The history of Eritrea is tied to its
strategic position on the southern, African side of the Red Sea; with a
coastline that extends more than 1,000 km. Many scientists believe that it is
from this area that anatomically modern humans first expanded out of Africa.
From across the seas came various invaders (and colonizers) such as the South
Arabians hailing from the present-day Yemen area, the Ottoman Turks, the
Portuguese from Goa (India), the Egyptians, the British and, in the 19th
century, the Italians. Over the centuries, invaders also came from the
neighboring countries of Africa to the south (Ethiopia) and to the west (Sudan).
However, present-day Eritrea was largely affected by the Italian invaders of the
In the period following the opening of the Suez canal in 1869, when European powers scrambled for territory in Africa and tried to establish coaling stations for their ships, Italy invaded and occupied Eritrea. On January 1, 1880, Eritrea officially became a colony of Italy. In 1936, it became a province of Italian East Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana), along with Ethiopia and Italian Somaliland. The Commonwealth armed forces expelled those of Italy in 1941 and took over the administration of the country which had been set up by the Italians. The British continued to administer the territory under a UN Mandate until 1951 when Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia as per UN resolution 390(A) under the prompting of the United States adopted in December 1950; the resolution was adopted after a referendum to consult the people of Eritrea.
The strategic importance of Eritrea, due to its Red Sea coastline and mineral resources, was the main cause for the federation with Ethiopia, which in turn led to Eritrea's annexation as Ethiopia's 14th province in 1952. This was the culmination of a gradual process of takeover by the Ethiopian authorities, a process which included a 1959 edict establishing the compulsory teaching of Amharic, the main language of Ethiopia, in all Eritrean schools. The lack of regard for the Eritrean population led to the formation of an independence movement in the early 1960s (1961), which erupted into a 30-year war against successive Ethiopian governments that ended in 1991. Following a UN-supervised referendum in Eritrea (dubbed UNOVER) in which the Eritrean people overwhelmingly voted for independence, Eritrea declared its independence and gained international recognition in 1993.
English is used in the government's international communication and is the language of instruction in all formal education beyond the fifth grade.
Eritrea is a single-party state. Though its constitution, adopted in 1997, stipulates that the state is a presidential republic with a unicameral parliamentary democracy, it has yet to be implemented.
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