Eritrea [Country Flag of Eritrea]
Transnational Issues
[Country map of Eritrea]



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Historical perspective: On 29 May 1991, ISAIAS Afworki, secretary general of the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), which then served as the country's legislative body, announced the formation of the Provisional Government in Eritrea (PGE) in preparation for the 23-25 April 1993 referendum on independence for the Autonomous Region of Eritrea; the referendum resulted in a landslide vote for independence, which was proclaimed on 27 April 1993.


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

Geographic coordinates: 15 00 N, 39 00 E

Map references: Africa

total: 121,320 sq km
land: 121,320 sq km
water: 0 sq km

Area—comparative: slightly larger than Pennsylvania

Land boundaries:
total: 1,630 km
border countries: Djibouti 113 km, Ethiopia 912 km, Sudan 605 km

Coastline: 2,234 km total; mainland on Red Sea 1,151 km, islands in Red Sea 1,083 km

Maritime claims: NA

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

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 extremes:
lowest point: Kobar Sink -75 m
highest point: Soira 3,013 m

Natural resources: gold, potash, zinc, copper, salt, probably oil and natural gas (petroleum geologists are prospecting for it), fish

Land use:
arable land: 12%
permanent crops: 1%
permanent pastures: 48%
forests and woodland: 20%
other: 19% (1993 est.)

Irrigated land: 280 sq km (1993 est.)

Natural hazards: frequent droughts

Environment—current issues: deforestation; desertification; soil erosion; overgrazing; loss of infrastructure from civil warfare

Environment—international agreements:
party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements

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 27 April 1993


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Population: 3,842,436 (July 1998 est.)

Age structure:
0-14 years: 43% (male 826,686; female 818,323)
15-64 years: 54% (male 1,026,922; female 1,042,156)
65 years and over: 3% (male 66,222; female 62,127) (July 1998 est.)

Population growth rate: 3.39% (1998 est.)

Birth rate: 42.52 births/1,000 population (1998 est.)

Death rate: 12.57 deaths/1,000 population (1998 est.)

Net migration rate: 3.9 migrant(s)/1,000 population (1998 est.)
note: it is estimated that between 200,000 and 350,000 Eritrean refugees were still living in Sudan in mid-1997

Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.01 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.98 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 1.06 male(s)/female (1998 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 78.51 deaths/1,000 live births (1998 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 55.31 years
male: 53.19 years
female: 57.51 years (1998 est.)

Total fertility rate: 5.99 children born/woman (1998 est.)

noun: Eritrean(s)
adjective: Eritrean

Ethnic groups: ethnic Tigrinya 50%, Tigre and Kunama 40%, Afar 4%, Saho (Red Sea coast dwellers) 3%

Religions: Muslim, Coptic Christian, Roman Catholic, Protestant

Languages: Afar, Amharic, Arabic, Tigre and Kunama, Tigrinya, minor ethnic group languages

Literacy: NA


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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

Data code: ER

Government type: transitional government
note: following a successful referendum on independence for the Autonomous Region of Eritrea on 23-25 April 1993, a National Assembly, composed entirely of the Peoples' Front for Democracy and Justice or PFDJ, was established as a transitional legislature; a Constitutional Commission was also established to draft a constitution; ISAIAS Afworki was elected president by the transitional legislature

National capital: Asmara (formerly Asmera)

Administrative divisions: 8 provinces (singular—awraja); Akele Guzay, Barka, Denkel, Hamasen, Sahil, Semhar, Senhit, Seraye
note: in May 1995 the National Assembly adopted a resolution stating that the administrative structure of Eritrea, which had been established by former colonial powers, would consist of only six provinces when the new constitution, then being drafted, would go into effect some time in 1998; the new provinces, the names of which had not been recommended by the US Board on Geographic Names for recognition by the US government, pending acceptable definition of the boundaries, were: Anseba, Debub, Debubawi Keyih Bahri, Gash-Barka, Maakel, and Semanawi Keyih Bahri; more recently, it has been reported that these provinces have been redesignated regions and renamed Southern Red Sea, Northern Red Sea, Anseba, Gash-Barka, Southern, and Central

Independence: 27 May 1993 (from Ethiopia; formerly the Eritrea Autonomous Region)

National holiday: National Day (independence from Ethiopia), 24 May (1993)

Constitution: the transitional constitution, decreed on 19 May 1993, was replaced by a new constitution that was promulgated in May 1997

Legal system: NA

Suffrage: NA; note—the transitional constitution of 19 May 1993 did not provide rules for suffrage, but it seems likely that the final version of the constitution, which may be promulgated some time in 1998, will follow the example set in the referendum of 1993 and extend suffrage to all persons 18 years of age or older

Executive branch:
chief of state: President ISAIAS Afworki (since 8 June 1993); note—the president is both the chief of state and head of government
head of government: President ISAIAS Afworki (since 8 June 1993); note—the president is both the chief of state and head of government
cabinet: State Council is the collective executive authority
note: the president is head of the State Council and National Assembly
elections: president elected by the National Assembly; election last held 8 June 1993 (next to be held NA)
election results: ISAIAS Afworki elected president; percent of National Assembly vote - ISAIAS Afworki 95%

Legislative branch: unicameral National Assembly (150 seats; term limits not established)
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 country-wide elections to a National Assembly are held in 1998; only 75 members will be elected to the National Assembly—the other 75 will be members of the Central Committee of the PFDJ

Judicial branch: Judiciary the Supreme Court; 10 provincial courts; 29 district courts

Political parties and leaders: People's Front for Democracy and Justice or PFDJ, the only party recognized by the government [ISAIAS Afworki, PETROS Solomon]

Political pressure groups and leaders: Eritrean Islamic Jihad or EIJ; Eritrean Liberation Front or ELF [ABDULLAH Muhammed]; Eritrean Liberation Front-United Organization or ELF-UO [Mohammed Said NAWUD]; Eritrean Liberation Front-Revolutionary Council or ELF-RC [Ahmed NASSER]

International organization participation: ACP, AfDB, CCC, ECA, FAO, IBRD, ICAO, ICFTU, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IGAD, ILO, IMF, IMO, Intelsat (nonsignatory user), ITU, NAM, OAU, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO

Diplomatic representation in the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Semere RUSSOM
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-designate William CLARK
embassy: Franklin D. Roosevelt Street, Asmara
mailing address: P.O. Box 211, Asmara
telephone: [291] (1) 120004
FAX: [291] (1) 127584

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


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Economy—overview: With independence from Ethiopia on 27 April 1993, Eritrea faced the bitter economic problems of a small, desperately poor African country. The economy is largely based on subsistence agriculture, with over 70% of the population involved in farming and herding. The small industrial sector consists mainly of light industries with outmoded technologies. Domestic output (GDP) is substantially augmented by worker remittances from abroad. Government revenues come from custom duties and taxes on income and sales. Road construction is a top domestic priority. Eritrea has inherited the entire coastline of Ethiopia and has long-term prospects for revenues from the development of offshore oil fields, offshore fishing, and tourism. Eritrea's economic future depends on its ability to master fundamental social and economic problems, e.g., overcoming illiteracy, promoting job creation, expanding technical training, attracting foreign investment, and streamlining the bureaucracy.

GDP: purchasing power parity—$2.2 billion (1996 est.)

GDP—real growth rate: 6.8% (1996 est.)

GDP—per capita: purchasing power parity—$600 (1996 est.)

GDP—composition by sector:
agriculture: 18%
industry: 20%
services: 62% (1995 est.)

Inflation rate—consumer price index: 4% (1997 est.)

Labor force: NA

Unemployment rate: NA%

revenues: $226 million
expenditures: $453 million, including capital expenditures of $88 million (1996 est.)

Industries: food processing, beverages, clothing and textiles

Industrial production growth rate: NA%

Electricity—capacity: 73,000 kW (1995)

Electricity—production: NA kWh

Electricity—consumption per capita: NA kWh

Agriculture—products: sorghum, lentils, vegetables, maize, cotton, tobacco, coffee, sisal (for making rope); livestock (including goats); fish

total value: $71 million (1996 est.)
commodities: livestock, sorghum, textiles, food, small manufactures
partners: Ethiopia 67%, Sudan 10%, Saudi Arabia 4%, US 3%, Italy, Yemen (1996)

total value: $499 million (1996 est.)
commodities: processed goods, machinery, petroleum products
partners: Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Italy, United Arab Emirates

Debt—external: $162 million (1995 est.)

Economic aid:
recipient: ODA, $NA

Currency: 1 nafka = 100 cents

Exchange rates: nakfa per US$1 = 7.2 (March 1998 est.)
note: following independence from Ethiopia, Eritrea continued to use Ethiopian currency until late in 1997 when Eritrea issued its own currency, the nakfa, at approximately the same rate as the birr, i.e., 7.2 nakfa per US$1

Fiscal year: calendar year


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Telephones: NA

Telephone system:
domestic: very inadequate; about 4 telephones per 100 families, most of which are in Asmara; government is seeking international tenders to improve the system
international: NA

Radio broadcast stations: AM NA, FM NA, shortwave 0

Radios: NA

Television broadcast stations: 1 (government controlled)

Televisions: NA


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total: 307 km
narrow gauge: 307 km 0.950-m gauge (1995 est.)
note: nonoperational since 1978 except for about a 5 km stretch that was reopened in Massawa in 1994; rehabilitation of the remainder and of the rolling stock is under way; links Ak'ordat and Asmara (formerly Asmera) with the port of Massawa (formerly Mits'iwa)

total: 4,010 km
paved: 874 km
unpaved: 3,136 km (1996 est.)

Ports and harbors: Assab (Aseb), Massawa (Mits'iwa)

Merchant marine:
total: 2 ships (1,000 GRT or over) totaling 5,516 GRT/5,747 DWT
ships by type: oil tanker 1, roll-on/roll-off cargo 1 (1997 est.)

Airports: 20 (1997 est.)

Airports—with paved runways:
total: 2
over 3,047 m: 1
2,438 to 3,047 m: 1 (1997 est.)

Airports—with unpaved runways:
total: 18
over 3,047 m: 2
2,438 to 3,047 m: 2
1,524 to 2,437 m: 5
914 to 1,523 m: 6
under 914 m: 3 (1997 est.)


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Military branches: Army, Navy, Air Force

Military expenditures—dollar figure: $40 million (1995)

Military expenditures—percent of GDP: NA%

Transnational Issues

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Disputes—international: a dispute with Yemen over sovereignty of the Hanish Islands in the southern Red Sea has been submitted to arbitration under the auspices of the ICJ; a decision on the Islands is expected in mid-1998