Shinn, Historical Dictionary of Ethiopia, p. 149
  25. Accounts of rebels in Eritrea
  26. HRW report on Somalia: Eritrea, Ethiopia roles
  27. C. Michael Hogan (2009) Painted Hunting Dog: Lycaon pictus,, ed. N. Stromberg
  28. An Environmental Impact Assessment of African Armyworm Control in Eritrea: An Amendment to the "Eritrean Supplemental Environmental Assessment For Grasshopper And Locust Control".
  30. Languages of Eritrea - Tigrinya
  31. The first Tour of Eritrea (in italian)


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External links


General information
  • Eritrea from UCB Libraries GovPubs

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