According to the World Bank, Eritrea had an average income of $490 in 2013, less than a third of the average in sub-Saharan Africa. In the same year, the Human Development Index ranked Eritrea as 182 out of 187 countries based on criteria such as life expectancy, education and GDP (life expectancy is 63 years and the average time in school is 4.1 years). In the World Bank’s report 2015 on conditions for conducting trade, Eritrea is in the last place (189). Amnesty has reported thousands of political prisoners and the UN human rights has been denied access to the country. Eritrea has been under UN sanctions since 2009.
OTTOMAN HISTORY. The Ottoman Empire and the Egyptians fought in the 16th century for power over the Red Sea coast. In 1557, the Ottoman Empire captured the city of Massawa and the northeastern plains after which they controlled the area for more than 300 years.
IN ENTERS THE ITALIANS. Modern Eritrea was shaped and linked together by Muslim traditions. In the late 19th century, Italian merchants and Catholic missionaries began to establish themselves in the region. In 1885, Italian troops captured the coastal city of Massawa, and five years later, after several rebellions by Eritrean rebels were suppressed, Eritrea was proclaimed an Italian colony. Italy later failed to occupy Ethiopia, which shattered the country’s imperial dreams.
INDUSTRIALIZATION BEGINS. When Italy colonized Eritrea and nearby Somaliland, extensive industrialization and modernization began. In 1897, Asmara was declared the capital and eventually became one of Africa’s most industrialized and modern cities. Catholicism grew to include one third of the country’s believers in 1940.
THE ITALIANS WITHDRAWS. At the end of World War II, Mussolini’s East African empire was wound up and most Italians left the country. After the Allied victory in WWII, the British at the UN advocated a division along religious lines: a Christian part to Ethiopia and a Muslim part to Sudan. In 1952, the UN decided to include Eritrea as an autonomous part of an Ethiopian federation, but an autonomous coastal area was not appreciated in Ethiopia. Four years later, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie dissolved Eritrea’s parliament, and in 1962, Eritrea was formally annexed.
STRUGGLE FOR INDEPENDENCE. The Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) was formed in 1960, with its roots in predominantly Muslim ethnic groups, and in 1970 the breakaway group Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, EPLF, was formed. Between 1972 and 1974, the ELF and the EPLF fought both each other and Ethiopia. Between 1978 and 1986, Ethiopia carried out eight major offensives against the EPLF, but the rebels could not be silenced. With the withdrawal of Soviet support for Ethiopia, the Marxist regime weakened.
ISAIAS AFWERKI – PRESIDENT 1993. Eritrea’s historiography often mentions how the EPLF defeated Ethiopia in a series of battles, but the regime in Addis Ababa had been weakened for several reasons. In May 1991, the EPLF marched victoriously in Asmara and at the same time the Derg regime in Ethiopia collapsed. The EPLF promised a democratic state governed by the rule of law with a free and prosperous economy, a vital privately owned sector, security, health and independence (Singapore was the role model). In April 1993, 99.8% voted for independence and soon after that the country was also elected into the UN. In June 1993, the National Assembly elected Isaias Afwerki for president. Four religious denominations were recognized: Orthodox Church, Sunni Islam, Catholicism and Evangelical Lutheranism (half the population was Christian).
UNDER PFDJ RULE. The constitution was finalized on 23 May 1997 but was never formally adopted. In May 1998, the Badme war started between Eritrea and Ethiopia, which paralyzed all ambitions for development. After two years of fighting, a ceasefire was proclaimed, but on September 18, 2001, the next setback occurred: eleven members of the G15, influential veterans who demanded democratic reforms in an open letter to the president, were imprisoned without trial. Since then, Eritrea has clashed with Sudan and Somalia and had armed conflicts with both Djibouti, Yemen and Ethiopia. Eritrea is ruled by the PFDJ party, which is dominated by President Isaias Afwerki, who lives in an unpretentious villa in Asmara.
TAXING THE DIASPORA. 1-2 of the 6 million who are identified as Eritreans are today living outside the country’s borders. The national football team has on several occasions dropped out when they have been to matches abroad. The person who moves out may fill in a form where they apologize and undertake to pay 2% tax in the home country. According to the IMF, in 2014, revenues from the diaspora accounted for the equivalent of 37% of GDP. Human Rights Watch has reported that relatives of those who do not pay the tax are subject to retaliation, fines, bureaucratic obstacles and confiscations. Despite this, the diaspora usually supports the home country, mainly the older generation, as they perceive foreign media as giving a false picture of their home country.