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Eritrea Country Information

Travel Advice with Country Information from the CIA.

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Eritrea Map

Introduction

Background

After independence from Italian colonial control in 1941 and 10 years of British administrative control, the UN established Eritrea as an autonomous region within the Ethiopian federation in 1952. Ethiopia's full annexation of Eritrea as a province 10 years later sparked a violent 30-year struggle for independence that ended in 1991 with Eritrean rebels defeating government forces. Eritreans overwhelmingly approved independence in a 1993 referendum. ISAIAS Afwerki has been Eritrea's only president since independence; his rule, particularly since 2001, has been highly autocratic and repressive. His government has created a highly militarized society by pursuing an unpopular program of mandatory conscription into national service – divided between military and civilian service – of indefinite length. A two-and-a-half-year border war with Ethiopia that erupted in 1998 ended under UN auspices in December 2000. A subsequent 2007 Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) demarcation was rejected by Ethiopia. More than a decade of a tense “no peace, no war” stalemate ended in 2018 after the newly elected Ethiopian prime minister accepted the EEBC’s 2007 ruling, and the two countries signed declarations of peace and friendship. Following the July 2018 peace agreement with Ethiopia, Eritrean leaders engaged in intensive diplomacy around the Horn of Africa, bolstering regional peace, security, and cooperation, as well as brokering rapprochements between governments and opposition groups. In November 2018, the UN Security Council lifted an arms embargo that had been imposed on Eritrea since 2009, after the UN Somalia-Eritrea Monitoring Group reported they had not found evidence of Eritrean support in recent years for Al-Shabaab. The country’s rapprochement with Ethiopia has led to a steady resumption of economic ties, with increased air transport, trade, tourism, and port activities, but the economy remains agriculture-dependent, and Eritrea is still one of Africa’s poorest nations. Despite the country's improved relations with its neighbors, ISAIAS has not let up on repression and conscription and militarization continue.

Geography

Location

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

Geographic coordinates

15 00 N, 39 00 E

Map references

Africa

Area

total: 117,600 sq km

land:101,000 sq km

water:16,600 sq km

country comparison to the world: 101

Area - comparative

slightly smaller than Pennsylvania

Land boundaries

total: 1,840 km

border countries (3):Djibouti 125 km, Ethiopia 1033 km, Sudan 682 km

Coastline

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

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

Climate

hot, dry desert strip along Red Sea coast; cooler and wetter in the central highlands (up to 61 cm of rainfall annually, heaviest June to September); semiarid in western hills and lowlands

Terrain

dominated by extension of Ethiopian north-south trending highlands, descending on the east to a coastal desert plain, on the northwest to hilly terrain and on the southwest to flat-to-rolling plains

Elevation

highest point: Soira 3,018 m

lowest point:near Kulul within the Danakil Depression -75 m

mean elevation:853 m

Natural resources

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

Land use

agricultural land: 75.1% (2018 est.)

arable land: 6.8% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 0% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 68.3% (2018 est.)

forest:15.1% (2018 est.)

other:9.8% (2018 est.)

Irrigated land

210 sq km (2012)

Total renewable water resources

7.315 billion cubic meters (2017 est.)

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 as shown in this population distribution map

Natural hazards

frequent droughts, rare earthquakes and volcanoes; locust swarms

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

Environment - international agreements

party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Ozone Layer Protection, Whaling

signed, but not ratified:Climate Change-Paris Agreement

Geography - note

strategic geopolitical position along world's busiest shipping lanes; Eritrea retained the entire coastline of Ethiopia along the Red Sea upon de jure independence from Ethiopia on 24 May 1993

People and Society

Population

6,147,398 (July 2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 111

Nationality

noun: Eritrean(s)

adjective:Eritrean

Ethnic groups

Tigrinya 55%, Tigre 30%, Saho 4%, Kunama 2%, Rashaida 2%, Bilen 2%, other (Afar, Beni Amir, Nera) 5% (2010 est.)

note: data represent Eritrea's nine recognized ethnic groups

Languages

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

Religions

Sunni Muslim, Coptic Christian, Roman Catholic, Protestant

Demographic profile

Eritrea is a persistently poor country that has made progress in some socioeconomic categories but not in others. Education and human capital formation are national priorities for facilitating economic development and eradicating poverty. To this end, 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.

Government

Country name

conventional long form: State of Eritrea

conventional short form:Eritrea

local long form:Hagere Ertra

local short form:Ertra

former:Eritrea Autonomous Region in Ethiopia

etymology:the country name derives from the ancient Greek appellation "Erythra Thalassa" meaning Red Sea, which is the major water body bordering the country

Government type

presidential republic

Capital

name: Asmara

geographic coordinates:15 20 N, 38 56 E

time difference:UTC+3 (8 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

etymology: the name means "they [women] made them unite," which according to Tigrinya oral tradition refers to the women of the four clans in the Asmara area who persuaded their menfolk to unite and defeat their common enemy; the name has also been translated as "live in peace"

Administrative divisions

6 regions (zobatat, singular - zoba); Anseba, Debub (South), Debubawi K'eyih Bahri (Southern Red Sea), Gash Barka, Ma'akel (Central), Semenawi K'eyih Bahri (Northern Red Sea)

Independence

24 May 1993 (from Ethiopia)

National holiday

Independence Day, 24 May (1991)

Constitution

history: ratified by the Constituent Assembly 23 May 1997 (not fully implemented)

amendments:proposed by the president of Eritrea or by assent of at least one half of the National Assembly membership; passage requires at least an initial three-quarters majority vote by the Assembly and, after one year, final passage by at least four-fifths majority vote by the Assembly

Legal system

mixed legal system of civil, customary, and Islamic religious law

International law organization participation

has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; non-party state to the ICCt

Citizenship

citizenship by birth: no

citizenship by descent only:at least one parent must be a citizen of Eritrea

dual citizenship recognized:no

residency requirement for naturalization:20 years

Suffrage

18 years of age; universal

Executive branch

chief of state: President ISAIAS Afwerki (since 8 June 1993); note - the president is both chief of state and head of government and is head of the State Council and National Assembly

head of government:President ISAIAS Afwerki (since 8 June 1993)

cabinet:State Council appointed by the president

elections/appointments:president indirectly elected by the National Assembly for a 5-year term (eligible for a second term); the only election was held on 8 June 1993, following independence from Ethiopia (next election postponed indefinitely)

election results:ISAIAS Afwerki elected president by the transitional National Assembly; percent of National Assembly vote - ISAIAS  Afwerki (PFDJ) 95%, other 5%

Legislative branch

description: unicameral National Assembly (Hagerawi Baito) (150 seats; 75 members indirectly elected by the ruling party and 75 directly elected by simple majority vote; members serve 5-year terms)

elections:in May 1997, following the adoption of the new constitution, 75 members of the PFDJ Central Committee (the old Central Committee of the EPLF), 60 members of the 527-member Constituent Assembly, which had been established in 1997 to discuss and ratify the new constitution, and 15 representatives of Eritreans living abroad were formed into a Transitional National Assembly to serve as the country's legislative body until countrywide elections to form a National Assembly were held; although only 75 of 150 members of the Transitional National Assembly were elected, the constitution stipulates that once past the transition stage, all members of the National Assembly will be elected by secret ballot of all eligible voters; National Assembly elections scheduled for December 2001 were postponed indefinitely due to the war with Ethiopia, and as of late 2020, there was no sitting legislative body

election results:NA

Judicial branch

highest courts: High Court (consists of 20 judges and organized into civil, commercial, criminal, labor, administrative, and customary sections)

judge selection and term of office:High Court judges appointed by the president

subordinate courts:regional/zonal courts; community courts; special courts; sharia courts (for issues dealing with Muslim marriage, inheritance, and family); military courts

Political parties and leaders

People's Front for Democracy and Justice or PFDJ [ISAIAS Afwerki] (the only party recognized by the government)

International organization participation

ACP, AfDB, AU, COMESA, FAO, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC (NGOs), IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS (observer), ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, ISO (correspondent), ITU, ITUC (NGOs), LAS (observer), MIGA, NAM, OPCW, PCA, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WFTU (NGOs), WHO, WIPO, WMO

Diplomatic representation in the US

chief of mission: Ambassador (vacant); Charge d'Affaires BERHANE Gebrehiwet Solomon (since 15 March 2011)

chancery:1708 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20009

telephone:[1] (202) 319-1991

FAX:[1] (202) 319-1304

Diplomatic representation from the US

chief of mission: Ambassador (vacant); Charge d'Affaires Steven C. WALKER (since December 2019)

embassy:179 Alaa Street, Asmara

mailing address:7170 Asmara Place, Washington DC  20521-7170

telephone:[291] (1) 12-00-04

FAX:[291] (1) 12-75-84

email address and website:consularasmara@state.gov

Flag description

red isosceles triangle (based on the hoist side) dividing the flag into two right triangles; the upper triangle is green, the lower one is blue; a gold wreath encircling a gold olive branch is centered on the hoist side of the red triangle; green stands for the country's agriculture economy, red signifies the blood shed in the fight for freedom, and blue symbolizes the bounty of the sea; the wreath-olive branch symbol is similar to that on the first flag of Eritrea from 1952; the shape of the red triangle broadly mimics the shape of the country

note: one of several flags where a prominent component of the design reflects the shape of the country; other such flags are those of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, and Vanuatu

National symbol(s)

camel; national colors: green, red, blue

National anthem

name: "Ertra, Ertra, Ertra" (Eritrea, Eritrea, Eritrea)

lyrics/music:SOLOMON Tsehaye Beraki/Isaac Abraham MEHAREZGI and ARON Tekle Tesfatsion

note: adopted 1993; upon independence from Ethiopia

Economy

Economic overview

Since formal independence from Ethiopia in 1993, Eritrea has faced many economic problems, including lack of financial resources and chronic drought. 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. Mining accounts for the lion's share of output.

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 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 amount 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 large percentage of the labor force tied up in military 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 with development and investment plans.

Communications

Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 116,882

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants:1.94 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 135

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 1,226,660

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants:20.36 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 159

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: least developed telecommunications market in Africa, largely due to restrictions of state-owned telecom monopoly; most fixed-line telephones are in Asmara; cell phone use is limited by government control of SIM card issuance; low penetration of computer use and Internet; market ripe for competition and investment; direct phone service between Eritrea and Ethiopia restored in September 2018; government operator working on roll-out of 3G network (2020) (2020)

domestic:fixed-line subscribership is less than 2 per 100 person and mobile-cellular 20 per 100 (2019)

international:country code - 291 (2019)

note: the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a significant impact on production and supply chains globally; since 2020, some aspects of the telecom sector have experienced downturn, particularly in mobile device production; many network operators delayed upgrades to infrastructure; progress towards 5G implementation was postponed or slowed in some countries; consumer spending on telecom services and devices was affected by large-scale job losses and the consequent restriction on disposable incomes; the crucial nature of telecom services as a tool for work and school from home became evident, and received some support from governments

Broadcast media

government controls broadcast media with private ownership prohibited; 1 state-owned TV station; state-owned radio operates 2 networks; purchases of satellite dishes and subscriptions to international broadcast media are permitted (2019)

Internet country code

.er

Internet users

total: 78,215

percent of population:1.31% (July 2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 183

Broadband - fixed subscriptions

total: 600

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants:less than 1 (2017 est.)

country comparison to the world: 198

Transportation

National air transport system

number of registered air carriers: 1 (2020)

inventory of registered aircraft operated by air carriers:1

annual passenger traffic on registered air carriers:102,729 (2018)

Civil aircraft registration country code prefix

E3

Airports

total: 13 (2020)

country comparison to the world: 152

Airports - with paved runways

total: 4 (2019)

over 3,047 m:2

2,438 to 3,047 m:2

Airports - with unpaved runways

total: 9 (2013)

over 3,047 m:1 (2013)

2,438 to 3,047 m:1 (2013)

1,524 to 2,437 m:5 (2013)

914 to 1,523 m:2 (2013)

Heliports

1 (2013)

Railways

total: 306 km (2018)

narrow gauge:306 km 0.950-m gauge (2018)

country comparison to the world: 121

Roadways

total: 16,000 km (2018)

paved:1,600 km (2000)

unpaved:14,400 km (2000)

country comparison to the world: 122

Merchant marine

total: 9

by type:general cargo 4, oil tanker 1, other 4 (2020)

country comparison to the world: 157

Ports and terminals

major seaport(s): Assab, Massawa

Military and Security

Military and security forces

Eritrean Defense Forces: Eritrean Ground Forces, Eritrean Navy, Eritrean Air Force (includes Air Defense Force) (2021)

Military expenditures

5.1% of GDP (2017 est.)

5.1% of GDP (2016 est.)

5.2% of GDP (2015 est.)

5.1% of GDP (2014 est.)

5% of GDP (2013 est.)

country comparison to the world: 5

Military and security service personnel strengths

the Eritrean Defense Forces are comprised of an estimated 200,000 personnel, including about 2,000 in the naval and air forces; note – it is unclear how many of the EDF’s  personnel are on active duty; the force includes significant numbers of conscripts, many of which are reportedly not under arms (2021)

Military equipment inventories and acquisitions

the Eritrean Defense Forces inventory is comprised primarily of older Russian and Soviet-era systems; Eritrea was under a UN arms embargo from 2009 to 2018; from the 1990s to 2008, Russia was the leading supplier of arms to Eritrea, followed by Belarus; in 2019, Eritrea expressed interest in purchasing Russian arms, including missile boats, helicopters, and small arms; in January 2020, Russia announced it would provide two helicopters by the end of the year (2020)

Military service age and obligation

18-40 years of age for male and female voluntary and compulsory military service (18-27 for female conscription); 18-month conscript service obligation, which includes 6 months of military training and one‐year of military or other national service (military service is most common); note - in practice, military service reportedly is often extended indefinitely (2020)

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international

Eritrea and Ethiopia agreed to abide by 2002 Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission's (EEBC) delimitation decision, but neither party responded to the revised line detailed in the November 2006 EEBC Demarcation Statement; Sudan accuses Eritrea of supporting eastern Sudanese rebel groups; in 2008, Eritrean troops moved across the border on Ras Doumera peninsula and occupied Doumera Island with undefined sovereignty in the Red Sea

Trafficking in persons

current situation: human traffickers export domestic victims in Eritrea or abroad; National Service is mandatory at age 18 and may take a variety of forms, including military service and physical labor but also government office jobs and teaching; Eritreans who flee the country, usually with the aim of reaching Europe, seek the help of paid smugglers and are vulnerable to trafficking when they cross the border clandestinely into Sudan, Ethiopia, and to a lesser extent Djibouti; Eritreans are subject to forced labor and sex trafficking mainly in Sudan, Ethiopia, and Libya

tier rating:Tier 3 — Eritrea does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so; the government engaged in critical bilateral and multilateral partnerships to build its capacity for anti-trafficking initiatives; officials participated in a UN-sponsored regional anti-trafficking workshop and committed to produce a regional plan of action to combat trafficking; however, a government policy or pattern of forced labor existed; the government continued to subject its nationals to forced labor in its compulsory national service and citizen militia by forcing them to serve indefinitely or for arbitrary periods; authorities did not report any trafficking investigations, prosecutions, or convictions, including complicit government employees, nor did they report identifying victims and referring them to care; the government has no action plan to combat human trafficking (2020)

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