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Eritrea is an East African country, situated in the Horn of Africa. Its longest border is with the Red Sea, across from Saudi Arabia and Yemen. To its west is Sudan, and to its south, it shares a long border with Ethiopia. To the southeast, Eritrea has a short border with Djibouti.

With a land area of 45,400 square-miles, Eritrea is not a large country but it has a varied topography and climate. The three main topographical zones in Eritrea are its central highlands, the eastern slope, and coastal plains, and the western lowlands.

The mountainous central interior is densely populated and cultivated by many generations of sedentary farming communities. Most of the country's light industry is in the central interior region, as well.

The low-lying coastal areas are largely arid, but get light winter rains as well as the run-off from the rainy season in the highland plateaus. The less populated western lowlands also get run-off rains from the highlands and have underground water sources of their own.

Eritrea also includes more than 350 islands in the Red Sea, the largest being Dahlak Kebir.

Dahlak Kebir has a population of about two thousand people, living in nine villages. The common language of Kahlak Kebir is Dahalik. The island is connected to the mainland and to other islands by ferries, and its main industries are fishing, collecting sea cucumbers, and tourism. Ancient cisterns and monuments dated as far back as 912 AD have been found on the island. Most of the other islands are uninhabited, but are home an array of bird life.

The archaeologist evidence suggests that there were hominids in the area of Eritrea two million years ago, which would place the region near the dawn of humankind. Thus far, more than fifty prehistoric sites have been identified across Eritrea, including rock paintings dated 2000 BC.

The earliest human inhabitants of Eritrea were probably ancestors of the central African pygmies, who later co-mingled with Kushitic, Nilotic, and Semitic people who migrated to the region. The legendary land of Punt, often cited by Egyptian pharaohs, is believed to have included Eritrea, for the region had gold, frankincense, myrrh, ostrich feathers, ebony, ivory, and other natural resources.

From prehistoric into Ancient times and beyond, the land that we know as Eritrea has hosted several kingdoms and rulers, including the Adulite Era, from the 9th to the 5th century BC, to the Axumite Empire, the Five Beja Kingdom, and the Bahre Negash, which was a series of sea kingdoms that dominated the region from the 14th to the 18th century AD, prior to the coming of the Europeans in the late 1800s.

The Italians created an outpost at Assab in 1881, from which they moved northward toward Massawa since Egyptian power was on the decline. Then annexed the province of Habesh a few years later and, in 1890, Italy claimed Eritrea as a colony, with Massawa as its capital. A few years later, Italy moved the capital to Asmara.

During Italian colonization, Eritrea gained a railroad, a network of roads, a communications network, two ports, and a number of workshops and industries. They also imposed color-based segregation that favored Europeans over Eritreans and those of mixed-race heritage, limiting access to jobs, education, and social services.

In 1941, the British expelled the Italians and took control of Eritrea. Britain proposed dividing the country along religious lines, annexing Eritrea to Sudan and Ethiopia. Nationalists in Eritrea organized Muslim and Christian-led independence groups, while the region's elite and clergy opted to unite with Ethiopia.

In the 1950s, the United States used its influence in the United Nations to have Eritrea made part of Ethiopia. In 1952, the UN granted Eritrea the right to internal self-administration but gave Ethiopia control over the country's defense, foreign affairs, and economy.

In 1958, Eritreans founded the Eritrean Liberation Movement, which engaged in political activities against the Ethiopian state. In 1961, the Eritrean Liberation Front waged an armed struggle for liberation. The war went on for thirty years before Eritrea gained independence in 1993.

The war left Eritrea in ruins. Its roads, railroad, and ports were heavily damaged by bombings. Water and sewage systems were barely functioning. The new government is a one-party state. Its news media is state-owned, and its military is one of the largest in Africa. Compulsory military service was instituted in 1995, and anyone under fifty may be enlisted in national service for an indefinite and arbitrary period of time.

The country's relations with Ethiopia are tense. It also has an ongoing border dispute with Djibouti over the Ras Doumeira peninsula.



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