Eritrea (Ge'ez: ኤርትራ ʾErtrā, Arabic: إرتريا Iritriya), officially the State of Eritrea, is a country in Northeast Africa. It is bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast. The east and northeast of the country have an extensive coastline on the Red Sea, directly across from Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The Dahlak Archipelago and several of the Hanish Islands are part of Eritrea.
Italy conquered Eritrea and the Italian government formally consolidated it into a colony on January 1, 1890. Before this event, most of Eritrea's history is mostly interconnected with Ethiopia - being part of the Ethiopian Aksumite Empire, ancient Abyssinia and others - until 1991. In 1936 it became a province of Italian East Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana), along with Ethiopia and Italian Somaliland. The British expelled the Italians in 1941 and continued to administer the territory under a UN mandate until 1951 when Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia as per UN resolution 390(A) adopted in December 1950.
Increasing unrest and resistance in Eritrea against the federation with Ethiopia eventually led to a decision by the Ethiopian government to annex Eritrea as its 14th province in 1962. An Eritrean independence movement formed in the early 1960s which later erupted into a 31-year long civil 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 from Ethiopia, Eritrea declared its independence and gained international recognition in 1993. Eritrea's constitution, adopted in 1997, stipulates that the state is a presidential republic with a unicameral parliamentary democracy. The constitution, however, has not yet been implemented fully due, according to the government, to the prevailing border conflict with Ethiopia which began in May 1998.
Eritrea is a multilingual and multicultural country with two dominant religions (Coptic Orthodox Christianity and Islam) and nine ethnic groups. The country's dominant language is Tigrinya, natively spoken by about 50% of the population. Along with Tigrinya, Arabic and English are used as working languages. English is also used in all of the government's international communication and is the language of instruction in all education beyond the fifth grade.
A US paleontologist, William Sanders of the University of Michigan, 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. Sanders claims that the dating of the fossil to 27 million years ago 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 then 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 Göttingen, Germany.
In the highlands, in the capital city 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. People practiced a mixed economy of pastoralism and grain agriculture, but little evidence for trade with the outside world has been found. 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, monuments, etc.) seem to emerge in the central highlands, for example, at Keskese. There is evidence at Keskese that older remains, similar to those around Asmara, are present. The Sabaean remains, however, are not accompanied by evidence for residence of people from that southern Arabian kingdom. It appears to archaeologists that these remains represent the growth of local elites who appropriated powerful symbols from Saba in their quest for legitimacy.
Between the eighth and fifth century BCE, a kingdom known as D'mt was supposedly established in what is today Eritrea and northern Ethiopia (Tigray). Many speculative theories try to explain the presence of Sabaean material culture by saying that this area had extensive relations with the Sabaeans in present day Yemen across the Red Sea, but these views are not sustained by archaeological evidence. After D'mt's decline around the fifth century BC, the state of Aksum arose in much of Eritrea and the 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, and converting in the fourth century to Christianity, thereby becoming 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 and the Arab invasion and subsequent destruction of Adulis, Aksum's trade and power on the Red Sea began to decline and the empire gradually diminished and was overtaken by smaller rival kingdoms.
In the main highland area and adjacent coastline of what were previously Moslem (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") in the 15th century. Barely a century later, an invading force of the islamic Ottoman Empire, under Suleiman I, conquered Massawa in 1557 from the Christians, 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 Christian 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 the interior domains (province) which they had dubbed: "Habesh", to Beja Na'ibs (deputies). The Ottomans 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. The extent of the Islamic Beja's rule over the Eritrean interior from the 16th century and on did not extend very far into the mainly Christian highland (Kebessa) areas. With the feudal rule of the Bahr negash severely weakened, the area became 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 River 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 Hamasien in the nineteenth century. In these areas, feudal authority was particularly weak or nonexistent, 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). In 1770, the Scottish researcher James Bruce describes Hamasien and Abyssinia as "different countries who are often fighting" (SUKE, p. 25). The name 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.
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. Italy had offered to make Ethiopia an Italian protectorate. On the other hand, Emperor Menelik of Ethiopia was intent, like his predecessors, on creating an Ethiopian empire of his own by laying claims to—and invading—surrounding territories in competition with the European colonialists. He subsequently declared war on the Italians, defeating an Italian incursion into Ethiopian territory at Adowa in 1896. Upon the treaty with Italy, Emperor Menelik II in 1889 stated Italy refrained from further attempts at invading Ethiopia until 1935, when under fascism and Mussolini Italy attempted to conquer Ethiopia again, this time fighting against Emperor Haile Selassie. Using its colonies of Eritrea and Italian Somaliland as its base, Italy was successful in conquering Ethiopia. The Kingdom of Italy ruled Eritrea from 1890 to 1940. In 1936, dictator Benito Mussolini created the Italian Empire (Italian East Africa), with the 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, when they were defeated by Allied forces in 1941, and Eritrea came under British administration. 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 guerrillas 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. The United States' point of view was expressed by its then chief foreign policy advisor John Foster Dulles, who said in 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 would become the federal parliament. 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 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 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 Nakfa came to symbolize the Eritrean struggle. (The Eritrean currency is named after it.)
The numbers of the EPLF swelled in the 1980s as did those 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 neighboring 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. Amidst the culmination of Soviet support to Ethiopia and a major falling 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. 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.
During this time, both warring parties attempted to end hostilities through peace talks. In September 1989, at the request of both the EPLF and the People's Republic of Ethiopia, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter invited both parties to participate in negotiations at The Carter Center. It was the first time in 28 years of fighting that the parties had agreed to talk without any preconditions and in the presence of a third-party mediator. Despite making progress in these negotiations, the parties continued to fight.
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, 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 on 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 241993.
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 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 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 in 2005 following a reconciliation agreement reached with the help of Qatar'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 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 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 Badme 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.'''
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 (ዞባ)||Sub-region (ንኡስ ዞባ)|
|Berikh, Ghala-Nefhi, Semienawi Mibraq, Serejaka, Debubawi Mibraq, Semienawi Mi'erab, Debubawi Mi'erab|
|Adi Keyh, Adi Quala, Areza, Debarwa, Dekemhare, Mai Ayni, Mai Mne, Mendefera, Segeneiti, Senafe, Tserona|
(ዞባ ጋሽ ባርካ)
|Agordat, Barentu, Dghe, Forto, Gogne, Haykota, Logo-Anseba, Mensura, Mogolo, Molki, Guluj, Shambuko, Tesseney, La'elay Gash|
|Adi Tekelezan, Asmat, Elabered, Geleb, Hagaz, Halhal, Habero, Keren City, Kerkebet, Sel'a|
|5|| Northern Red Sea|
(ዞባ ሰሜናዊ ቀይሕ ባሕሪ)
|Afabet, Dahlak, Ghel'alo, Foro, Ghinda, Karura, Massawa, Nakfa, She'eb|
|6|| Southern Red Sea|
(ዞባ ደቡባዊ ቀይሕ ባሕሪ)
|Are'eta, Central Dankalia, Southern Dankalia, Assab|
Eritrea is a 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 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 to the regime), formed in 1993 shortly after independence, "elected" the current president, Isaias Afewerki. No time frame was announced for the duration of his 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.
The electoral commission is handling these elections this time round so that may be the new element in this process. The national assembly has also mandated the electoral commission to set the date for national elections, so whenever the electoral commission sets the date there will be national elections. It's not dependent on regional elections.
Within the region, Eritrea's relations with Ethiopia turned from that of close alliance to a deadly rivalry that led to a war from May 1998 to June 2000 in which approximately 19,000 Eritreans and 123,000 Ethiopians were killed.
The undemarcated border with Sudan poses a problem for Eritrean external relations. After a high-level delegation to Sudan from the Eritrean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ties are being 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], while the Sudanese Government and Eastern Front rebels have requested Eritrea to mediate peace talks.
A dispute with Yemen over the Hanish Islands 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 Hague 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.
The undemarcated border with Ethiopia is the primary external issue facing Eritrea. This led to a long and bloody border war between 1998 and 2000. As a result, the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) is 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. Central to the continuation of the stalemate is Ethiopia's failure to abide by the border delimitation ruling and reneging on its commitment to demarcation. The stalemate has led the President of Eritrea to urge the UN to take action on Ethiopia. This request is outlined in the Eleven Letters penned by the President to the United Nations Security Council. The situation is further escalated by the continued effort of the Eritrean and Ethiopian leaders in supporting each other's opposition. 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 Somalia may become the grounds for a de facto war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, which invaded Somalia in December 2006 with U.S. assistance to overthrow the rule of the widely popular Islamic Courts Union which had stabilized the country and unified the capital Mogadishu for the first time since 1991. 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 government, which without Ethiopian support had been unable to exercise any control beyond its base in Baidoa 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, Afewerki's government is "sponsoring and supporting the rebel groups" who are "also attacking civilians and are a part of the problem in Darfur." Thus, even though the Eritrean government bringing these same rebels to the table is positive, the US claims that the Eritrean government is doing this "by effectively destabilizing Sudan, because they're paying for rebels who are part of the process of destabilizing that country.
Although Eritrea is new at the very bottom of the list in 2007, its positions by year are as follows:
|2002||132 of 139|
|2003||162 of 166|
|2004||163 of 167|
|2005||166 of 167|
|2006||166 of 168|
|2007||169 of 169|
Eritrea is located in East Africa, more specifically in the Horn of Africa, and is bordered on the northeast and east by the Red Sea. 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 Archipelago 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 Triangle 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 Soira, is located in the center of Eritrea, at 9,902 ft (3,018 metres ) above sea level.
Eritrea formerly supported a large population of elephants. Ptolemaic kings of Egypt used it 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 River. 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.
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. The only natural disaster that sometimes affects Eritrea, drought, has often created trouble in the farming areas.
The Eritrean-Ethiopian War 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 Massawa with Asseb 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 6th, 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.
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 which is thought to have originated from massive migrations from Saba in Southern Arabia between 900 and 500 BC. The Sabean area in Eritrea is mainly to be found in the Kebessa highlands in central and northern Eritrea. There the Sabeans found the same geographical conditions as in their native Saba, suitable for terracing and their pre-existing agricultural modes of production.
The rest of the population is comprised of 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.
Each ethnicity speaks a different native tongue but, typically, many of the minorities speak more than one language.
There exist minorities of Italians 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 do not typically intermarry, 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.The country has two official languages, Tigrinya and Arabic, which are also 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 Arabic (spoken natively by the Rashaida Arabs), Tigre, Tigrinya, and the newly recognized Dahlik; 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. Italian is a legacy of colonial times.
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, etc.) and promote continuing education, both formally and informally.
Education in Eritrean include kindergartens for young children of both genders.
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, but small groups of Roman Catholics, 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 organisations that have met all of the registration requirements have still not received official recognition.
Other faith groups such as the 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. 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, 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, 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, who won a bronze medal for Eritrea in the 2004 Olympics, and Mebrahtom (Meb) Keflezighi, also an Olympian of Eritrean descent competing for the United States.
Farewell to a maverick in stilettos and lipstick; In memoriam: Late feminist campaigner June Levine with her husband, psychiatrist Ivor Browne.
Oct 17, 2008; Byline: Klara Kubiak MOURNERS yesterday remembered womens rights campaigner June Levine as a feminist firebrand in high heels who...