Eritrea: History, Culture & Economy

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Eritrea, officially the State of Eritrea, is a country in the Horn of Africa.The capital is Asmara. 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. Its size is just under 118,000 km2 (45,560 sq mi) with an estimated population of 5 million.

As the site of the main ports of the Aksumite empire, it was linked to the beginnings of the Ethiopian kingdom, but it retained much of its independence until it came under Ottoman rule in the 16th century. In the 17th – 19th centuries, control of the territory was disputed among Ethiopia, the Ottomans, the kingdom of Tigray, Egypt, and Italy; it became an Italian colony in 1890. Eritrea was used as the main base for the Italian invasions of Ethiopia (1896, 1935 – 36) and in 1936 became part of Italian East Africa.

It was captured by the British in 1941, federated to Ethiopia in 1952, and made a province of Ethiopia in 1962. Three decades of guerrilla warfare by Eritrean secessionist groups ensued. A provisional Eritrean government was established in 1991 after the overthrow of the Ethiopian government, and independence came in 1993. A new constitution was ratified in 1997 but was never implemented. A border war with Ethiopia that began in 1998 ended in 2000, but boundary disputes persisted into the 21st century.

The Eritrean region has traditionally been a nexus for trade throughout the world. Because of this, the influence of diverse cultures can be seen throughout Eritrea. Today the most obvious influences in the capital, Asmara, are those of Italy. Throughout Asmara, there are small cafes serving beverages common in Italy. In Asmara, there is a clear merging of the Italian colonial influence with the traditional Tigrinya lifestyle. In the villages of Eritrea, these changes never took hold.

In the cities, before the occupation and during the early years, the import of Bollywood films was commonplace, while Italian and American films were available in the cinemas as well. In the 1980s and since independence, however, American films have become the most common. Vying for market share are films by local producers, who have slowly come into their own. The global broadcast of Eri-TV has brought cultural images to the large Eritrean population in the Diaspora that visits the country every summer. Successful domestic films are produced by government and independent studios with revenue from ticket sales typically covering the production costs.

Eritrea’s largely agricultural economy was devastated by its 30-year-long indepedence war with Ethiopia and hurt again by the strain of the 1998-2000 border war. Some 80% of the population is involved in farming and herding, although this sector provides less than 10% of the country’s GDP. Eritrea’s agricultural products include sorghum, lentils, vegetables, corn, cotton, tobacco, and sisal. Cattle, sheep, goats, and camels are raised, and hides are produced. There is a fishing industry and some pearl fisheries remain in the Dahlak Archipelago.

The country’s natural resources include gold, potash, zinc, copper, and salt, but they have not yet been exploited. Offshore oil exploration was begun in the mid-1990s. Eritrea has little industry beyond the production of food and beverages, clothing and textiles, and building materials. Many Eritreans work outside the country, and their remittances substantially augment the GDP. Imports (machinery, petroleum products, food, and manufactured goods) greatly exceed the value of exports (livestock, sorghum, and textiles). The country’s main trading partners are Italy, the United States, France, and Germany.

Notes from Wikipedia and Answers.com

A'Keiba Burrell
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