In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Eritrea

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Conference Proceedings
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African Studies Eritrea
Dan Connell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 August 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 February 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0140


Human settlement in Eritrea stretches back at least 10,000 years with tools discovered in the Barka Valley dating from 8000 BCE and cave paintings in Akele Guzai and Sahel from 6000 BCE. Egyptian trading expeditions reached the coast in 2500 BCE, which some scholars cite as the location of the ancient land of Punt. For nearly 1,400 years, starting in the 9th century BCE, the Red Sea port of Adulis was the center of a thriving regional trade, first as an independent city-state and later as the primary outlet for the inland empire of Axum. With Axum’s decline in the 7th century, the territory fell under a shifting succession of local rulers and invading armies, culminating with the establishment of a coastal enclave by the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century. Eritrea’s modern history has been marked by conflict, complexity, and controversy from the time its borders were determined on the battlefield between Italian and Abyssinian forces in the 1890s to its recognition as a state at the end of a thirty-year war for independence that pitted the nationalists, themselves divided among competing factions, against both US-backed and Soviet-backed Ethiopian regimes. Since then Eritrea has clashed with each of its neighbors, climaxing with a border war with Ethiopia in 1998–2000 after which it slid into repression and autocracy. It has nevertheless survived as a state, relying largely on its diaspora for support, even as it has produced a disproportionate share of the region’s refugees (some of these refugees fell victim to brutal trafficking schemes in neighboring states). This tempestuous history is reflected in the literature, much of it skewed by the loyalties or predilections of its authors; however, a growing body of well-researched scholarship covers the nation’s origins and its ongoing challenges and tribulations. The focus of this article is on key developments in Eritrea’s political, economic, and social development as a nation-state and includes sources from diverse perspectives to reflect the debates over competing narratives. Eritrean authors are listed by first name.

General Overviews

These sources, updated regularly, provide information on political and economic affairs. Lansford 2015 offers insights into contemporary political affairs. The CIA World Factbook: Eritrea is a good source on population, government, and economy, along with other basic data. Economist Intelligence Unit: Country Report Eritrea provides information on economic issues, as does World Bank 2016. United Nations Development Programme 2015 uses a broad range of social and economic indicators to assess the condition of the population.

  • CIA World Factbook: Eritrea. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency.

    A reliable source for basic information on the economy, geography, and the current government in Eritrea.

  • Economist Intelligence Unit: Country Report Eritrea. London: Economist Intelligence Unit.

    A regularly updated and useful resource for general information on Eritrea and detailed information on the economy.

  • Lansford, Tom. “Eritrea.” In Political Handbook of the World 2015. By Tom Lansford, 456–461. Thousand Oaks, CA: CQ, 2015.

    Provides a comprehensive overview of government and politics in Eritrea, including a list of opposition parties and government ministers. Available online.

  • United Nations Development Programme. “Human Development Index: Eritrea 2015.” New York: United Nations Development Programme, 2015.

    Reviews human development trends by factoring in such social indicators as life expectancy at birth, education, health, literacy, and gender participation as well as national income and economic growth.

  • World Bank. “Eritrea Home: World Bank.” Washington, DC: World Bank, 2016.

    Provides an overview of the economy and current development challenges with current available data.

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