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Eritrea
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Brief History

Eritrea, officially known as the State of Eritrea, gained its independence from Ethiopia on May 24, 1993, after the UN awarded Eritrea to Ethiopia as part of a federation in 1952. In May 1998, a border conflict arose with Ethiopia and lasted for two years. Eritrea hosted a UN peacekeeping operation and with its denial of fuel to the mission, the UN withdrew the mission and terminated its mandate 31 July 2008. On 30 November 2007, the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission remotely demarcated the border by coordinates and dissolved itself. Eritrea accepted the EEBC's "virtual demarcation" decision and called on Ethiopia to remove its troops from the Temporary Security Zone that it states is Eritrean territory. Ethiopia has not accepted the virtual demarcation decision. The current president is Isaias Afworki and has been in power since June 8, 1993.

Geography

Eritrea, capital Asmara, is located in the Horn of Africa in Eastern Africa covering an area of 117,600 square kilometers. It is bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast. The east and northeast of the country have an extensive coastline on the Red Sea, directly across from Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The Dahlak Archipelago and several of the Hanish Islands are part of Eritrea. Eritrea is a hot, dry desert strip along Red Sea coast. It is cooler and wetter in the central highlands, whereas in western hills and lowlands, the climate is semiarid. Natural resources in the country include gold, potash, zinc, copper, salt, possibly oil and natural gas, and fish.

People

Eritrea has a population of 5,792,984 (2010). Eritrean society is ethnically heterogeneous, and it includes Tigrinya, Tigre and Kunama, Afar, Saho (Red Sea coast dwellers), and others in the order of size. Many languages are spoken in Eritrea today. There is no official language. Afar, Arabic, Tigre and Kunama, Tigrinya,and other Cushitic languages are spoken. English and Italian are also widely understood. The literacy rate is 58.6% (2003). Its religions comprise Muslim, Coptic Christian, Roman Catholic, and Protestant. There exist minorities of Italian Eritreans and Ethiopian Tigrayans.

Government

The government of Eritrea is a transitional government. Its legal system’s primary basis is the Ethiopian legal code of 1957 with revisions. It also relies on customary and post-independence-enacted laws and, for civil cases involving Muslims, Islamic law. It does not accept compulsory ICJ jurisdiction. Since June 8, 1993, President Isaias Afworki has been the chief of state, head of government, and the head of the State Council and National Assembly. The official currency is the Nakfa, where 15.04 nakfa are equivalent to US$1.

Economy

Since independence from Ethiopia in 1993, Eritrea has faced the economic problems of a small, desperately poor country, where 50% of the population lives below the poverty line (2004) and the GDP per capita is US$700 (2009). Eritrea has a command economy whose problems have accentuated by the recent implementation of restrictive economic policies. Today, its economy depends heavily on taxes paid by members of the diaspora.

Like the economies of many other African nations, the economy is largely based on subsistence agriculture, with 80% of the population involved in farming and herding. Principal crops in 1999 included sorghum, millet, barley, and wheat. Legumes, vegetables, fruits, sesame, and linseed are also grown. Erratic rainfall and the delayed demobilization of agriculturalists from the military continue to interfere with agricultural production, and Eritrea's recent harvests have been unable to meet the food needs of the country.

The Eritrean mining and oil industries are key elements in the economy. Eritrea produced basalt, cement, common clay, kaolin, coral, gold, granite, gravel, gypsum, laterite, lime, limestone, 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. The oil industry has potential, as major oil deposits are believed to lie under the Red Sea.Industries included food processing, beverages, clothing and textiles, light manufacturing, salt, and cement. The government sought privatization of these industries, and issued incentives such as exemptions from income tax, preferential treatment in allocation of foreign exchange for imports, and provisions for remittance of foreign exchange abroad. The industrial sector accounted for 23.2% of the country’s GDP (2009).

Even though the Eritrean-Ethiopian War had affected the agricultural sector and other sectors of the economy severely, it was during the war that Eritrea developed its transportation infrastructure, asphalting new roads, improving its ports, and repairing war-damaged roads and bridges, and that’s where construction industry played a major role.

Despite difficulties for international companies in working with the Eritrean Government, a Canadian mining company signed a contract with the government in 2007 and plans to begin mineral extraction in 2010.

The inflation rate is 20% (2009) and the country’s Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is estimated to be US$298.61 (2010).


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