total: 117,600 sq km
land: 101,000 sq km
water: 16,600 sq km
Total: 1,840 km
border countries (3):
Djibouti 125 km,
Ethiopia 1,033 km,
Sudan 682 km
2,234 km (mainland on the Red Sea 1,151 km, islands in Red Sea 1,083 km)
Total: 4074 km
hot, dry desert strip along Red Sea coast;
cooler and wetter in the central highlands;
semiarid in western hills and lowlands
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
mean elevation: 853 m
elevation extremes: lowest point: near Kulul within the Danakil Depression -75 m
highest point: Soria 3,018 m
gold, potash, zinc, copper, salt, possibly oil and natural gas, fish
agricultural land: 75.1%
arable land 6.8%; permanent crops 0%; permanent pasture 68.3%
other: 9.8% (2011 est.
210 sq km (2012)
Population – distribution:
density is highest in the center of the country in and around the cities of Asmara (capital) and Keren; smaller settlements exist in the north and south
frequent droughts, rare earthquakes, and volcanoes; locust swarms
People and Society
Eritrea has made great strides in improving adult literacy – doubling the literacy rate over the last 20 years – in large part because of its successful adult education programs. The overall literacy rate was estimated to be almost 74% in 2015; more work needs to be done to raise female literacy and school attendance among nomadic and rural communities.
Subsistence farming fails to meet the needs of Eritrea’s growing population because of repeated droughts, dwindling arable land, overgrazing, soil erosion, and a shortage of farmers due to conscription and displacement. The government’s emphasis on spending on defense over agriculture and its lack of foreign exchange to import food also contribute to food insecurity.
Eritrea has been a leading refugee source country since at least the 1960s when its 30-year war for independence from Ethiopia began. Since gaining independence in 1993, Eritreans have continued migrating to Sudan, Ethiopia, Yemen, Egypt, or Israel because of a lack of basic human rights or political freedom, educational and job opportunities, or to seek asylum because of militarization. Eritrea’s large diaspora has been a source of vital remittances, funding its war for independence and providing 30% of the country’s GDP annually since it became independent.
In the last few years, Eritreans have increasingly been trafficked and held hostage by Bedouins in the Sinai Desert, where they are victims of organ harvesting, rape, extortion, and torture. Some Eritrean trafficking victims are kidnapped after being smuggled to Sudan or Ethiopia, while others are kidnapped from within or around refugee camps or crossing Eritrea’s borders. Eritreans composed approximately 90% of the conservatively estimated 25,000-30,000 victims of Sinai trafficking from 2009-2013, according to a 2013 consultancy firm report.
5,918,919 (July 2017 est.)
nine recognized ethnic groups: Tigrinya 55%, Tigre 30%, Saho 4%, Kunama 2%, Rashaida 2%, Bilen 2%, other (Afar, Beni Amir, Nera) 5% (2010 est.)
Tigrinya (official), Arabic (official), English (official), Tigre, Kunama, Afar, other Cushitic languages
Muslim, Coptic Christian, Roman Catholic, Protestant
Ethnicity, Language, and Religion
There are nine recognized ethnic groups according to the government of Eritrea. Eritrean society is ethnically heterogeneous. The nine Eritrea ethnic groups are the Tigrinya, Bilen, Afar, Saho, Rashaida, Tigre, Kunama, Nara and Hidarib. Eritrean Afars, also known as Dankalis, live mainly along the southeastern seacoast and on the offshore islands in a highly-segmented, patrilineal society. Afars inhabit one of the least hospitable terrains on earth and are renowned for their prowess in battle. They have a long history of independent sultanates and strong warrior traditions. Many of their songs and much of their oral literature are built on this, and it is still common to see afar men wearing jile or curved knife. Today, most are herders, traders or artisanal fishers.
The widely spoken native languages in Eritrea are the Semitic ones, the closely related Tigrigna and Tigré. The Kunama and the Nara are the Nilotic languages of Eritrea, spoken in the lowlands between the Gash and Setit rivers. The main working languages are Tigrigna and Arabic. English is the medium of instruction from middle school level upwards. Hundreds of thousands of Eritreans from a total population of close to 4 million are in exile.
Eritrea’s links to Christianity are thought to stretch back to the arrival of shipwrecked Syrian traders at the beginning of the 4th century. Over the years since the Orthodox Church has served as a critical repository of written records and iconic art. The Eritrean Orthodox Church separated from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church after Eritrea’s liberation and now functions as a self-governing church in communication with the Coptic Church of Egypt. Today, there are at least eighteen orthodox monasteries in Eritrea. Many were built high atop mountain ridges or tucked into inaccessible places to protect against raids and attacks in the past.
followers of the prophet Mohammed came to Eritrean coast in 615 to establish relations with Adulate authorities and seek protection for the new faith, making this one of the earliest non-Arabian sites in contact with Islam. Among the many important historical sites in Eritrea is the 500-year-old sheikh Hanafi mosque in Massawa. Today, nearly all Eritrean Muslims are Sunnis, the largest sect in Islam.
Education in Eritrea is officially compulsory for children aged 7 to 13 years. However, the education infrastructure is inadequate to meet current needs. Statistics vary at the elementary level, suggesting that 65% to 70% of school-aged children attend primary school; Approximately 61% attend secondary school. There are five levels of education in Eritrea, which include kindergarten, primary, middle, secondary, and post-secondary. There are nearly 238,000 students in the primary, middle, and secondary levels of education.
The Education system follows 5 stages, beginning at the kindergarten level, and for some perhaps ending with university degrees. The system is intended to overcome traditional taboos and rural poverty. Perhaps inevitably though, larger urban areas are often better endowed. Primary school, which lasts for 5 years begins at age 6 and takes place in the mother tongue. All teachers must be qualified. The second and final phase of compulsory education takes place at the middle school in English. At the end of this period, students write their seventh-grade national examination at the national examination center.
There are 2 streams of secondary education, namely science and commerce, and teachers must have appropriate degrees. Students may take the concluding Eritrean school leaving certificate examination in March of any year. Those still at school after age 18 are required to engage in annual summer work programs that aim to foster a sense of social awareness and responsibility. Good progress has been made with implementing vocational training too. A number of training centers processed 27,000 students during 2010 in a variety of specialties, and it is hoped to introduce several more institutions shortly.
Eritrea Education Eritrea has a variety of smaller educational colleges and technical schools for further education, where subjects as diverse as agriculture, arts & social sciences, biology, business & economics, and nursing & health technology may be followed. There are 2 universities too, namely the University of Asmara and the Eritrean Institute of Technology. The former is the older, having been originally instituted in 1958 by the Catholic Church, but has migrated across the years from being a school for expatriate Italian girls to becoming a national institution. At the moment there are 8,000 students studying in the five colleges. These colleges are Eritrea Institute of Technology, College of Marine Science, College of Business and Economics, College of Agriculture, College of Health Science, College of Arts and Social Sciences and Orota College of Medicine.
Since formal independence from Ethiopia in 1993, Eritrea has faced many economic problems, including lack of financial 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. Like the economies of many African nations, a large share of the population – nearly 80% in Eritrea – is engaged in subsistence agriculture, but the sector only produces a small share of the country’s total output.
Since the conclusion of the Ethiopia-Eritrea war in 2000, the government has expanded 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 aimed at relaxing currency controls have had a little economic effect. Few large private enterprises exist in Eritrea and most operate in conjunction with government partners, including a number of large international mining ventures, which began production in 2013. In late 2015, the Government of Eritrea introduced a new currency, retaining the name nakfa, and restricted the number of hard currency individuals could withdraw from banks per month. The changeover has resulted in exchange fluctuations and the scarcity of hard currency available in the market.
While reliable statistics on Eritrea 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 are likely to continue to drive limited economic growth and government revenue over the next few years, but military spending will continue to compete
The Economy is mainly stimulated by the mining sector (gold), the coming on stream of the Bisha mine in 2011 and the historically high gold price prevailing at that time were key drivers. Growth prospects are potentially favorable in the medium term, reflecting the potential of additional mineral resources, especially copper and zinc, with favorable international base metal prices. Despite recent growth, Eritrea remains one of the least developed countries in the world. Anecdotal evidence indicates that poverty is still widespread in the country where 65% of the population lives in rural areas and 80% depend on subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods, impacting negatively on human development, which is evident in human-development statistics. In 2012, Eritrea’s Human Development Index at 0.351, was below the average of 0.466 for countries in the Low Human Development group and below the 0.475 average for countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa region.
Rain-fed agriculture is also the predominant economic activity employing more than two-thirds of the population. The sector’s contribution to GDP, however, has been moderate and declining, reflecting challenges that include recurrent droughts in the Horn of Africa, and rudimentary farming methods. However, the government’s decision to utilize $17 million of the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) Drought Resilience and Sustainable Livelihood Programme (DRLSP) 2015-2021 provides a good opportunity to mitigate the effects of recurrent droughts, and also enable the majority of the Eritreans, especially the youth, to participate in generating broad-based growth.
GDP (purchasing power parity):
$9.631 billion (2017 est.)
$9.327 billion (2016 est.)
$8.997 billion (2015 est.)
note: data are in 2017 dollars
GDP (official exchange rate):
$6.05 billion (2017 est.)
GDP – real growth rate:
3.3% (2017 est.)
3.7% (2016 est.)
4.8% (2015 est.)
GDP – per capita (PPP):
$1,400 (2017 est.)
$1,400 (2016 est.)
$1,400 (2015 est.)
Gross national saving:
4.6% of GDP (2017 est.)
4% of GDP (2016 est.)
1.3% of GDP (2015 est.)
GDP – composition, by sector of origin:
services: 58.7% (2017 est.)
Agriculture – products:
sorghum, lentils, vegetables, corn, cotton, tobacco, sisal; livestock, goats; fish
food processing, beverages, clothing and textiles, light manufacturing, salt, cement
Population below poverty line:
50% (2004 est.)
revenues: $2.029 billion
expenditures: $2.601 billion (2017 est.)
Agriculture is by far the most important sector of the country’s economy, providing a livelihood for about four-fifths of the population and accounting for a large portion of Eritrea’s exports. Small-scale cultivation and traditional pastoralism are the main forms of agricultural activity. These are not mutually exclusive occupations since most cultivators also keep animals and most pastoralists cultivate grains when possible. Both cultivators and pastoralists produce primarily for their own subsistence, and only small surpluses are available for trade.
The area of cultivation is limited by climate, soil erosion, and the uneven surface of the plateau. Under the Italian and Ethiopian rule, irrigated plantations produced vegetables, fruit, cotton, sisal, bananas, tobacco, and coffee for the growing urban markets, but this agricultural sector was disrupted by the long period of warfare leading to independence. Today staple grain products include sorghum, millet, and an indigenous cereal named teff (Eragrostis tef). Pulses, sesame seeds, vegetables, cotton, tobacco, and sisal also are produced. Among the livestock raised are sheep, cattle, goats, and camels.
Eritrea has 565,000 hectares (1,396,000 acres) of arable land and permanent crops. Three-quarters of Eritrea’s people are subsistence farmers dependent on unreliable rainfall to feed families that average seven children. The present government dissolved the former Ethiopian military regime’s marketing board and reinstituted private markets for agricultural products. Principal crops in 2004 included sorghum, 56,700 tons; millet, 11,600 tons; barley, 16,900 tons; and wheat, 17,200 tons. Legumes, vegetables, fruits, sesame, and linseed are also grown. War, drought, deforestation, and erosion caused about 70–80% of the population to become dependent on food aid.
Sheep, goats, cattle (especially zebu), and camels make up the majority of Eritrea’s livestock. The government is emphasizing the development of agriculture and animal husbandry in order to decrease the reliance on international relief, caused by war and drought. With Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia, access to about 1,011 km (628 mi) of Red Sea coastline was obtained. Because Eritrea now controls the coastline, long-term prospects for development of offshore fishing and oil are good. The total catch rose from 475 tons in 1993 to 6,689 tons in 2003. The Eritrean navy patrols the coastal waters to limit poaching by unauthorized non nationals. The development of local fishing will decrease the dependence on foreign food aid, even though fish has not been a major source of Eritreans’ protein intake.
population without electricity: 4,300,000
electrification – total population: 32%
electrification – urban areas: 86%
electrification – rural areas: 17% (2013)
Electricity – production:
383.8 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – consumption:
329.8 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – exports:
0 kWh (2016 est.)
Electricity – imports:
0 kWh (2016 est.)
Electricity – installed generating capacity:
m 668,200 kW (2015 est.)
Electricity – from fossil fuels:
98.6% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Electricity – from nuclear fuels:
0% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Telephones – fixed lines:
total subscriptions: 66,086
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 1 (July 2016 est.)
Telephones – mobile cellular:
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 9 (July 2016 est.)
Internet country code:
percent of population: 1.2% (July 2016 est.)
Eritrea’s Strategic Location along the Red Sea provides ideal exposure to one of the world’s busiest shipping lines and established linkages to other areas of the region and beyond. The port of Massawa is a transit point for goods to the Middle East, European and Asian Markets. The development of the port is poised to bring about potential gains to trade. The establishment of a Free Port Zone at Massawa is further expected to boost trade prospects within the already established Middle Eastern and African Markets.
Manufactured items in 2002 included beverages, processed foods, tobacco, leather, textiles, metal products, chemicals, printing, nonmetallic minerals, construction materials, salt, paper, and matches. The government sought privatization of these industries and issued incentives such as exemptions from income tax, preferential treatment in the allocation of foreign exchange for imports, and provisions for remittance of foreign exchange abroad. In 2002, there were approximately 2,000 manufacturing companies operating in the country.
The oil industry has potential, as major oil deposits are believed to lie under the Red Sea. In 2001, the United States firm CMS Energy entered into an exploration agreement with Eritrea for exploration in the Dismin Block in northeastern Eritrea. Due to high operating costs, the country’s sole oil refinery, at Assab, was closed in 1997. It had a crude refining capacity of 18,000 barrels per day. The construction industry is growing, as projects range from the construction and expansion of power plants; road, airport, and dam construction; upgrading seaports; and the construction of schools and hospitals.
In 2005, industry had a 26.3% share of the GDP; services were the largest sector with a 65% participation in the economy; agriculture was least economically important sector (with only an 8.7% share in the GDP), but was by far the largest employer (80% of the total labor force). Recent industries include food processing, beverages, clothing and textiles, salt, cement, and commercial ship repair.
Eritrea produced basalt, cement, common clay, kaolin, coral, gold, granite, gravel, gypsum, laterite, lime, limestone (for other than cement), marble, pumice, quartz, salt, sand, and silica sand. The country also had known resources of chromium, copper, magnesium, zinc, lead, silver, barite, feldspar, talc, asbestos, iron ore, nickel-chromite, potash, and potassium. Marine salt was produced at Massawa and Assab. Quarries for limestone, clay or shale, and gypsum were located near Massawa. Artisanal gold production, extracted over a large area in the southwestern hills, was 33 kg in 2004, up from 9 kg in 2003, but down from 107 kg in 2001. The outlook for Eritrea’s mineral industry was for gradual recovery from the war, with demand for basalt, granite, gravel, limestone, marble, and sand likely to increase.
Banking and Finance
Following the country’s emergence from a long war of independence from Ethiopia in 1993, its economy enjoyed high growth for several years at an average annual rate of 10.9 percent. A series of exogenous shocks, from a severe drought in 2008 to the international food and oil price crises of the year, to the global recession and economic crisis, have significantly weakened Eritrea’s growth prospects, caused accelerated inflation and stalled progress in fiscal consolidation. Following these shocks real GDP contracted by 9.8 percent in 2008 before recovering with an average GDP growth of 4.9 percent between 2009 and 2011 with a positive projection of 7.5 and 3.4 percent for 2012 and 2013 respectively.
The country’s formal financial sector is very small and mainly state-owned, providing only rudimentary financial services to the economy. In addition to the Central Bank and two commercial banks, the only financial institutions are the Eritrean Development and Investment Bank (EDIB), the National Insurance Corporation of Eritrea (NICE), and the Himbol Exchange and Financial Service which acts as an auxiliary providing money transfer and foreign exchange services. The Central Bank coordinates monetary and exchange rate policies only in close consultation with the government.
The Commercial Bank of Eritrea is the largest commercial bank in the country. It loans mainly to larger state-owned and private manufacturing firms. The second commercial bank, the Housing and Commerce Bank of Eritrea (HCBE), is a relatively small institution and the only one not to be owned by the government. Its main assets consist of loans for infrastructure and construction activities. All banks are majority-owned by the government and no foreign financial institutions operate in the country.
While the Eritrean government launched microfinance programs in 2005 to extend financial services to the poor, there is still great potential for further development. The prospects for developing mobile banking services are limited, as Eritrea has one of the lowest mobile phone penetration rates on the continent: according to the latest data available only 4 out of 100 adults holds a mobile phone.
Eritrea’s fixed income market is in its very early phase of development and has, to date, very limited activity and sophistication. There is no auction of government securities, short-term treasury bills are issued and sold at fix price by the Central Bank, and there is no corporate bond issuance. There is no secondary market for government securities and no financial intermediaries, such as brokers or primary dealers, operate in the country. As of March 2013, Eritrea received no sovereign rating from any of the three major credit rating agencies.
Nestled in the Horn of Africa is Eritrea. This small country of roughly six million people is bordered by Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti, and the Red Sea. Despite a slew of challenges like a poor economy and political repression, and despite difficulties in traveling there (a permit is required if you want to leave the capital), Eritrea is still one of the most awe-inspiring countries in the Horn.
A multi-ethnic country, with nine distinct groups and influences from Abyssinia, Mediterranean, and Arab cultures. Basically untouched by development and tourism, this country offers beaches, reefs, archipelagos, culture, religion, archaeology, and natural beauty. The name Eritrea comes from a Greek word meaning ‘Red Sea,’ and visitors here will love unlocking the country’s many secret places.
The country’s most interesting destinations are its natural attractions. There are six main topographical features in the country. The highlands in the center and south of Eritrea, the western lowlands, the Sahel in the north, the subtropical eastern escarpments, the northern coast and archipelago and the southern coast.
The highlands, where the capital Asmara is situated, lie between 1500 and 3500 meters above sea level and are blessed with a temperate, Mediterranean and dry climate, with little seasonal variation in temperature. There, the rainy season comes between May and September and the dry season lasts from December to April. There is however considerable variation in temperature between different altitudes in the highlands. The landscape essentially consists of valleys, hills and vast expanses of plateaus interrupted by dramatic chasms and gorges.
The western lowlands lie between 1500 and 100 meters above sea level, the climate is tropical with high humidity and heat throughout the day during the rainy season (which comes at the same time as in the Highlands i.e. from May to September) and dry hot days with cold nights during the dry season. The landscape consists largely of plains, which are grassy, muddy and green during the rainy season and dry, dusty and sparsely covered with shrubbery during the dry season.
The northern coast and archipelago consist largely of a sandy red-brown and beige semi-desert with some shrubbery and volcanic basalt-rock along the mainland coast. The elevation is between 0 and 500 meters (1640 ft) above sea level and the climate is always tropical and humid, reaching uncomfortable highs of 37 to 50 degrees C (99-122 F) in the summer months from May to September before cooling to breezy and warm lows of 25 to 35 degrees (77-95 F) between October and March.
The beaches on the Dahlak islands, on the other hand, are clean, white and pristine, with lagoons of clear turquoise water. The only way to get to the Dahlak islands is to charter a boat from a licensed company in Massawa. The biggest island Dahlak Kebir, which features one modest resort-hotel is only 90 km (56 mi) away as are some other smaller uninhabited islands like Dissei, which can make for affordable day-trips from Massawa. Beyond Dissei, the archipelago extends much farther and offers much greater attractions.
The southern coast is perhaps Eritrea’s most dramatic yet most inhospitable landscape because of its volcanoes, quicksand, bubbling sulfuric mud pools, salt lakes, coastal cliffs and inland depressions. The elevation ranges between peaks of over 2000 meters (6,560 ft) above sea level and depressions of more than 100 meters (330 ft) below sea level with fields of salt pans and strangely shaped rocks where temperatures reach the highest on our planet.
Archaeological evidence of pre-humans has been discovered in the Buya region of Eritrea, near Adi Keyh. The discovery may be one of the oldest ever found and is similar to the famous “Lucy” find. Evidence of human presence begins in the 8th millennium B.C., beginning with Pygmoid, Nilotic, Cushitic (the Afar) and Semitic (Tigrinya) peoples. In the sixth century B.C., Arabs spread to the coast of present-day Eritrea, in search of ivory and slaves for trade with Persia and India. Their language evolved into Ge’ez, related to today’s Amhara, still spoken by Christian priests in Eritrea and Ethiopia.
During the 3rd and 4th century AD, Eritrea was part of the kingdom of Axum which spread from Meroe in Sudan right across the Red Sea to Yemen. The capital of Axum was in the highlands of Tigray (now a province in Ethiopia), and the main port was at Adulis which is now called Zula in Eritrea. This Kingdom was based upon trade across the Red Sea and was founded by Semitic people originally from Arabia. Christianity was the predominant faith of Axum introduced through contact with traders throughout the region.
By the 6th century AD, the Persian Empire expanded and with it went the expansion of Islam. In 710 AD Muslims destroyed Adulis and the ancient kingdom of Axum declined until it was reduced to a small Christian Enclave. For the next few centuries, the region settled into being a remote, isolated community only re-emerging by the early 16th century as Abyssinia. The Abyssinian Kingdom covered the Ethiopian highlands ruled by kings and peopled by Christian Tigrinyans and remaining fairly isolated. The community had little or no contact with the lowlands of the region which was home to predominantly Muslim communities.
This period in Eritrea’s history is highly contentious. Ethiopians claimed Eritrea had been an integral part of historic Ethiopia but though there are some common practices and religious beliefs between Eritreans and Ethiopia, these ties do not extend throughout Ethiopia. In fact, large parts of Eritrea, it would seem, were linked to other empires. The Ottoman Empire and Egypt had relations with the northern and eastern part of the country, and various Sudan Empires to the west and north-west have had their influence.
The Land of Punt
The Land of Punt, also called Pwenet or Pwene by the ancient Egyptians, was an ancient kingdom. A trading partner of Egypt, it was known for producing and exporting gold, aromatic resins, black wood, ebony, ivory, and wild animals. The region is known from ancient Egyptian records of trade expeditions to it. It is possible that it corresponds to Opone as later known by the ancient Greeks, while some biblical scholars have identified it with the biblical land of Put.
At times Punt is referred to as Ta netjer, the “Land of the God”. The exact location of Punt is still debated by historians. Most scholars today believe Punt was situated to the southeast of Egypt, most likely in the coastal region of modern Djibouti, Eritrea, northeast Ethiopia, Somalia, and the Red Sea littoral of Sudan. It is also possible that the territory covered both the Horn of Africa and Southern Arabia. Punt land, the Somali administrative region situated at the extremity of the Horn of Africa, is named in reference to the Land of Punt.
The majority opinion places Punt in Northeastern Africa, based on the fact that the products of Punt, were abundantly found in the Horn of Africa but were less common or sometimes absent in Arabia. These products included gold and aromatic resins such as myrrh, frankincense, and ebony; the wild animals depicted in Punt included giraffes, baboons, hippopotamuses, and leopards.
Although Egyptians record voyaging to it until the end of the New Kingdom, 3,000 years ago, scholars do not know where Punt was. Ancient texts refer only to vague allusions to its location. Till now no Puntite civilization has been discovered. Somalia, Ethiopia, Yemen and even Mozambique are all possible countries. Because of science, the search for Punt appears to be coming to an end. New research will be presented at an Egyptology conference, proving that it was located in Eritrea/East Ethiopia.
In 2010, a genetic study was conducted on the mummified remains of baboons that were brought back from Punt by the ancient Egyptians. Led by a research team from the Egyptian Museum and the University of California, Santa Cruz, the scientists used oxygen isotope analysis to examine hairs from two baboon mummies that had been preserved in the British Museum. The researchers at first found that the mummies most closely matched modern specimens seen in Eritrea and Ethiopia as opposed to those in neighboring Somalia, with the Ethiopian specimens “basically due west from Eritrea”.
In 2015, the scientists conducted a follow-up study to confirm their initial findings and concluded that “our results reveal a high likelihood match with eastern Somalia and the Eritrea-Ethiopia corridor, suggesting that this region was the source of Papio hamadryas exported to Ancient Egypt. Due to that fact, Punt is a sort of circumscribed region that includes eastern Ethiopia and all of Eritrea.
The Kingdom of Aksum
The Kingdom of Aksum 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 c. 4th century BC to achieve prominence by the 1st century AD. The Aksumites established bases on the northern highlands of the Ethiopian Plateau and from there expanded southward. The Persian religious figure Mani listed Axum with Rome, Persia, and China as one of the four great powers of his time.
According to the medieval Liber Axumae (Book of Aksum), Aksum’s first capital, Mazaber, was built by Itiyopis, son of Cush. Munro-Hay cites the Muslim historian Abu Ja’far al-Khwarazmi/Kharazmi as stating that the capital of “the kingdom of Habash” was Jarma (hypothetically from Ge’ez Girma, “remarkable, revered”). The capital was later moved to Aksum 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 is the largest such structure in the world, standing at 90 feet. Under Ezana (fl. 320–360), Aksum later adopted Christianity. In 615, during the lifetime of Muhammad, the Aksumite King Sahama provided asylum to early Muslims from Mecca fleeing persecution. This journey is known in Islamic history as the First Hijra. The area is also the alleged resting place of the Ark of the Covenant and the purported home of the Queen of Sheba.
The state also established its hegemony over the declining Kingdom of Kush and regularly entered the politics of the kingdoms on the Arabian peninsula, eventually extending its rule over the region with the conquest of the Himyarite Kingdom. Inscriptions have been found in Southern Arabia celebrating victories over one GDRT, described as “nagashi of Habashat [i.e. Abyssinia] and of Axum.” Other dated inscriptions are used to determine a floruit for GDRT (interpreted as representing a Ge’ez name such as Gadarat, Gedur, or Gedara) around the beginning of the 3rd century. A bronze scepter or wand has been discovered at Atsbi Dera within inscription mentioning “GDR of Axum”. Coins showing the royal portrait began to be minted under King Endubis toward the end of the 3rd century.
The degree of Aksum’s control over Yemen is uncertain. Though there is little evidence supporting Aksumite control of the region at that time, his title, which includes king of Saba and Salhen, Himyar and Dhu-Raydan (all in modern-day Yemen), along with gold Aksumite coins with the inscriptions, “king of the Habshat” or “Habashite,” indicate that Aksum might have retained some legal or actual footing in the area.
Medri Bahri (ምድሪ ባሕሪ)
The 15th century saw the rise of a new kingdom, Medri Bahri. Previously, this area has been known as Ma’ikele Bahr (“between the seas/rivers,” i.e. the land between the Red Sea and the Mereb river), but during the reign of Emperor Zara Yaqob it was rebranded as the domain of the Bahr Negash, the Medri Bahri (“Sea-land” in Tigrinya, although it included some areas like Shire on the other side of the Mereb, today in Ethiopia). With its capital at Debarwa, the state’s main provinces were Hamasien, Serae and Akele Guzai. In 1879, Medri Bahri was annexed by Ras Alula, who defended the area against the Italians until they finally occupied it in 1889.
Medri Bahri (ምድሪ ባሕሪ) was a medieval semi-unified political entity in the Horn of Africa. Also known as Marab(Merab) Melash was situated in modern-day Eritrea, it was ruled at times by the Bahri Negus (also called the Bahri Negasi or Bahr Negash) and lasted from the 15th century to the Ethiopian occupation in 1879. It survived several threats like the invasion of Imam Gran and the Ottoman Red Sea expansion, albeit Medri Bahri irretrievably lost its access to the Red Sea due to the latter. The relation to the Ethiopian empire in the south varied from time to time, ranging from virtual autonomy to tributary status to de facto annexation.
The current Bahr Negash bore the name Dori and resided in Debarwa, a town on the very northern edge of the highlands. Dori was an uncle of Emperor Lebna Dengel, to whom he paid tribute. These tributes were traditionally paid with horses and imported cloth and carpets. Dori was said to wield considerable power and influence, with his kingdom reaching almost as far north as Suakin, plus he was also a promoter of Christianity, gifting the churches everything they needed. By the time of Alvares’ visit, Dori was engaged in warfare against some Nubians after the Nubians had killed his son.
The Bahre-Nagassi (“Kings of the Sea”) alternately fought with or against the Abyssinians and the neighboring Muslim Adal Sultanate depending on the geopolitical circumstances. Medri Bahri was thus part of the Christian resistance against Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi of Adal’s forces, but later joined the Adalite states and the Ottoman Empire front against Abyssinia in 1572. The Ottoman Empire tried to cross the Mareb, but while doing so they got ambushed by a local chief named Aquba Michael, whom Sarsa Dengel then awarded with the office of Bahr Negash. The imperial army eventually reconquered Debarwa and killed the current Turkish Pasha, while Aquba Michael killed Wäd Ezum, who had been appointed as Bahr Negash by the Ottomans. Afterward, the Ottomans abandoned their ambitions to conquer the highlands for good.
In 1889, the Italians signed the Treaty of Wuchale with then Negus Menelik of Shewa. The treaty ceded territories previously part of Ethiopia, namely the provinces of Bogos, Hamasien, Akkele Guzay, Serae, and parts of Tigray and Eritrea. In return, Italy promised Menelik the second’s rule, financial assistance, and military supplies. A dispute later arose over the interpretation of the two versions of the document. The Italian-language version of the disputed Article 17 of the treaty stated that the Emperor of Ethiopia was obliged to conduct all foreign affairs through Italian authorities. This would in effect make Ethiopia a protectorate of the Kingdom of Italy. The Amharic version of the article, however, stated that the Emperor could use the good offices of the Kingdom of Italy in his relations with foreign nations if he wished. However, the Italian diplomats claimed that the original Amharic text included the clause and that Menelik II knowingly signed a modified copy of the Treaty.
The Italian government decided on a military solution to force Ethiopia to abide by the Italian version of the treaty. As a result, Italy and Ethiopia faced off in what was later to be known as the First Italo-Ethiopian War. In December 1894, Bahta Hagos led a rebellion against the Italians in Akkele Guzay, in what was then Italian controlled Eritrea. Units of General Oreste Baratieri’s army under Major Pietro Toselli crushed the rebellion and killed Bahta. The Italian army then occupied the Tigrayan capital, Adwa. In January 1895, Baratieri’s army went on to defeat Ras Mengesha Yohannes in the Battle of Coatit, forcing Mengesha to retreat further south.
By late 1895, Italian forces had advanced deep into Ethiopian territory. On 7 December 1895, Ras Makonnen, Ras Welle Betul and Ras Mengesha Yohannes commanding a larger Ethiopian group of Menelik’s vanguard annihilated a small but well equipped Italian invading force at what famously known ‘THE BATTLE OF ADWA.” Which become a symbol for the “Pan African Movement”. The Italians were then forced to withdraw to more defensible positions in Tigray, where the two main armies faced each other. The Italians suffered about 7,000 killed and 1,500 wounded in the battle and subsequent retreat back into Eritrea, with 3,000 taken prisoner.
Emperor Menelik decided not to follow up on his victory by attempting to drive the routed Italians out of their colony. The victorious Emperor limited his demands too little more than the abrogation of the Treaty of Wuchale. In the context of the prevailing balance of power, the emperor’s crucial goal was to preserve Ethiopian independence. In addition, Ethiopia had just begun to emerge from a long and brutal famine; Harold Marcus reminds us that the army was restive over its long service in the field, short of rations, and the short rains which would bring all travel to a crawl would soon start to fall. At the time, Menelik claimed a shortage of cavalry horses with which to harry the fleeing soldiers. Chris Prouty Ethio-Eritrea Historian observes that “a failure of nerve on the part of Menelik has been alleged by both Italian and Ethiopian sources, why Ethiopia lost control of Eritrea to Colonial Italy.”
As a direct result of the battle, Italy signed the Treaty of Addis Ababa, recognizing Ethiopia as an independent state, and Eritrea to became the colony of Italy. Almost forty years later, on 3 October 1935, after the League of Nations’s weak response to the Abyssinia Crisis, the Italians launched a new military campaign endorsed by Benito Mussolini, the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. This time the Italians employed vastly superior military technology such as tanks and aircraft, as well as chemical warfare, and the Ethiopian forces were defeated by May 1936. Following the war, Italy occupied Ethiopia for five years (1936–41), before eventually being driven out during World War II by British Empire and Ethiopian Arbegnoch (patriot) forces.
Benito Mussolini’s rise to power in Italy in 1922 brought profound changes to the colonial government in Eritrea. After il Duce declared the birth of 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.
Mussolini’s government considered the colony as a strategic base for future aggrandizement and ruled accordingly, using Eritrea as a base to launch its 1935–1936 campaign to conquer and colonize Ethiopia. Even in World War II, the Italians used Eritrea to attack Sudan and occupy the Kassala area. Indeed, the best Italian colonial troops were the Eritrean Ascari, as stated by Italian Marshall Rodolfo Graziani and legendary officer Amedeo Guillet. Furthermore, after World War I, serving with the Ascari become the main source of paid employment for the indigenous male population of Italian Eritrea. During the expansion required by the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1936, 40% of eligible Eritreans were enrolled in these colonial troops.
Britain and France recognized Italian sovereignty over Ethiopia by the Anglo-Italian Agreements of 1938. The army of occupation had 150,000 men but was spread thinly; by 1941 the garrison had been increased to 250,000 soldiers, including 75,000 Italian civilians. The former police chief of Addis Ababa, Abebe Aregai, was the most successful leader of the Ethiopian guerrilla movement after 1937, using units of fifty men. On 11 December, the League of Nations voted to condemn Italy and Mussolini withdrew from the League.
While in exile in England, Haile Selassie had sought the support of the Western democracies for his cause but had little success until the Second World War began. On 10 June 1940, Mussolini declared war on France and Britain and attacked British and Commonwealth forces in Egypt, Sudan, Kenya and British Somaliland. In August 1940, the Italian conquest of British Somaliland was completed. The British and Selassie incited Ethiopian and other local forces to join a campaign to dislodge the Italians from Ethiopia. Selassie went to Khartoum to establish closer liaison with the British and resistance forces within Ethiopia. On 18 January 1941, Selassie crossed the border into Ethiopia near the village of Um Iddla and two days later rendezvoused with Gideon Force. on 5 May, Selassie and an army of Ethiopian Free Forces entered Addis Ababa.
Eritrea, The New Country on the Block
In 1950 the United Nations (UN), under the prompting of the United States, resolved to join Eritrea to Ethiopia within two years. The proposed federation would provide Eritrea with autonomy under its own constitution and elected government. Elections to a new Eritrean Assembly in 1952 gave the Unionist Party the largest number of seats but not a majority; the party thus formed a government in coalition with a Muslim faction. The Eritrean constitution, prepared by the UN in consultation with Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, was adopted by the Eritrean Assembly on July 10, 1952, and ratified by Haile Selassie on August 11. The act of federation was ratified by the emperor on September 11, and British authorities officially relinquished control on September 15.
Militant opposition to the incorporation of Eritrea into Ethiopia had begun in 1958 with the founding of the Eritrean Liberation Movement (ELM), an organization made up mainly of students, intellectuals, and urban wage laborers. The ELM, under the leadership of Hamid Idris Awate, a former Eritrean Ascari, engaged in clandestine political activities intended to cultivate resistance to the centralizing policies of the imperial Ethiopian state. By 1962, however, the ELM had been discovered and destroyed by imperial authorities.
Between 1978 and 1986 the Derg launched several unsuccessful major offensives against the EPLF and TPLF(Tigrai libration Front formed On 14 September 1974). Around 1983, the core cadres of TPLF founded the Marxist–Leninist League of Tigray in the line of the Party of Labour of Albania. They also incorporated the name Woyane in the title of their organization as an intentional reference to the Woyane rebellion, a revolt in Tigray that arose and was crushed in 1943.
In 1988 the EPLF captured Afabet, headquarters of the Derg(Ethiopian Military Junta) in northeastern Eritrea, putting approximately a third of the Ethiopian Army out of action and promoting the Derg Army to withdraw from its garrisons in Eritrea’s western lowlands. EPLF fighters then moved into position around Keren, Eritrea’s second-largest city. Following the stoppage of military assistance from Russia(former USSR), and the TPLF and EPLF gaining control of Ethiopia and its Capital Addis Ababa, Eritrean fighting for Independence for a half-century became reality in 1991.
The Eritrean authorities declared Eritrea an independent state on 27 April. The government was reorganized and the National Assembly was expanded to include both EPLF and other political members of the country. The assembly chose Isaias Afewerki as President. The EPLF reorganized itself as a political party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ).