State of Eritrea

President: Isaias Afwerki (1993)

Total area: 46,842 sq mi (121,320 sq km)

Population (2012 est.): 6,086,495 (growth rate: 2.42%); birth rate: 32.1/1000; infant mortality rate: 40.34/1000; life expectancy: 62.86; density per sq km: 41

Capital and largest city (2009 est.): Asmara, 649,000

Other large cities: the ports of Massawa, 30,700; and Assab, 56,300

Monetary unit: Nakfa

National name: Hagere Ertra

Current government officials

Languages: Afar, Arabic, Tigre and Kunama, Tigrinya, other Cushitic languages

Ethnicity/race: ethnic Tigrinya 50%, Tigre and Kunama 40%, Afar 4%, Saho (Red Sea coast dwellers) 3%, other 3%

National Holiday: Independence Day, May 24

Religions: Islam, Eritrean Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholic, Protestant

Literacy rate: 58.2% (2011 est.)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2011 est.): $3.978 billion; per capita $700 . Real growth rate: 8.2%. Inflation: 20%. Unemployment: 12.1%. Arable land: 5%. Agriculture: sorghum, lentils, vegetables, corn, cotton, tobacco, coffee, sisal; livestock, goats; fish. Labor force: 1.935 billion (2011); agriculture 80%, industry and services 20%. Industries: food processing, beverages, clothing and textiles, salt, cement, commercial ship repair. Natural resources: gold, potash, zinc, copper, salt, possibly oil and natural gas, fish. Exports: $383.5 million (2011 est.): livestock, sorghum, textiles, food, small manufactures (2000). Imports: $875.1 million (2011 est.): machinery, petroleum products, food, manufactured goods (2000). Major trading partners: Australia, France, Malaysia, Italy, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Germany, China, Brazil, U.S., Turkey (2006).

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 54,200 (2011); mobile cellular: 185,300 (2011) Radio broadcast stations: AM 2, FM 1, shortwave 2 (2000). Television broadcast stations: 1 (2000). Internet hosts: 870 (2011). Internet users: 200,000 (2011).

Transportation: Railways: total: 306 km (2011). Highways: total: 4,010 km; paved: 874 km; unpaved: 3,136 km (2011 est.). Ports and harbors: Assab, Massawa. Airports: 13 (2011).

International disputes: Eritrea and Ethiopia agreed to abide by 2002 Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission's (EEBC) delimitation decision, but despite international intervention, mutual animosities, accusations and armed posturing prevail, preventing demarcation; Ethiopia refuses to withdraw to the delimited boundary until technical errors made by the EEBC that ignored "human geography" are addressed, including the award of Badme, the focus of the 1998-2000 war; Eritrea insists that the EEBC decision be implemented immediately without modifications; since 2000, the UN Peacekeeping Mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) monitors the 25km-wide Temporary Security Zone in Eritrea. It is extended for six months in 2007 despite Eritrean restrictions on its operations and reduced force of 17,000; Sudan accuses Eritrea of supporting Sudanese rebel groups; Eritrea protests Yemeni fishing around the Hanish Islands awarded to Eritrea by the ICJ in 1999.

Major sources and definitions

Flag of Eritrea


Eritrea was formerly the northernmost province of Ethiopia and is about the size of Indiana. Much of the country is mountainous. Its narrow Red Sea coastal plain is one of the hottest and driest places in Africa. The cooler central highlands have fertile valleys that support agriculture. Eritrea is bordered by the Sudan on the north and west, the Red Sea on the north and east, and Ethiopia and Djibouti on the south.


A transitional government committed to a democratic system.


Eritrea was part of the first Ethiopian kingdom of Aksum until its decline in the 8th century. It came under the control of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, and later of the Egyptians. The Italians captured the coastal areas in 1885, and the Treaty of Uccialli (May 2, 1889) gave Italy sovereignty over part of Eritrea. The Italians named their colony after the Roman name for the Red Sea, Mare Erythraeum, and ruled there until World War II. The British captured Eritrea in 1941 and later administered it as a UN Trust Territory until it became federated with Ethiopia on Sept. 15, 1952. Eritrea was made an Ethiopian province on Nov. 14, 1962. A civil war broke out against the Ethiopian government, led by rebel groups who opposed the union and wanted independence for Eritrea. Fighting continued over the next 32 years.

Eritrea Becomes an Independent Republic

In 1991, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front deposed the country's hard-line Communist dictator Mengistu. Without Mengistu's troops to battle, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front was able to gain control of Asmara, the Eritrean capital, and form a provisional government. In 1993, a referendum on Eritrean independence was held, supported by the UN and the new Ethiopian government. Eritrean voters almost unanimously opted for an independent republic. Ethiopia recognized Eritrea's sovereignty on May 3, 1993, and sought a new era of cooperation between the two countries.

The cooperation did not last long. Following Eritrea's independence, Eritrea and Ethiopia disagreed about the exact demarcation of their borders, and in May 1998 border clashes broke out. Both impoverished countries spent millions of dollars on warplanes and weapons, about 80,000 people were killed, and refugees were legion. The war essentially ended in a stalemate, and a formal peace agreement was signed in Dec. 2000. In Dec. 2005, an international Court of Arbitration ruled that Eritrea had violated international law when it attacked Ethiopia in 1998.

See also Encyclopedia: Eritrea.
U.S. State Dept. Country Notes: Eritrea

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