Eritrea

May 20, 2012, 6:53 pm
Source: CIA World Factbook
Content Cover Image

Asmara, Capitol of Eritrea. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Eritrea is a  nation of six million people in eastern-Africa, bordering the Red Sea, between Djibouti and Sudan.

To its south is Ethiopia, from which it separated in 1993 following a 30-year conflict.

This region is known as the "Horn of Africa." Across the Red Sea is Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Eritrea's major environmental issues include:

It is susceptible to frequent droughts and locust swarms.

Eritrea was a Italian colony until World War II which Britain took over administration.

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.

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)

A two-and-a-half-year border war with Ethiopia that erupted in 1998 ended under UN auspices in December 2000. Eritrea hosted a UN peacekeeping operation that monitored a 25 km-wide Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) on the border with Ethiopia.

Eritrea's denial of fuel to the mission caused the UN to withdraw the mission and terminate its mandate 31 July 2008.

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 Ethiopia 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.

In 2009 the UN imposed sanctions on Eritrea after accusing it of backing anti-Ethiopian Islamist insurgents in Somalia.

Eritrea has a strategic geopolitical position along the 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

In 2008 Eritrean troops move across the border on the Ras Doumera peninsula and occupy Doumera Island with undefined sovereignty in the Red Sea

Sudan accuses Eritrea of supporting eastern Sudanese rebel groups.

Geography

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

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

Location: Eastern Africa, bordering the Red Sea, between Djibouti and Sudan

Geographic Coordinates: 15 00 N, 39 00 E

Land boundaries:1,626 km (Djibouti 109 km, Ethiopia 912 km, Sudan 605 km)

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.

Area:  121,320 km2 (121,320 km2 land and 0 km2 water)

arable land: 4.78%
permanent crops: 0.03%
other: 95.19% (2005) 

Coastline: 2,234 km (mainland on Red Sea 1,151 km, islands in Red Sea 1,083 km)

Maritime Claims: territorial sea: 12 nautical miles

Natural Hazards: frequent droughts; locust swarms

Volcanism: Dubbi (elev. 1,625 m), which last erupted in 1861, was the country's only historically active volcano until Nabro (2,218 m) came to life on 12 June 2011

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. Its lowest point is near Kulul within the Denakil depression (-75 metres) and its highest point is Soira (3,018 metres).

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

 

Ecology and Biodiversity

1. Ethiopian xeric grasslands and shrublands

2. Eritrean coastal desert

3. Somali Acacia-Commiphora bushlands and thickets

4. Ethiopian montane forests

5. Ethiopian montane grasslands and woodlands

6. Sahelian Acacia savanna

7. East Sudanian savanna

See also:

Ecoregions of Eritrea. Source: World Wildlife Fund.

People and Society

Population: 6,086,495 (July 2012 est.)

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

Ethnic groups: nine recognized ethnic groups: Tigrinya 55%, Tigre 30%, Saho 4%, Kunama 2%, Rashaida 2%, Bilen 2%, other (Afar, Beni Amir, Nera) 5% (2010 est.)

Age Structure:

0-14 years: 42.1% (male 1,256,384/female 1,244,569)
15-64 years: 54.3% (male 1,580,535/female 1,641,911)
65 years and over: 3.6% (male 96,627/female 119,458) (2011 est.)

Population Growth Rate: 2.418% (2012 est.)

Birthrate: 32.1 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Death Rate: 7.92 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)

Net Migration Rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Life Expectancy at Birth:  62.86 years

male: 60.73 years
female: 65.06 years (2012 est.)

Total Fertility Rate: 4.37 children born/woman (2012 est.)

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

Literacy (2003 est.): 58.6% (male: 69.9% - female: 47.6%)

Urbanization: 22% of total population (2010) growing at an annual rate of change of 5.2% (2010-15 est.)

History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

A two-and-a-half-year border war with Ethiopia that erupted in 1998 ended under UN auspices in December 2000.

Following the 1998-2000 war, a UN peacekeeping mission, the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), was established and monitored a 25-kilometer-wide Temporary Security Zone separating the two sides. Eritrean restrictions on UNMEE led to its termination in July 2008.

Per the terms of the cessation of hostilities agreement, two commissions were established: one to delimit and demarcate the border and the other to weigh compensation claims by both sides. The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) announced its decision in April 2002. Demarcation was expected to begin in 2003, but did not progress due to disagreements between the parties. The EEBC announced a demarcation decision effective November 2007. Eritrea accepted the decision, but Ethiopia rejected it. The situation remains at an impasse.

In August 2009, the Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission (EECC) delivered its final awards regarding international law violations during the 1998-2000 border war. The Claims Commission awarded Eritrea $161 million for damages caused by Ethiopia with an additional $2 million for individual claims. Ethiopia was awarded $174 million for damages caused by Eritrea. Eritrea cited interference which impaired the administration of justice and challenged the plausibility of evidence but announced it accepts the award of the Claims Commission without equivocation.

Eritrea's denial of fuel to the mission caused the UN to withdraw the mission and terminate its mandate 31 July 2008.

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 Ethiopia 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.

In 2009 the UN imposed sanctions on Eritrea after accusing it of backing anti-Ethiopian Islamist insurgents in Somalia.

Government

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

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

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

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

In September 2001, after several months in which a number of prominent PFDJ party members had publicly aired grievances against the government and in which they called for implementation of the constitution and the holding of elections, the government instituted a crackdown. Eleven prominent dissidents, members of what had come to be known as the Group of 15, were arrested and held without charge in an unknown location. At the same time, the government shut down the independent press and arrested its reporters and editors, holding them incommunicado and without charge. In subsequent weeks, the government arrested other individuals, including two Eritrean employees of the U.S. Embassy.

Type: Transitional Government

Capital: Asmara (Asmera) - 649,000 (2009)

Administrive Divisions: 6 regions (zobatat, singular - zoba):

  1. Ma'akel (Central)
  2. Debub (South)
  3. Gash Barka
  4. Anseba
  5. Semenawi Keyih Bahri (Northern Red Sea)
  6. Debubawi K'eyih Bahri (Southern Red Sea)

Independence Date: 24 May 1993 (from Ethiopia)

Legal System: mixed legal system of civil, customary, and Islamic religious law. Eritrea has not submitted an International Court of justice (ICJ) jurisdiction declaration; and, is a non-party state to the International Criminal Court (ICCt). Nominally, the judiciary operates independently of both the legislative and executive bodies, with a court system that extends from the village through to the district, provincial, and national levels. In practice, however, the independence of the judiciary is limited. In 2001, for example, the president of the High Court was detained after criticizing the government for judicial interference.

Suffrage: 18 years of age, universal


Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

International Environmental Agreements

Eritrea is party to international agreements on: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, and the Ozone Layer Protection.

Water

Total Renewable Water Resources: 6.3 cu km (2001)

Freshwater Withdrawal: Total: 0.3 cu km/yr (3% domestic, 0% industrial, 97% agricultural).

Per Capita Freshwater Withdrawal: 68 cu m/yr (2000)

Access to improved drinking water sources: 61% of population

Access to improved sanitation facilities: 14% of population

See: Water profile of Eritrea

Agriculture

Agricultural Products: sorghum, lentils, vegetables, corn, cotton, tobacco, sisal; livestock, goats; fish

Irrigated Land: 210 sq km (2003)

Resources

Natural Resources: gold, potash, zinc, copper, salt, possibly oil and natural gas, fish.

Energy

See: Energy profile of Eritrea

  Production Consumption Exports Imports Reserves
Electricity 269.9 million kWh
(2008 est.)
224.9 million kWh
(2008 est.)
0 kWh
(2009)
0 kWh
(2009)
 
Oil 0 bbl/day
(2009 est.)
6,000 bbl/day
(2010 est.)
0 bbl/day
(2009)
3,864 bbl/day
(2009 est.)
0 bbl
(1 January 2011 est.)
Natural Gas 0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(2000 est.)
0 cu m
(2000)
0 cu m
(1 January 2011 est.)
 Source: CIA Factbook

Economy

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, a large share of the population - nearly 80% - is engaged in subsistence agriculture, but they produce only a small share of total output. Agriculture contributed 24% to GDP as of 2007. Agricultural exports include cotton, fruits and vegetables, hides, and meat, but farmers are largely dependent on rain-fed agriculture, and growth in this and other sectors is hampered by lack of a dependable water supply. Worker remittances and other private transfers from abroad contribute about 32% of GDP.

Since the conclusion of the Ethiopian-Eritrea war in 2000, 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 by limiting access and availability. Few private enterprises remain in Eritrea. While in the past the Government of Eritrea stated that it was committed to a market economy and privatization, the government and the ruling PFDJ party maintain complete control of the economy. The government has imposed an arbitrary and complex set of regulatory requirements that discourage investment from both foreign and domestic sources, and it often reclaims successful private enterprises and property.

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

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), post-border war recovery was impaired by 4 consecutive years of recurrent drought that have reduced the already low domestic food production capacity. The government reports that harvests have improved but provides no data to support these claims. Eritrea currently suffers from large structural fiscal deficits caused by high levels of spending on defense, which have resulted in the stock of debt rising to unsustainable levels. Exports have collapsed due to strict controls on foreign currencies and trade, as well as a closed border with Ethiopia, which was the major trading partner for Eritrea prior to the war. In 2006, Eritrea normalized relations with Sudan and began to open the border to trade between the two countries. Large and persistent transfers from Eritreans living abroad offer significant support to the economy.

Eritrea's economy depends heavily 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 been unable 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 government in 2007 and began mineral extraction in 2010.

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.

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

GDP (Purchasing Power Parity): $3.978 billion (2011 est.)

GDP (Official Exchange Rate): $2.6 billion (2011 est.)

GDP- per capita: $700 (2011 est.)

GPD- composition by sector:

agriculture: 11%
industry: 34%
services: 55% (2011 est.)

Population Below Poverty Line: 50% (2004 est.)

Industries: food processing, beverages, clothing and textiles, light manufacturing, salt, cement

Exports: livestock, sorghum, textiles, food, small manufactures

Imports: machinery, petroleum products, food, manufactured goods

Currency: nakfa (ERN)

Ports and Terminals: Assab, Massawa

Glossary

Citation

Agency, C., Fund, W., & Department, U. (2012). Eritrea. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/152658

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