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Eritrea 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.

Background History

After independence from Italian colonial control in 1941 and 10 years of British administrative control, the UN established Eritrea as an autonomous region within the Ethiopian federation in 1952. Ethiopia's full annexation of Eritrea as a province 10 years later sparked a violent 30-year struggle for independence that ended in 1991 with Eritrean rebels defeating government forces. Eritreans overwhelmingly approved independence in a 1993 referendum. Isaias Afworki has been Eritrea's only president since independence; his rule, particularly since 2001, has been highly autocratic and repressive. His government has created a highly militarized society by pursuing an unpopular program of mandatory conscription into national service, sometimes of indefinite length. A two-and-a-half-year border war with Ethiopia that erupted in 1998 ended under UN auspices in December 2000. A UN peacekeeping operation was established that monitored a 25 km-wide Temporary Security Zone. The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) created in April 2003 was tasked "to delimit and demarcate the colonial treaty border based on pertinent colonial treaties (1900, 1902, and 1908) and applicable international law." The EEBC on 30 November 2007 remotely demarcated the border, assigning the town of Badme to Eritrea, despite Ethiopia's maintaining forces there from the time of the 1998-2000 war. Eritrea insisted that the UN terminate its peacekeeping mission on 31 July 2008. Eritrea has accepted the EEBC's "virtual demarcation" decision and repeatedly called on Ethiopia to remove its troops. Ethiopia has not accepted the demarcation decision, and neither party has entered into meaningful dialogue to resolve the impasse. Eritrea is subject to several UN Security Council Resolutions (from 2009, 2011, and 2012) imposing various military and economic sanctions, in view of evidence that it has supported armed opposition groups in the region.



Country Name:

  • conventional long form: State of Eritrea
  • conventional short form: Eritrea
  • local long form: Hagere Ertra
  • local short form: Ertra
  • former: Eritrea Autonomous Region in Ethiopia


  • name: Asmara
  • geographic coordinates: 15 20 N, 38 56 E
  • time difference: UTC+3 (8 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)


  • 24 May 1993 (from Ethiopia)

Government Type:

  • Transitional Government

Executive Branch:

  • chief of state: President Isaias Afworki (since 8 June 1993)
  • head of government: President Isaias Afworki (since 8 June 1993)
  • cabinet: State Council the collective is executive authority; members appointed by the president
  • elections: president elected by the National Assembly for a five-year term (eligible for a second term); the most recent and only election was held on 8 June 1993 (next election date uncertain as the National Assembly did not hold a presidential election in December 2001 as anticipated)

Legislative Branch:

  • structure: unicameral National Assembly

Judicial Branch:

  • structure: Supreme Court; Regional, subregional, and village courts


People & Society


  • 6,380,803 (global rank: 107)
  • growth rate: 2.3% (global rank: 38)


  • noun: Eritrean(s)
  • adjective: Eritrean

Major Cities:

  • Asmara (capital): 712,000

Ethnic Groups:

  • Nine recognized ethnic groups: Tigrinya 55%, Tigre 30%, Saho 4%, Kunama 2%, Rashaida 2%, Bilen 2%, other (Afar, Beni Amir, Nera) 5%


  • Muslim, Coptic Christian, Roman Catholic, Protestant


  • Tigrinya (official), Arabic (official), English (official), Tigre, Kunama, Afar, other Cushitic languages

Life Expectancy at Birth:

  • total population: 63.51 years (global rank: 181)
  • male: 61.36 years
  • female: 65.72 years

Infant Mortality:

  • total population: 38.44 deaths/1,000 live births (global rank: 59)
  • male: 43.61 deaths/1,000 live births
  • female: 33.12 deaths/1,000 live births


  • adult prevalence rate: 0.7% (2012 est.) (global rank: 55)
  • people living with AIDS: 17,800 (2012 est.) (global rank: 86)


  • definition: age 15 and over can read and write
  • total population: 68.9%
  • male: 79.5%
  • female: 59%



Overview: Since formal independence from Ethiopia in 1993, Eritrea has faced many economic problems, including lack of resources and chronic drought, which have been exacerbated by 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 the sector only produces a small share of the country's total output. Since the conclusion of the Ethiopian-Eritrea war in 2000, the government has expanded use of military and party-owned businesses to complete President Isaias's development agenda. The government has strictly controlled the use of foreign currency by limiting access and availability; new regulations in 2013 have slightly relaxed currently controls. Few large private enterprises exist in Eritrea and most operate in conjunction with government partners, including a number of large international mining ventures that have recently begun production. While reliable statistics on food security are difficult to obtain, erratic rainfall and the percentage of the labor force tied up in national service continue to interfere with agricultural production and economic development. Eritrea's harvests generally cannot meet the food needs of the country without supplemental grain purchases. Copper, potash, and gold production is likely to drive economic growth over the next few years, but military spending will continue to compete with development and investment plans. Eritrea's economic future will depend on market reform, international sanctions, global food prices, and success at addressing social problems such as illiteracy and low skills.

Gross Domestic Product:

  • GDP (PPP): $4.717 billion (global rank: 172)
  • GDP per capita (PPP): $1,200 (global rank: 212)
  • real growth rate: 7% (global rank: 20)
  • composition by sector: agriculture: 11.7%, industry: 26.9%, services: 61.4%


  • currency: Nakfa (ERN)
  • exchange rate (per US Dollar): 15.38


  • population below poverty line: 50%
  • unemployment rate: NA

Agricultural Products:

  • sorghum, lentils, vegetables, corn, cotton, tobacco, sisal; livestock, goats; fish


  • food processing, beverages, clothing and textiles, light manufacturing, salt, cement

Exports Commodities:

  • livestock, sorghum, textiles, food, small manufactures

Imports Commodities:

  • machinery, petroleum products, food, manufactured goods




  • Eastern Africa, bordering the Red Sea, between Djibouti and Sudan


  • total: 117,600 sq km (global rank: 101)
  • land: 101,000 sq km
  • water: 16,600 sq km
  • comparative: slightly larger than Pennsylvania


  • 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

Land Use:

  • arable land: 5.87%
  • permanent crops: 0.02%
  • other: 94.12%

Natural Resources:

  • gold, potash, zinc, copper, salt, possibly oil and natural gas, fish

Current Environmental Issues:

  • deforestation; desertification; soil erosion; overgrazing; loss of infrastructure from civil warfare


Transnational Issues

  • international disputes: 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; Sudan accuses Eritrea of supporting eastern Sudanese rebel groups; in 2008 Eritrean troops move across the border on Ras Doumera peninsula and occupy Doumera Island with undefined sovereignty in the Red Sea
  • internally displaced persons: 10,000 (border war with Ethiopia from 1998-2000; it has not been possible to confirm whether remaining IDPs are still living with hosts or have been returned or resettled)
  • human trafficking: Eritrea is a source country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and, to a lesser extent, sex and labor trafficking abroad; the country's national service program is often abused to keep conscripts indefinitely and to force them to perform labor outside the scope of their duties; each year large numbers of migrants, often fleeing national service, depart Eritrea in search of work, particularly in the Gulf States, where some are likely to become victims of forced labor; Eritrean children working in various economic sectors, including domestic service, street vending, small-scale manufacturing, garages, bicycle repair shops, tea and coffee shops, metal workshops, and agriculture may be subjected to conditions of forced labor; some Eritrean refugees from Sudanese camps are extorted and tortured by traffickers as they are transported through the Sinai Peninsula

Published: Tuesday, March 10, 2015