Eritrea is a multi-ethnic country with nine recognized ethnic groups in its population of around six and a half million.[a]
Eritrea has nine national languages, which are Tigrinya
, and English
serve as the three working languages.
Most residents speak languages from the Afroasiatic
family, either of the Ethiopian Semitic languages
branches. Among these communities, the Tigrinyas
make up about 55% of the population, with the Tigre people
constituting around 30% of inhabitants. In addition, there are several Nilo-Saharan
ethnic groups. Most people in the territory adhere to Christianity
, with a small minority adhering to traditional faiths
The Kingdom of Aksum
, covering much of modern-day Eritrea and northern Ethiopia
, was established during the first or second century AD.
It adopted Christianity
around the middle of the fourth century.
In medieval times much of Eritrea fell under the Medri Bahri
kingdom, with a smaller region being part of Hamasien
. The creation of modern-day Eritrea is a result of the incorporation of independent, distinct kingdoms (for example, Medri Bahri
and the Sultanate of Aussa
) eventually resulting in the formation of Italian Eritrea
. After the defeat of the Italian colonial army in 1942, Eritrea was administered by the British Military Administration
until 1952. Following the UN General Assembly decision in 1952, Eritrea would govern itself with a local Eritrean parliament, but for foreign affairs and defense, it would enter into a federal status with Ethiopia for ten years. However, in 1962, the government of Ethiopia annulled the Eritrean parliament and formally annexed Eritrea. The Eritrean secessionist movement organized the Eritrean Liberation Front
in 1961 and fought the Eritrean War of Independence
until Eritrea gained de facto
independence in 1991. Eritrea gained de jure
independence in 1993 after an independence referendum
Buya in Eritrea, one of the oldest hominids
representing a possible link between Homo erectus
and an archaic Homo sapiens
was found by Italian scientists. Dated to over 1 million years old, it is the oldest skeletal find of its kind and provides a link between hominids and the earliest anatomically modern humans
It is believed that the section of the Danakil Depression
in Eritrea was also a major player in terms of human evolution, and may contain other traces of evolution from Homo erectus
hominids to anatomically modern humans.
During the last interglacial period, the Red Sea
coast of Eritrea was occupied by early anatomically modern humans.
It is believed that the area was on the route out of Africa that some scholars suggest was used by early humans to colonize the rest of the Old World.
In 1999, the Eritrean Research Project Team composed of Eritrean, Canadian, American, Dutch and French scientists discovered a Paleolithic
site with stone and obsidian tools dated to over 125,000 years old near the Bay of Zula south of Massawa
, along the Red Sea littoral. The tools are believed to have been used by early humans to harvest marine resources such as clams and oysters.
Neolithic rock art in a Qohaito
canyon cave, Pre-Axumite monolithic columns in Qohaito
Research shows tools found in the Barka Valley dating from 8000 BC appear to offer the first concrete evidence of human settlement in the area.
Research also shows that many of the ethnic groups of Eritrea were the first to inhabit these areas.
Excavations in and near Agordat
in central Eritrea yielded the remains of an ancient pre-Aksumite civilization known as the Gash Group
Ceramics were discovered that were dating back between 2500 and 1500 BC.
Excavations at Sembel
found evidence of an ancient pre-Aksumite
civilization in greater Asmara. This Ona urban culture is believed to have been among the earliest pastoral and agricultural communities in the region. Artifacts at the site have been dated to between 800 BC and 400 BC, contemporaneous with other pre-Aksumite settlements in the Eritrean and Ethiopian highlands during the mid-first millennium BC.
was a kingdom that encompassed most of Eritrea and the northern frontier of Ethiopia. The polity existed during the 10th to 5th centuries BC. Given the presence of a massive temple complex at Yeha
, this area was most likely the kingdom's capital. Qohaito
, often identified as the town of Koloe in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea
as well as Matara
were important ancient Dʿmt kingdom cities in southern Eritrea.
The realm developed irrigation
schemes, used plows
, grew millet
, and made iron
tools and weapons. After the fall of Dʿmt in the 5th century BC, the plateau came to be dominated by smaller successor kingdoms. This lasted until the rise of one of these polities during the first century, the Kingdom of Aksum
, which was able to reunite the area.
Kingdom of Aksum
The Kingdom of Aksum
(or Axum) was a trading empire centered in Eritrea and northern Ethiopia.
It existed from approximately 100–940 AD, growing from the proto-Aksumite Iron Age
period around the 4th century BC to achieve prominence by the 1st century AD.
According to the medieval Liber Axumae
(Book of Aksum
), Aksum's first capital, Mazaber, was built by Itiyopis, son of Cush.
The capital was later moved to Axum
in northern Ethiopia. The Kingdom used the name "Ethiopia" as early as the 4th century.
The Aksumites erected a number of large stelae
, which served a religious purpose in pre-Christian
times. One of these granite columns, the Obelisk of Aksum
, is the largest such structure in the world, standing at 90 feet (27 metres).
320–360), Aksum later adopted Christianity
was the first world religion
to be adopted in Eritrea and the oldest monastery in the country Debre Sina (monastery)
was built during the 4th century. It is one of the oldest monasteries in Africa
and the world. Debre Libanos
, the second oldest monastery was said to have been founded in the late fifth or early sixth century. Originally located in the village of Ham, it was moved to an inaccessible location on the edge of a cliff below the Ham plateau. Its church contains the Golden Gospel, a metal-covered bible dating to the 13th century during which Debre Libanos was an important seat of religious power.
The kingdom is mentioned in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea
as an important market place for ivory
, which was exported throughout the ancient world. Aksum was at the time ruled by Zoskales
, who also governed the port of Adulis
The Aksumite rulers facilitated trade by minting their own Aksumite currency
By 1517, the Ottomans had succeeded in conquering Medri Bahri. They occupied all of northeastern present-day Eritrea for the next two decades, an area which stretched from Massawa
The territory became an Ottoman governorate, known as the Habesh Eyalet
. Massawa served as the new province's first capital. When the city became of secondary economical importance, the administrative capital was soon moved across the Red Sea to Jeddah
The first Westerner to visit Eritrea was the Portuguese explorer Francisco Alvares
in 1520. In his books we have the first description of the local powers of Tigray
, the kingdom of Axum and Barnagais
(the lord of the lands by the sea)
The coast of present-day Eritrea was the one that guaranteed the connection to the region of Tigray where the Portuguese had a small colony, and therefore the connection to the interior Ethiopian
, allies of the Portuguese. Massawa was also the stage for the 1541
landing of troops by Cristóvão da Gama
in the military campaign that would eventually defeat the Adal Sultanate in the final battle of Wayna Daga
was an important leader of the Eritrean resistance to foreign domination specifically against northern Ethiopian and Italian colonialism.
The Turks tried to occupy the highland parts of Medri Bahri in 1559 and withdrew after they encountered resistance and were pushed back by the Bahri Negash and highland forces. In 1578 they tried to expand into the highlands with the help of Bahri Negash Yisehaq, who had switched alliances due to a power struggle. Ethiopian emperor Sarsa Dengel
made a punitive expedition
against the Turks in 1588 in response to their raids in the northern provinces, and by 1589 they were once again apparently compelled to withdraw their forces to the coast. The Ottomans were eventually driven out in the last quarter of the 16th century. However, they retained control over the seaboard until the establishment of Italian Eritrea in the late 1800s.
In 1734, the Afar
leader Kedafu, established the Mudaito Dynasty
in Ethiopia, which later also came to include the southern Denkel
lowlands of Eritrea, thus incorporating the southern denkel lowlands to the Sultanate of Aussa
. 16th century also marked the arrival of the Ottomans, who began making inroads in the Red Sea area.
Map of Eritrea in 1896
In 1888, the Italian administration launched its first development projects in the new colony. The Eritrean Railway
was completed to Saati in 1888,
and reached Asmara
in the highlands in 1911.
The Asmara–Massawa Cableway
was the longest line in the world during its time, but was later dismantled by the British in World War II. Besides major infrastructural projects, the colonial authorities invested significantly in the agricultural sector. It also oversaw the provision of urban amenities in Asmara and Massawa, and employed many Eritreans in public service, particularly in the police and public works departments.
Thousands of Eritreans were concurrently enlisted in the army, serving during the Italo-Turkish War
in Libya as well as the First
Additionally, the Italian Eritrea administration opened a number of new factories, which produced buttons, cooking oil, pasta, construction materials, packing meat, tobacco, hide, and other household commodities. In 1939, there were around 2,198 factories and most of the employees were Eritrean citizens. The establishment of industries also made an increase in the number of both Italians and Eritreans residing in the cities. The number of Italians residing in the territory increased from 4,600 to 75,000 in five years; and with the involvement of Eritreans in the industries, trade and fruit plantation was expanded across the nation, while some of the plantations were owned by Eritreans.
In 1922, Benito Mussolini
's rise to power in Italy brought profound changes to the colonial government in Italian Eritrea. After il Duce
declared the birth of the Italian Empire
in May 1936, Italian Eritrea (enlarged with northern Ethiopia's regions) and Italian Somaliland
were merged with the just conquered Ethiopia in the new Italian East Africa
(Africa Orientale Italiana
) administrative territory. This Fascist
period was characterized by imperial expansion in the name of a "new Roman Empire". Eritrea was chosen by the Italian government to be the industrial center of Italian East Africa.
Asmara's architecture after 1935 was greatly improved to become a "modernist Art Deco city" (in 2017 has been declared a "UNESCO World City Heritage"
), featuring eclectic and rationalist built forms, well-defined open spaces, and public and private buildings, including cinemas, shops, banks, religious structures, public and private offices, industrial facilities, and residences
(according to UNESCO's publications). The Italians designed more than 400 buildings in a construction boom that was only halted by Italy's involvement in WW2
. These included art deco masterpieces like the worldwide famous Fiat Tagliero Building
and the Cinema Impero
Through the 1941 Battle of Keren
, the British expelled the Italians,
and took over the administration of the country.
The British placed Eritrea under British military administration until Allied forces
could determine its fate.
In the absence of agreement amongst the Allies concerning the status of Eritrea, British administration continued for the remainder of World War II and until 1950. During the immediate postwar years, the British proposed that Eritrea be divided along religious lines and annexed partly to the British colony of Sudan and partly to Ethiopia.
The Soviet Union
, anticipating a communist
victory in the Italian polls, initially supported returning Eritrea to Italy under trusteeship or as a colony.
Federation with Ethiopia
In the 1950s, the Ethiopian feudal administration under Emperor Haile Selassie
sought to annex Eritrea and Italian Somaliland. He laid claim to both territories in a letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Paris Peace Conference and at the First Session of the United Nations.
In the United Nations, the debate over the fate of the former Italian colonies continued. The British and Americans preferred to cede all of Eritrea except the Western province to the Ethiopians as a reward for their support during World War II
The Independence Bloc of Eritrean parties consistently requested from the UN General Assembly that a referendum be held immediately to settle the Eritrean question of sovereignty.
Following the adoption of UN Resolution 390A(V)
in December 1950, Eritrea was federated
with Ethiopia under the prompting of the United States.
The resolution called for Eritrea and Ethiopia to be linked through a loose federal structure under the sovereignty of the Emperor. Eritrea was to have its own administrative and judicial structure, its own flag, and control over its domestic affairs, including police, local administration, and taxation.
The federal government, which for all practical purposes was the existing imperial government, was to control foreign affairs (including commerce), defense, finance, and transportation. The resolution ignored the wishes of Eritreans for independence, but guaranteed the population democratic rights and a measure of autonomy.
In 1958, a group of Eritreans founded the Eritrean Liberation Movement (ELM). The organization mainly consisted of Eritrean students, professionals and intellectuals. It engaged in clandestine political activities intended to cultivate resistance to the centralizing policies of the imperial Ethiopian state.
On 1 September 1961, the Eritrean Liberation Front
(ELF), under the leadership of Hamid Idris Awate
, waged an armed struggle for independence. In 1962, Emperor Haile Selassie
unilaterally dissolved the Eritrean parliament and annexed
the territory. The ensuing Eritrean War of Independence
went on for 30 years against successive Ethiopian governments until 1991, when the Eritrean People's Liberation Front
(EPLF), a successor of the ELF
, defeated the Ethiopian forces in Eritrea and helped a coalition of Ethiopian rebel forces
take control of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa
Following a UN-supervised referendum in Eritrea
) in which the Eritrean people overwhelmingly voted for independence, Eritrea declared its independence and gained international recognition in 1993.
The EPLF seized power, established a one-party state along nationalist lines and banned further political activity. There have been no elections since.
Map of Eritrea
Location and habitat
The country is virtually bisected by a branch of the East African Rift
. 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.
Eritrea can be split into three ecoregions
. To the east of the highlands are the hot, arid coastal plains stretching down to the southeast of the country. The cooler, more fertile highlands, reaching up to 3000 m, have a different habitat. Habitats here vary from the sub-tropical rainforest
at Filfil Solomona to the precipitous cliffs and canyons
of the southern highlands.
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 highest point of the country, Emba Soira
, is located in the center of Eritrea, at 3,018 meters (9,902 ft) above sea level
The main cities of the country are the capital city of Asmara
and the port town of Asseb
in the southeast, as well as the towns of Massawa
to the east, the northern town of Keren
, and the central town Mendefera
Eritrea is part of a 14-nation constituency within the Global Environment Facility
, which partners with international institutions, civil society organizations, and the private sector to address global environmental issues while supporting national sustainable development initiatives.
Local variability in rainfall patterns and/or reduced precipitation is known to occur, which may precipitate soil erosion, floods, droughts, land degradation
In 2006, Eritrea also announced that it would become the first country in the world to turn its entire coast into an environmentally protected zone. The 1,347 km (837 mi) coastline, along with another 1,946 km (1,209 mi) of coast around its more than 350 islands, will come under governmental protection.
Eritrea has several species of mammals and a rich avifauna of 560 species of birds.
Eritrean landscape near road to Massawa
are said to inhabit the mountains of the Gash-Barka Region. There is also a small population of African bush elephants
that roam in some parts of the country. Dik-diks
can also be found in many areas. The endangered African wild ass
can be seen in Denakalia Region. Other local wildlife include bushbuck
, greater kudu
, African leopards
The spotted hyena
is widespread and fairly common. 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
, with the baboons using the water holes dug by the elephants, while the elephants use the tree-top baboons as an early warning system.
Based on variations in temperature, Eritrea can be broadly divided into three major climate zones: the temperate zone
, subtropical climate zone
, and tropical climate zone
The climate of Eritrea is shaped by its diverse topographical features and its location within the tropics. The diversity in landscape and topography in the highlands and lowlands of Eritrea result in the diversity of climate across the country. The highlands have temperate climate throughout the year. The climate of most lowland zones is arid and semiarid. The distribution of rainfall and vegetation types varies markedly throughout the country. Eritrean climate varies on the basis of seasonal and altitudinal differences.
Government and politics
The National Assembly of Eritrea
The People's Front for Democracy and Justice
(PFDJ) is the only legal party
Other political groups are not allowed to organize, although the unimplemented Constitution of 1997
provides for the existence of multi-party politics
. The National Assembly has 150 seats. National elections have been periodically scheduled and cancelled; none have ever been held in the country.
President Isaias Afwerki
has been in office since independence in 1993. In 1993, 75 representatives were elected to the National Assembly; the rest are appointed. As the report by the UN Human Rights Council explained: "No national elections have taken place since that time, and no presidential elections have ever taken place. Local or regional elections have not been held since 2003–2004.The National Assembly elected independent Eritrea’s first president, Isaias Afwerki, in 1993. Following his election, Afwerki consolidated his control of the Eritrean government." President Isaias Afwerki has regularly expressed his disdain for what he refers to as "western-style" democracy. In a 2008 interview with Al Jazeera, for example, the President stated that "Eritrea will wait three or four decades, maybe more, before it holds elections. Who knows?"
Given that the full implementation of the Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship between Eritrea and Ethiopia is still incomplete, the Eritrean authorities still do not consider that peace agreement is formally implemented. However, local elections have continued in Eritrea. The most recent round of local government elections were held in 2010 and 2011.
Compulsory military service was instituted in 1995. Officially, conscripts, male and female, must serve for 18 months minimum, which includes six months of military training and 12 months doing the regular school year to complete their last year of high school. Thus around 5% of Eritreans live in barracks in the desert doing projects such as road building as part of their service.
The National Service Proclamation of 1995 does not recognize the right to conscientious objection to military service. According to the 1957 Ethiopian penal code adopted by Eritrea during independence, failure to enlist in the military or refusal to perform military service are punishable with imprisonment terms of six months to five years and up to ten years, respectively.
National service enlistment times may be extended during times of "national crisis"; since 1998, everyone under the age of 50 is enlisted in national service for an indefinite period until released, which may depend on the arbitrary decision of a commander. In a study of 200 escaped conscripts, the average service was 6.5 years, and some had served more than 12 years.
According to the NYU School of Law, the Legal Committee of the Ministry of Justice oversees the admission and requirements to practice law in Eritrea. Although the establishment of an independent bar association is not proscribed under Proclamation 88/96, among other domestic laws, there is no bar association. The community electorate in the local jurisdiction of the Community Court chooses the Court's judges. The Community Court's standing on women in the legal profession is unclear, but elected women judges have reserved seat.
Eritrea is a member of the United Nations
, the African Union
, and is an observing member
of the Arab League
The nation holds a seat on the United Nations' Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ). Eritrea also holds memberships in the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development
, International Finance Corporation
, International Criminal Police Organization
(INTERPOL), Non-Aligned Movement
, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
, Permanent Court of Arbitration
, Port Management Association of Eastern and Southern Africa
, and the World Customs Organization
The Eritrean government previously withdrew its representative to the African Union to protest the AU's alleged lack of leadership in facilitating the implementation of a binding border decision demarcating the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The Eritrean government has since January 2011 appointed an envoy, Tesfa-Alem Tekle, to the AU.
On 28 May 2019, the United States removed Eritrea from the "Counterterror Non-Cooperation List" which also includes: Iran
, North Korea
Moreover, Eritrea was visited two months earlier by a US congressional delegation for the first time in 14 years.
Relations with Ethiopia
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 which claimed approximately 70,000 lives from both sides.
The border conflict cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
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 has been further escalated by the continued efforts of the Eritrean and Ethiopian leaders in supporting opposition in one another's countries.
In 2011, Ethiopia accused Eritrea of planting bombs at an African Union
summit in Addis Ababa
, which was later supported by a UN report. Eritrea denied the claims.
Eritrea is divided into six administrative regions
. These areas are further divided into 58 districts
A map of Eritrea regions. 1.Northern Red Sea, 2.Anseba, 3.Gash-Barka, 4.Central(to right), 5.Southern, 6.Southern Red Sea
Regions of Eritrea
The regions of Eritrea are the primary geographical divisions through which the country is administered. Six in total, they include the Maekel/Central, Anseba, Gash-Barka, Debub/Southern, Northern Red Sea and Southern Red Sea regions. At the time of independence in 1993, Eritrea was arranged into ten provinces. These provinces were similar to the nine provinces operating during the colonial period. In 1996, these were consolidated into six regions (zobas). The boundaries of these new regions are based on catchment basins.
Asmara is the capital city of Eritrea with a population of 963,000 people.
Eritrean mountain road
Transport in Eritrea includes highways, airports, railway, and seaports in addition to various forms of public and private vehicular, maritime and aerial transportation.
The Eritrean highway system is named according to the road classification. The three levels of classification are: primary (P), secondary (S), and tertiary (T). The lowest level road is tertiary and serves local interests. Typically they are improved earth roads which are occasionally paved. During the wet seasons these roads typically become impassable.
The next higher level road is a secondary road and typically is a single-layered asphalt road that connects district capitals together and those to the regional capitals. Roads that are considered primary roads are those that are fully asphalted (throughout their entire length) and in general they carry traffic between all the major cities and towns in Eritrea.
As of 1999, there is a total of 317 kilometres of 950 mm (3 ft 13
in) (narrow gauge) rail line in Eritrea. The Eritrean Railway
was built between 1887 and 1932.
Badly damaged during WWII
and in later fighting, it was closed section by section, with the final closure coming in 1978.
After independence, a rebuilding effort commenced, and the first rebuilt section was reopened in 2003. As of 2009, the section from Massawa
was fully rebuilt and available for service.
Rehabilitation of the remainder and of the rolling stock has occurred in recent years. Current service is very limited due to the extreme age of most of the railway equipment and its limited availability. Further rebuilding is planned. The railway linking Agordat and Asmara with the port of Massawa; had been inoperative since 1978 except for about a 5 kilometre stretch that was reopened in Massawa in 1994. A railway formerly ran from Massawa to Bishia via Asmara, and is under re-construction.
Even during the war, Eritrea developed its transportation infrastructure
by asphalting new roads, improving its ports, and repairing war-damaged roads and bridges as a part of the Wefri Warsay Yika'alo
program. The most significant of these projects was the construction of a coastal highway of more than 500 km connecting Massawa
, as well as the rehabilitation of the Eritrean Railway
. The rail line has been restored between the port of Massawa and the capital Asmara, although services are sporadic. Steam locomotives are sometimes used for groups of enthusiasts.
Eritrea's main exports, 2013
The economy of Eritrea has experienced considerable growth in recent years (2010–20), indicated by an annual improvement in gross domestic product (GDP) with over 5% in recent years, some years up to 8.7%.
A big reason for the recent growth of the Eritrean economy is the commencement of full operations in the gold and silver Bisha mine and the production of cement from the cement factory in Massawa.
The economy of Eritrea has also bounced back after a period of minor or negative growth, indicated by an improvement in the Real Gross Domestic Product (Real GDP) to 12% in 2018 after averaging -2.7% for some time between 2015 and 2018.
A major contributor to the recovery is investment in Eritrea's copper
, and Colluli potash mining operations from Australian
The real GDP (2020 est.): $8.1 billion, and the annual growth rate (2020 est.) about:6%. The GDP PPP (2020 est.): $11.3 billion
from abroad are estimated to account for 32% of gross domestic product.
Eritrea has an extensive amount of resources such as copper, gold, granite, marble, and potash. The Eritrean economy has undergone extreme changes due to the War of Independence. In 2011, Eritrea's GDP grew by 8.7% making it one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.
70% of the Eritrean workforce are employed in agriculture
accounting for roughly one-third of the economy.
Eritrea's main agricultural products include sorghum
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, the war resulted in some $600 million in property damage and loss, including losses of $225 million in livestock
and 55,000 homes.
A traditional Eritrean dance in traditional clothing
A man and a woman in Barentu
in traditional clothes
Eritrea's population increased from 3.2 million to approximately 5,755,124
between 1990 and 2020.[disputed (for: factor of two revision in 2019) – discuss]
The average number of children born to Eritrean mothers is 4.1.
There are nine recognized ethnic groups according to the government of Eritrea.
An independent census has yet to be conducted, but the Tigrinya people
make up about 55% and Tigre people
make up about 30% of the population. A majority of the remaining ethnic groups belong to Afroasiatic
-speaking communities of the Cushitic
branch, such as the Saho
. There are also a number of Nilotic
ethnic groups, who are represented in Eritrea by the Kunama
. Each ethnicity speaks a different native tongue but, typically, many of the minorities speak more than one language. The Rashaida
represent about 2% of Eritrea's population.
They reside in the northern coastal lowlands of Eritrea as well as the eastern coasts of Sudan. The Rashaida first came to Eritrea in the 19th century from the Hejaz
In addition, there exist Italian Eritrean
(concentrated in Asmara) and Ethiopian Tigrayan communities. Neither is generally given citizenship unless through marriage or, more rarely, by having it conferred upon them by the State. Eritrea had about 760,000 inhabitants, including 70,000 Italians, in 1941.
Most Italians left after Eritrea became independent from Italy. It is estimated up to 100,000 Eritreans are of Italian descent.
Population pyramid of Eritrea 2016
Eritrea is a multilingual country. The nation has no official language, as the Constitution establishes the "equality of all Eritrean languages".
Eritrea has nine national languages which are Tigrinya
, and Saho
. Tigrinya, Arabic
, and English
serve as de facto working languages, with English used in university education and many technical fields. While Italian
, the former colonial language, holds no government recognized status in Eritrea, it is spoken by a few monolinguals and Asmara has Scuola Italiana di Asmara
, a long running Italian government-operated school.
Also, native Eritreans assimilated the language of the Italian Eritreans and spoke a version of Italian mixed with many Tigrinya words: Eritrean Italian
serves as the de facto language of national identity. With 2,540,000 total speakers of a population of 5,254,000 in 2006, it is the most widely spoken language, particularly in the southern and central parts of Eritrea.
Smaller groups also speak other Afroasiatic languages, such as the newly recognized Dahlik
and Arabic (the Hejazi
and Hadhrami dialects
spoken by the Rashaida and Hadhrami, respectively).
Eritrea religious groups
According to the Pew Research Center
, as of 2010, 62.9% of the population of Eritrea adheres to Christianity
, 36.6% follows Islam
, and 0.4% practices folk religion
. The remainder observes Judaism
and other faiths (<0.1% each), or are religiously unaffiliated (0.1%).
The U.S. Department of State estimates that, as of 2011, 50% of the population of Eritrea adheres to Christianity, 48% follows Islam, and 2% observes other religions, including traditional faiths and animism. Christianity
is the oldest world religion practiced in the country, and the first Christian monastery Debre Sina (monastery)
was built during the 4th century. 
The Eritrean government is against what it deems as "reformed" or "radical" versions of its established religions. Therefore, alleged radical forms of Islam and Christianity, Jehovah's Witnesses
, and numerous other non-Protestant
Evangelical denominations are not registered and cannot worship freely. Three named Jehovah's Witnesses are known to have been imprisoned since 1994 along with 51 others.
The government treats Jehovah's Witnesses especially harshly, denying them ration cards and work permits.
Jehovah's Witnesses were stripped of their citizenship and basic civil rights by presidential decree in October 1994.
In its 2017 religious freedom report, the U.S. State Department named Eritrea a Country of Particular Concern (CPC).
UNESCO World Heritage Site
On 8 July 2017, the entire capital city of Asmara
was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site
, with the inscription taking place during the 41st World Heritage Committee Session.
The city has thousands of Art Deco
, and rationalist
buildings, constructed during the period of Italian Eritrea
Asmara, a small town in the nineteenth century, started to grow quickly during 1889.
The city also became a place "to experiment with radical new designs", mainly futuristic and art deco inspired.
Even though city planners, architects, and engineers were largely European, members of the indigenous population were largely used as construction workers, Asmarinos still identify with their city's legacy.
The city shows off most early 20th-century architectural styles. Some buildings are neo-Romanesque
, such as the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary
. Art Deco influences are found throughout the city. Essences of Cubism
can be found on the Africa Pension Building, and on a small collection of buildings. The Fiat Tagliero Building
shows almost the height of futurism, just as it was coming into big fashion in Italy. In recent times, some buildings have been functionally built which sometimes can spoil the atmosphere of some cities, but they fit into Asmara as it is such a modern city.
A statement from UNESCO read:
It is an exceptional example of early modernist urbanism at the beginning of the 20th century and its application in an African context.
Building of regional administration in Asmara
A prominent group of fifteen Eritreans, called the G-15, including three cabinet members, were arrested in September 2001 after publishing an open letter to the government and President Isaias Afewerki calling for democratic dialogue. This group and thousands of others who were alleged to be affiliated with them are imprisoned without legal charges, hearing, trial and judgment.
Since Eritrea's conflict with Ethiopia in 1998–2001, the nation's human rights record has been criticized at the United Nations.
Human rights violations are allegedly often committed by the government or on behalf of the government. Freedom of speech
, and association
are limited. Those who practice "unregistered" religions, try to flee the nation, or escape military duty are arrested and put into prison
By 2009, the number of political prisoners was in the range 10,000–30,000, there was widespread and systematic torture
and extrajudicial killings
, with "anyone" for "any or no reason", including children eight years old, people over 80 years old and ill people, being liable to be arrested, and Eritrea was "one of the world's most totalitarian and human rights-abusing regimes".
During the Eritrean independence struggle and 1998 Eritrean-Ethiopian War
, many atrocities were also committed by the Ethiopian authorities against unarmed Eritrean civilians.
Traditional Eritrean agudo/tukul huts in a village near Barentu
In June 2016, a 500-page United Nations Human Rights Council
report accused Eritrea's government of extrajudicial executions, torture, indefinitely prolonged national service (6.5 years on average) and forced labour, and indicated that sexual harassment, rape and sexual servitude by state officials are also widespread. Barbara Lochbihler
of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights
said the report detailed 'very serious human rights violations', and asserted that EU funding for development would not continue as at present without change in Eritrea.
The Eritrean Foreign Ministry responded by describing the commission's report as "wild allegations" which were "totally unfounded and devoid of all merit".
Representatives of the United States and China disputed the report's language and accuracy.[dead link]
All Eritreans aged between 18 and 40 years must complete a mandatory national service, which includes military service. This requirement was implemented after Eritrea gained independence
from Ethiopia, as a means to protect Eritrea's sovereignty
, to instill national pride, and to create a disciplined populace.
Eritrea's national service requires long, indefinite conscription (6.5 years on average), which some Eritreans leave the country in order to avoid.
In an attempt at reform, Eritrean government officials and NGO representatives in 2006 participated in many public meetings and dialogues. In these sessions they answered questions as fundamental as, "What are human rights?", "Who determines what are human rights?", and "What should take precedence, human or communal rights?"
In 2007, the Eritrean government also banned female genital mutilation
In Regional Assemblies and religious circles, Eritreans themselves speak out continuously against the use of female circumcision. They cite health concerns and individual freedom as being of primary concern when they say this. Furthermore, they implore rural peoples to cast away this ancient cultural practice.
In 2009, a movement called Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea formed to create dialogue between the government and political opposition. The group consists of ordinary citizens and some people close to the government.
Since the movement's creation, no significant effort has been made by the Eritrean government to improve its record on human rights.
In July 2019, UN ambassadors of 37 countries, including Eritrea, have signed a joint letter to the UNHRC
defending China's treatment of Uyghurs
and other Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang
In its 2017 Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders
ranked the media environment in Eritrea at the bottom of a list of 180 countries.
According to the BBC
, "Eritrea is the only African country to have no privately owned news media",
and Reporters Without Borders said of the public media, "[They] do nothing but relay the regime's belligerent and ultra-nationalist discourse. ... Not a single [foreign correspondent] now lives in Asmara."
The state-owned news agency censors news about external events.
Independent media have been banned since 2001.
The Eritrean authorities had reportedly imprisoned the fourth highest number of journalists after Turkey
Eritrea has achieved significant improvements in health care and is one of the few countries to be on target to meet its Millennium Development Goals
(MDG) for health, in particular child health. Life expectancy
at birth increased from 39.1 years in 1960 to 66.44 years in 2020;
maternal and child mortality
rates dropped dramatically and the health infrastructure expanded.
The World Health Organisation
(WHO) in 2008 found average life expectancy to be slightly less than 63 years, a number that has increased to 66.44 in 2020.Immunisation
and child nutrition have been tackled by working closely with schools in a multi-sectoral approach; the number of children vaccinated against measles almost doubled in seven years, from 40.7% to 78.5% and the prevalence of underweight children decreased by 12% from 1995 to 2002 (severe underweight prevalence by 28%).
The National Malaria Protection Unit of the Ministry of Health registered reductions in malarial mortality by as much as 85% and in the number of cases by 92% between 1998 and 2006.
The Eritrean government has banned female genital mutilation
(FGM), saying the practice was painful and put women at risk of life-threatening health problems.
However, Eritrea still faces many challenges. Although the number of physicians increased from only 0.2 in 1993 to 0.5 in 2004 per 1000 people, this is still very low. Malaria
HIV prevalence for ages 15 to 49 years exceeds 2%.
The fertility rate is about 4.1 births per woman.
Maternal mortality dropped by more than half from 1995 to 2002, but is still high.
Similarly, the number of births attended by skilled health personnel doubled from 1995 to 2002, but still is only 28.3%.
A major cause of death in newborns is severe infection
Per-capita expenditure on health is low.
Eritrean pupils in uniform
Education in Eritrea is officially compulsory for children aged 6 to 13 years.
Education system in Eritrea
Middle - Junior High School (Years included in basic)
Secondary -Secondary School - 4 years
Post- secondary - Advanced Diploma - 3 years
Higher Education - Bachelor - 4/5 years
Higher Education - Master - 2 years
Statistics vary at the elementary level, suggesting that 70% to 90% of school-aged children attend primary school; Approximately 61% attend secondary school. Student-teacher ratios are high: 45:1 at the elementary level and 54:1 at the secondary level. Class sizes average 63 and 97 students per classroom at the elementary and secondary school levels, respectively. Learning hours at school are often less than six hours per day.
Literacy rate Eritrea 2020, source: World bank, UNESCO
The EIT was opened after the University of Asmara
was reorganized. According to the Ministry of Education, the institution was established, as one of many efforts to achieve equal distribution of higher learning in areas outside the capital city, Asmara. Accordingly, several similar colleges are also established in different other parts of the country. The Eritrea Institute of Technology is the main local institute of higher studies in science, engineering and education. The University of Asmara
is the oldest University in the country and was opened in 1958.
It is currently not in operation.
The overall literacy rate in Eritrea is 84%.
However, the literacy rate is higher for ages 18 to 24 years, it is 92.6% for men and 87.7% for women (2008–2012)
One of the most recognizable parts of Eritrean culture is the coffee ceremony
) is offered when visiting friends, during festivities, or as a daily staple of life. During the coffee ceremony, there are traditions that are upheld. The coffee is served in three rounds: the first brew or round is called awel
in Tigrinya (meaning "first"), the second round is called kalaay
(meaning "second"), and the third round is called bereka
(meaning "to be blessed").
Traditional Eritrean attire is quite varied among the ethnic groups of Eritrea. In the larger cities, most people dress in Western casual dress such as jeans and shirts. In offices, both men and women often dress in suits. A common traditional clothing for Christian
Tigrinya highlanders consists of bright white gowns called zurias
for the women, and a white shirt accompanied by white pants for the men. In Muslim communities in the Eritrean lowland, the women traditionally dress in brightly colored clothes. Besides convergent culinary tastes, Eritreans share an appreciation for similar music and lyrics, jewelry and fragrances, and tapestry and fabrics as many other populations in the region.
with various stews
A typical traditional Eritrean dish consists of injera
accompanied by a spicy stew, which frequently includes beef, chicken, lamb or fish.
Overall, Eritrean cuisine strongly resembles that of neighboring Ethiopia
though Eritrean cooking tends to feature more seafood
than Ethiopian cuisine on account of their coastal location.
Eritrean dishes are also frequently "lighter" in texture than Ethiopian meals. They likewise tend to employ less seasoned butter
and spices and more tomatoes
, as in the tsebhi dorho
Additionally, owing to its colonial history, cuisine in Eritrea features more Italian
influences than are present in Ethiopian cooking, including more pasta
and greater use of curry
powders and cumin
. The Italian Eritrean cuisine started to be practiced during the colonial times of the Kingdom of Italy
, when a large number of Italians moved to Eritrea. They brought the use of pasta to Italian Eritrea
, and it is one of the main foods eaten in present-day Asmara
. An Italian Eritrean cuisine
emerged, and common dishes are "pasta al sugo e berbere" (pasta with tomato sauce and berbere spice), lasagna
, and "cotoletta alla Milanese" (veal Milanese).
In addition to coffee, local alcoholic beverages are enjoyed. These include sowa
, a bitter drink made from fermented barley, and mies
, a fermented honey wine.
Eritrea's ethnic groups each have their own styles of music and accompanying dances. Amongst the Tigrinya, the best known traditional musical genre is the guaila. Traditional instruments of Eritrean folk music include the stringed krar
and the wata (a distant/rudimentary cousin of the violin). A popular Eritrean artist is the Tigrinya singer Helen Meles
, who is noted for her powerful voice and wide singing range.
Other prominent local musicians include the Kunama singer Dehab Faytinga
, Ruth Abraha
, Bereket Mengisteab
, the late Yemane Ghebremichael
, and the late Abraham Afewerki
are the most popular sports in Eritrea. Cycling has a long tradition in Eritrea and was first introduced during the colonial period.
The Tour of Eritrea
, a multi-stage cycling event, is held annually since 1946 throughout the country.
The national cycling teams of both men and women are ranked first on the African
continent, and Eritrea is ranked among the best cycling nations in the world.
The Eritrea national cycling team has experienced a lot of success, winning the African continental cycling championship several years in a row. In 2013, the women's team won the gold medal in the African Continental Cycling Championships
for the first time, and for the second time in 2015 and third time in 2019. The men's team have won gold 7 times in the last 9 years in the African continental cycling championships, between 2010 and 2019.
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