Africa

Eritrea country profile

  • 4 May 2016
  • From the section Africa
Map of Eritrea

Eritrea won independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year war.

Bordered by Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti, it occupies a strategic area in the Horn of Africa but remains one of the most secretive states in the world.

Tensions with Ethiopia remain high across a closed and heavily fortified border. The perceived threat of war is said to have been used by the government to clamp down on society.

Eritrea is a one-party state, and its 1997 constitution - which provided for the existence of multi-party politics - has never been fully implemented. Military conscription is mandatory and indefinite, according to Amnesty International.

Prolonged periods of conflict and severe drought have adversely affected Eritrea's agriculture-based economy and it remains one of the poorest countries in Africa.

In a damning report into human rights abuses, the UN accused the government of crimes against humanity. By UN estimates, hundreds of thousands of Eritreans have fled the country in recent years, making the perilous journey across the Sahara and the Mediterranean to Europe.

FACTS

The State of Eritrea

Capital: Asmara

  • Population 5.6 million

  • Area 117,400 sq km (45,300 sq miles)

  • Major languages Tigrinya, Tigre, Arabic, English

  • Major religions Islam, Christianity

  • Life expectancy 60 years (men), 64 years (women)

  • Currency Nakfa

Getty Images

LEADER

President: Isaias Afewerki

Image copyright Getty Images

President Isaias Afewerki has governed Eritrea since it became an independent country in 1993. His People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDF) is the sole political party.

Presidential elections planned for 1997 never took place and a constitution ratified in the same year has never been implemented.

Mr Isaias has been criticised for failing to introduce democratic reforms.

Born in 1946 in Asmara, Mr Isaias studied engineering at the University of Addis Ababa but left in 1966 to join the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF).

In 1970 he co-founded the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) and in 1987 was elected its secretary-general. When the EPLF defeated Ethiopian forces in 1991, Mr Isaias was appointed head of a provisional government.

Following the 1993 vote on independence, he was elected president of Eritrea and chairman of the National Assembly, giving him control of both executive and legislative branches of government.

MEDIA

Media beyond the state-sanctioned newspapers and TV are non-existent. International journalists are routinely refused access. Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in its 2015 World Press Freedom Index placed Eritrea last behind North Korea.

Outlets run by Eritreans overseas - mainly in Europe, North America and Australia - provide alternative sources of information but their reach and influence inside Eritrea are limited, not least because of very low levels of internet access.

TIMELINE

Some key dates in Eritrea's history:

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A community of monks lives a life of austerity little changed since their monastery of Debre Bizen was founded 650 years ago

300-600 - Present-day Eritrea forms part of the kingdom of Aksum.

1889-1941 - Italy colonises Eritrea.

1941-52 - British forces occupy and take over administration of Eritrea.

1952 - UN establishes Eritrea as an autonomous region within Ethiopia.

1961 - Ethiopia annexes Eritrea, triggering a 30-year war.

1991 - Eritrean People's Liberation Front wins war of independence, assisted by Ethiopian rebels who together with their Eritrean allies succeed in toppling Ethiopian President Mengistu Haile Mariam.

1993 - Eritrea votes for independence from Ethiopia in a UN-sponsored referendum and gains international recognition.

1997 - New constitution is drawn up but never implemented.

1998-2000 - Border war with Ethiopia. Tens of thousands are reportedly killed.

2009 - UN imposes sanctions on Eritrea for its alleged support of Islamist insurgents in Somalia.

2015 - UN report accuses the Eritrean government of crimes against humanity.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Between 1998 and 2000 Eritrea and Ethiopia engaged in a full-scale war in which 70,000 people are thought to have been killed

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