Eritrea - Political background



Eritrea's history derives from its position on the northern limits of the Ethiopian highlands. It formed part of the Axumite Empire established in the first century AD . Over the course of its history, however, its strategic geographic location along the Red Sea coast has made it the object of numerous invasions by external powers that sought to control trade along the coast and in the interior. Along with the Ethiopian highlands, much of Eritrea converted to Christianity in the fourth century AD , though Islam spread in the lowlands beginning in the seventh century. Conflicts over religion and territory between Christian highlanders and Muslim lowlanders have characterized Eritrea's internal history. That history has also seen cooperation between the groups in trade and responses to outside invaders. The major external invaders have been the Ottoman Turks (sixteenth century), Egypt (nineteenth century), and Italy (late nineteenth century).

Italy controlled Eritrea as a formal colony from 1890 until 1941. During that period, Italy invested in building an industrial and transportation infrastructure to serve as a base for expansion of its empire to Ethiopia. Italians established Asmara as their capital and built large irrigation schemes, recruited Eritrean men into a colonial army, and attempted to shift Eritrean trade to Italy's benefit. In 1935, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini used Eritrea as a base for his invasion of Ethiopia. In 1936, Eritrea became a province of Italian East Africa, which consisted of Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Italian Somaliland. Italian rule ended in 1941 with the defeat of Italian forces by the combined efforts of Allied troops and Ethiopian resistance fighters.

Between 1941 and 1952, Britain controlled Eritrea first as an Allied force and then under a UN mandate. In 1952, the UN agreed to federate Eritrea to the Empire of Ethiopia, then ruled by Emperor Haile Selassie. Eritrea retained its own Parliament and control over its economy and local government. In 1962, the Ethiopian government forcibly annexed Eritrea as its fourteenth province. In that year, a small resistance movement calling itself the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) started fighting in the western lowlands to reclaim Eritrea's independence. This movement gathered momentum after the 1974 Ethiopian revolution, led by a new group, the Eritrean Peoples' Liberation Front (EPLF). This group was dominated by highlanders and led by Isaias Afwerki.

The Eritrean war intensified as both sides sought a military solution, driving hundreds of thousands of refugees into the Sudan and also to Europe and North America. The EPLF organized its refugee community overseas to lend political support to its efforts inside Eritrea. In May 1991, the Ethiopian government under Mengistu Haile Mariam collapsed and withdrew its army from Asmara. The new government in Ethiopia declared itself amenable to an independent Eritrea and agreed to cooperate with the Eritrean government over access to the port of Assab. The EPLF entered Asmara and set up a provisional government in anticipation of the April 1993 elections. In those elections, 99.8% of the voting public approved the referendum for independence and the formation of a new government under Isaias Afwerki. Eritrea officially became a nation on 24 May 1993, and Isaias Afwerki became its first and only president.

The National Assembly has set the following goals: the drafting of a democratic Constitution to guarantee the basic rights of all citizens and the establishment of an elected government.

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