ERITREA AT A GLANCE

 

Did you know that Eritrea is one of the newest countries in the world? Yet, historically privileged to be one of the earliest African countries to be introduced to modern technology? Or that it was a centre for commercial activities in the Horn of Africa in the early 1900s? Or that its people struggled for more than thirty years to secure their independence? Or that one of the great Russian literary figures, Alexander Pushkin has his roots in Eritrea? Indeed, Eritrea is land of diverse and fascinating history that many people don’t know much about. So join us as we briefly explore the remarkable aspects of a remarkable land in a series titled “Eritrea At A Glance“.

ERITREA AT A GLANCE

Part I

MAJOR OUTLINES

The country

State Hagere (State of) Eritrea

Capital city Asmara

Current president His Excellency President Isaias Afewerki

National flag Eritrea’s flag is a rectangle divided into three triangles: a red isosceles triangle based on the hoist side, and a green upper and blue lower right triangle. A gold wreath encircling a gold olive branch is centred on the hoist side of the red triangle.

Emblem Camel

State holidays May 24 (Independence Day), June 20 (martyrs day), 1st September (starting of the struggle for independence).

Currency Nakfa (one Nakfa=100 cents)

Phone dial code 291

Internet domain .er

Working languages Tigrinya, English, Arab (all Eri- trean languages are equal)

Other languages Afar, Bilen, Hedareb, Kunama,

Nara, Saho, Tigre

Geography

Location Horn of Africa

Area 124,300 sq. km.

Red sea Coastlines 1,151 km.

Neighboring states Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Yemen

Lowest area Kobar Sink, -75 meters

Highest Point Amba Soira, 3,013 meters

Capital city Asmara

Other cities and towns Massawa, Assab, Keren, Dekamare,

Mendefera

Climate lowland area from 25-40centigrades

Highland area from 10-30 degree centi-

grade

Time zone +3GMT

Main seaports Massawa, Assab

Population

Population size: 3.56 million (2002)

Religion: Christianity ( Greek Orthodx, Catholic and Protestant Churches), Muslim

Ethnic groups: Nine ethnic groups

Way of life: 60% lives in rural areas,

40% lives in urban areas

Major economic sectors

Agriculture: Agriculture about 20% of

GDP

Infrastructure : 14,560kms road, 10 international and local airports, airstrips,15 massive bridge infrastructure

Free Zone area: 200,000 square meters of coast lines for use of industrial areas with better opportunity for investors.

Mining: 14,000 kilograms of potential gold reserves: others include base metal deposits, indus-trial minerals, construction materials and geothermal potentials.

Fisheries: Virgin territory in the richest part of Red Sea.

Tourism: Historical and archaeological sites that are comparable with Egypt and other east African ancient civilizations

Communication:

Newspapers: Hadas Eritrea, Eritrea Profile,

Eritrea Alhadisa

Magazines: Irregular publications of different governmental and Nongovernmental organizations

Television channel: Two channels (Eri-TV, Channel II)

Radio: Dimtsi Hafash (AM), Radio

Bana (AM), Radio Zara

(FM), Radio Sawa (FM).

Internet: 6 service providers

THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE

GEOGRAPHICAL FEATURES

Eritrea is a land of striking contrasts in terrain, climate and culture. Situated along the southeastern coast of the Red Sea in Northeast Africa, it is borders on the east with Djibouti, on the south with Ethiopia and the west with Sudan. Its capital and largest city is Asmara with Massawa and Assab as the primary port cities.

The Eritrean mainland stretches more than 1,000 kilometres along the Red Sea coast, one of the world’s busiest and most strategic shipping lines. The temperate central plateau rises over two kilometres above sea level, while the scorched south-eastern Danakil Depression is one of the lowest levels of land on earth. A lush green belt lies northeast of the capital. To the west are the fertile lowlands Barka and Gash plains.

The Eritrean nation is made up of nine ethno-linguistic groups that embrace two of the world’s major religions, Islam and Christianity, as well as some indigenous faiths. Eritrea celebrates its social and cultural diversity with a sense of harmony and unity that is rare to most parts of the world.

Though small in size, Eritrea includes the varied topography and climate variations of an entire continent. It is said that one can experience three seasons within two hours.

The three main geographical zones are the eastern slope and coastal plains, the central highlands, and the western lowlands. Each has a distinctive physical and cultural character.

The low-lying coastal areas are mostly arid but get light winter rains and are crossed by the run-off from the summer rainy season in the highland plateau. The inhabitants of the area are mainly nomadic herders or seasonal farmers and artisan fishers. Highlanders from the central plateau also often bring their herds here during the winter.

The slopes along the coastal escarpment in the north and west have long been the focus of intensive cropping for domestic consumption and export. This area holds strong potential for future development.

The temperate, mountainous interior is densely populated and extensively and intensively cultivated by sedentary farming communities. This is also where much of Eritrea’s light industry is situated.

The relatively less densely populated western lowlands receive run-off rains from the high-lands and have underground water resources of their own, while the Gash region receives substantial summer rains. As such, the Gash–Barka region has considerable untapped agricultural potential.

Eritrea’s highest point is the peak of Amba Soira, in the Debub region and the lowest level of land is the Kobar Sink, located in the arid semi-desert of south-central Dankalia.

More than 350 islands dot the Eritrean waters in the Red Sea, most of which are concentrated around the Dahlak archipelago, east of Massawa. The largest of these, Dahlak Kebir, is 643sq.km.with a population of about 1500 scattered in nine villages.

The country’s only year-round river is the Setit in the southwestern area, though many others flow from the plateau to the Red Sea and to Sudan during the summer rains. And the Gash, the Barka and the Anseba rivers are some of the biggest water sources in the country, which are often used for cultivation.

Climate

The highest temperatures in coastal areas occur from June to August and range from 25 degree Celsius (80 degree-F) to as high as 40-45 degree-C (110 degree-F.). Temperatures here rarely fall below 18 degree Celsius (64 degree-F), though sea breezes provide some relief, especially in the islands. The rainy season along the northern Red Sea coast comes in December-February, when cloud cover is common. Rain is scarce along the southern Red Sea coast.

In the central plateau, the hottest season comes in May, reaching 30 degree-C (84 degree-F). However, temperatures can fall as low as the freezing point at night during the winter months of December and January. The short rains in this area come in April and May, and the rainy season begins in earnest around the end of June and continues till early September. Even then, it is common for the sun to shine part of each day.

The hottest season in the western lowlands comes in April to June with temperatures reaching 40 degree-C (100 degree-F). December is the coldest month, as temperatures drop to 10-12 degree-C. (50 to 55 degree-F), but there are dramatic temperature differences here between day and night through out the year. The rainy season is similar to that of the central plateau, though lighter and less frequent out side the Gash region, but the flooding from highland run-off is common in July and August.

Nature

Plant Life: The eastern lowlands offer rolling acacia woodland, brush land and thicket, semi-desert vegetation and mangrove swamp. Kassod and flame trees line the roads to many coastal towns.

The central highlands are dominated by juniper and wild olive as well as several species of acacia. East African laburnum, native hops and eucalyptus are common along the roadsides and on steeply terraced hillsides.

The Semenawi Bahri(Eritrea’s Green Belt) slopes northeast of Asmara are the most thickly forested in Eritrea and have remnants of dense evergreen and tropical woodland. Southeast of Asmara, one finds majestic sycamores, such as that pictured on the five Nakfa note.

The western slopes are doted with baobab, brush and tamarisk trees. This gives way to woodland savanna, brush land and thicket in the Barka and Gash plains, which are broken up by dense groves of doum palm along the seasonal river beds.

Mammals and reptiles: Eritrea was once home to a broad array of animal life, but war, colonial land seizures and the destruction of much of the forest cover drove many animals away. However, there has been resurgence in the wild life population since independence, helped by strict prohibitions on hunting.

Common sightings today include vervet monkeys, baboon, gazelle, hare, fox, mongoose, wild cat, squirrel and warthog. Dikdiks and Dorcas gazelle are often seen along the coast. Less frequently observed but present are elephant caracal, serval, oryx, crocodile, greater kudu and hartebeast. The endangered wild African ass can also be found, though rarely.

Birds: Eritrea hosts an abundance of bird life with its varied habitats, some resident year-round, others seasonal. A total of 537 species have been identified, including the rare blue saw-wing.

The mostly uninhabited Dahlak islands, with their rich feeding grounds attract osprey, gulls, tern, boobies, ibis and wild flamingo, among many other endemic and transient species.

The moist forests of the Semenawi Bahri slops are home to bush shrikes, francolins, sunbirds, tropical boubou and crimson toraco, as well as canaries, trogon, catbirds and hornbills, among scores of others. One small lake near Asmara is frequented by blue-winged goose, Rouget’s rail and the Abyssinian longclaw.Ostrich are increasingly common along the coast and in the western plains, as are African firefinch, scrub robin and spotted sand grouse, among others. Hundreds of species of birds also migrate through Eritrea in the autumn and spring.

Marine Life: Marine ecosystems include coral reefs, sea-grass beds and mangrove forests. Patch coral extends around many of the islands and can be found in rich concentrations along the northern coastline.

Five species of marine turtle have been identified (green, hawksbill, leatherback, loggerhead and Ridley), and several species of dolphin are common, especially around the Dahlak islands. Whales have also been seen, along with the endangered dugong, or sea cow, which can be found in island waters and along the northern coast.

Natural Resources: Eritrea has many natural resources on the land and in the sea. The mix of climates supports a wide range of crops including millet, sorghum, taff, wheat, barley, flax, cotton, coffee, papaya, citrus fruits, banana, mangos beans and lentils, potatoes, various vegetables and fish and dairy products.

Live stock includes sheep, goats, cattle and camels. The red sea supports a wide range of edible fish, lobster, crab and shrimp, while coastal areas show promise for intensive salt water fish and shrimp farming.

The geological mosaic of pre-Cambrian, Mesozoic and Cenozoic rocks holds extensive reserves of metallic, non-metallic and fossil minerals. Potentially profitable deposits of gold, copper, zinc, potash, iron ore and other minerals have been confirmed, while exploration continues off shore for oil and gas. There are also significant concentrations of high quality marble, granite, slate, limestone for construction purpose.

Protecting the environment: Following independence, Eritrea set out with a badly damaged environment in much of the interior, where large areas had been stripped of forest cover, wild life and water recourses. However, the country is endowed with more than 1000 kms of unpolluted coastline and more than 3500 islands not yet seriously affected by conflict or commerce. Even before independence, Eritrean had always taken a firm stand in the protection and preserving of the environment as a result of which many places in the country are beginning to bud with new revived life.

The Eritrean government banned the hunting and trapping of wild animals and the cutting of live trees. After liberation, hundreds of kilometers of hillside terraces were constructed to halt erosion, and tens of millions of tree seedlings were planted through organised summer camps. Large areas of the Red Sea coast were declared marine reserves, and spear-fishing and the collection of live coral were prohibited. Land was also identified for national parks.

Though pollution is not yet a significant problem, the government has acceded to the UN Convention on Biodiversity and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The People

Eritrea’s nation-building strategy is built upon a fundamental building block of internal human resources. The government is firmly committed to policies of religious and cultural freedom and tolerates no discrimination or favouritism on any such bases.

The country’s most precious resource-and that which holds the most promise for Eritrea’s future–is its people. For this reason, the government invests heavily in health, social welfare, education and skill development sectors. It provides access to these services for all its citizens, regardless of their ethnic or religious back ground, their geographical locations, their gender, age or other social categories.Though there is no single official language Tigrinya, Arabic and English are predominantly used in commerce and government affairs. The use and development of all nine of Eritrean languages are encouraged at the local level and children attend primary school through the fifth grade in their mother tongue.

The Nationalities – Unity In Diversity

The nine Eritrea ethnic groups are the Tigrinya, Bilen, Afar, Saho, Rashaida, Tigre, Kunama, Nara and Hidarib.Eritrean Afars, also known as Dankalis, live mainly along the south-eastern sea coast and on the offshore islands in a highly-segmented, patrilineal society. Afars inhabit one of the least hospitable terrains on earth and are renowned for their prowess in battle. They have a long history of independent sultanates and strong warrior traditions. Many of their songs and much of their oral literature is built on this, and it is still common to see afar men wearing jile or curved knife. Today, most are herders, traders or artisanal fishers.

Pastoral Afar families typically live in large hemispherical houses of hides and woven mats stretched across a framework of wooden poles that can be carried by camel over long distances. In the few oases in Afar territory, the people cultivate maize and tobacco. Traders carry slabs of salt on their camels to the highlands from long-dried salt pans by the sea.

The Cushitic-speaking Bilen live in and around the city of Keren. Among them are Muslim and Christian (mostly Catholic) herders and farmers. Theirs is a traditional society organized in to kinship groups. Bilen women are known for their brightly colored clothes, their gold, copper or silver nose rings, and henna tattoos that resemble diamond necklaces.

The Hedareb, also known as T’badwe live in a wide arc stretching from western Barka across the north-western valleys of the arid, volcanic Sahel region, where the liberation front had its fortified rear bases throughout much of the independence war. Their ancestral roots are among the Nilotic Beja peoples, whose territory stretches from Eritrea across the north-eastern Sudan to southern Egypt and who have lived along the sea coast for thousands of years. Their Muslim society is patrilineal.

Most Hedareb are semi-nomadic pastoralists. Many travel over long distances in search of pasture for their animals, which can include large camel herds as well as goats and sheep. The Hedareb are known as highly skilled camel drivers.

The Kunama live in south-western Eritrea around the town of Barentu and close to the border with Ethiopia. Some are Christian, some Muslim, but many follow their own faith, centred around worship of the creator, Anna, and veneration of ancestral heroes. Their society is strongly egalitarian with distinctive matrilineal elements. Historically, most were hunters and farmers, tilling the soil with hand-held hoes to grow a variety of grains and vegetables. Today, they tend to be farmers and herders, whose cattle are also important sources of wealth and prestige.

The Kunama, thought to be among the aboriginal inhabitants of the region, were one of the Eritrea’s largest nationalities until the late 1800s, when repeated assaults and slave-raiding by Tigrayan warlords sharply reduced their population and impoverished the society. Many of their dances are re-enactments of historical events.

The Nara live in the western slopes and Barka plains. Like their neighbors, the Kunama, with whom they share some customs, the Nara are mainly sedentary farmers with a marked interest in cattle. However, their matrilineal family structure was transformed into a patrilineal one-and their traditional religion forcibly supplanted by Islam during the Egyptian occupation of their homelands in the 1850s.

The Rashaida are the country’s only ethnic Arabs. Mainly pastoralists and traders, the Rashaida migrated to northeast Africa in the 19th century from the hejaz. They are Arabic-speaking Muslims, living along the northern coast and along the Sudan border in tightly-knit, patrilineal clans. Rashaida women are noted for their red-and-black patterned dresses and their long heavy veils, often embroidered with silver, beads and seed pearls.

The Saho inhabit the coast and hinterland south of Asmara and Massawa and the highlands as far inland as the Hazemo valley. Most are Muslim. Some are seasonal farmers and herders, though a growing number are sedentary farmers living in the southeastern highlands. Among them are skilled beekeepers, widely known for their high quality honey. The Saho live in patrilineal descent groups, each of which has a traditional warrior leader, the Rezanto, who is accountable to an all-made public assembly.

The mostly Muslim Tigre people extend from the western lowlands across the northern mountains to the coastal plains. Most are herders and seasonal farmers, cultivating maize, durra (sorghum) and other cereals during the rainy season before moving with their herds and their families. Household goods, as well as sick or aging family members, are transported long distances by camel and donkey.

The Tigre have a rich oral literature of fairy tales, fables riddles, poetry and stories of war and the supernatural. They are also known for their singing and dancing, which is usually accompanied by a drum and a mesenko (a stringed instrument, plucked like a guitar). Theirs is a highly stratified society traditionally ruled by a hereditary village leader.

Most Tigrinya-speakers are sedentary farmers living in the densely populated central and southern highlands of Eritrea. Currently they spread from this ancestral farmland over much of Eritrea today. The overwhelming majority are orthodox Christians, though there is a small minority of Muslims, known as jeberti, and there are significant minorities of Catholics and Protestants. Like all Eritreans, they are deeply attached to their land, but Tigrinya speakers also makeup a large portion of urban traders and operators of small business, restaurants and other services throughout the country.

Religion and Society

Eritrean society is roughly divided among Muslims and Christians, with most Christians affiliated to the orthodox (Coptic) church. A small number of Eritreans practice traditional African religions.

Islam: followers of the prophet Mohammed came to Eritrean coast in 615 to establish relations with Adulate authorities and seek protection for the new faith, making this one of the earliest non-Arabian sites in contact with Islam. Among the many important historical sites in Eritrea is the 500-year-old sheikh Hanafi mosque in Massawa.

Today, nearly all Eritrean Muslims are Sunnis, the largest sect in Islam. Their highest religious authority is the Dar-Al Ifta, headquartered in Asmara. The ninth month of Islamic calendar is Ramadan, a period of obligatory fasting in commemoration of Mohammed’s receipt of God’s revelation. A festive meal breaks the daily fast and inaugurates a night of feasting and celebration. Because the months of the lunar year revolve through the solar year, Ramadan falls at various seasons in different years.

 

Orthodox Christianity: Eritrea’s links to Christianity are thought to stretch back to the arrival of shipwrecked Syrian traders in the beginning of the 4th century. Over the years since the Orthodox Church has served as a critical repository of written records and iconic art. The Eritrean Orthodox Church separated from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church after Eritrea’s liberation and now functions as a self-governing church in communication with the Coptic Church of Egypt.

Today, there are at least eighteen orthodox monasteries in Eritrea. Many were built high atop mountain ridges or tucked into inaccessible places to protect against raids and attacks in the past. Among the oldest and most important are those at Debre Bizen (near Nefasit), Hamm (near Senafe) and Debre Sina (near Keren). The Debre Bizen monastery houses more than 1,000 medieval manuscripts, including fine illuminated parchments bound in thick leather, cloth and wood.

Other Faiths: Most Kunama practice their own traditional religion, centred around the worship of the creator, Anna and veneration of ancestral heroes. There are holy places associated with Anna but no institutional religious body, as the belief system is transmitted through elders of the community.

There are also significant catholic and protestant Christian minorities living mainly in or near urban centres in the highlands and the western slope areas.

Rural Life

The majority of the population in Eritrea lead a rural life. Rural Eritreans, whatever their regional or ethnic background, hold a deep and abiding loyalty to the land, which both sustains and gives meaning to their existence.

Studies show that less than two-thirds of those living in the countryside are farmers and one third leads on agro-pastoral life. Only a small minority, located mainly in the arid northern mountains and in the scorched coastal plains of southern Dankalia, live a purely nomadic existence.

The great majority in the arid regions rely on cattle, camels, sheep and goats for food and income, supplementing this with sorghum or millet crops during years of normal rainfall. However, in the draught years, they are forced to sell animals in exchange for grains and vegetables.

Because they move frequently, nomadic people are harder to reach with social services, such as health care or education. As a result, the poor in these areas suffer higher rates of maternal infant and child mortality and lower life expectancies than other population groups. They are also less likely to be literate, especially women.

However, the government of Eritrea has put a lot of efforts to settle the nomadic people and change their way of life. They are provided with the infrastructure for basic needs such as wells, dams and are also given loans without interest or even agricultural equipment such as motors to help them settle down. With the growth of the population and with the provision of enough facilities and infrastructure, some rural areas also have been changed to moderate or small towns. Education, health and other essential and basic sectors were also provided.

The overwhelming majority of rural dwellers in the central highlands support themselves by planting grain and vegetable crops. However, even full-time, settled farmers depend heavily on livestock for their economic existence- both for their role in the production process and as marketable commodities. Many rural highland families also derive income from non-farm activities-trade, provision of services and the like.

Urban Life

The first sizable towns of the modern era were the ports, which acted as gateways for regional trade and as administrative centres for a succession of colonial powers, from the Ottoman Turks to the Italians. Until the advent of the Italian era, most inland Eritrean towns were modest sized and served mainly as centres for local commerce. By the mid-1930s, however, Asmara had swelled to a city of 120,000 and other towns were rapidly growing around it- Dekemhare, Mendefera, Keren and others.

Some 40 percent of the population now live in towns or cities. The largest of these is the capital city, Asmara with 450,000 residents. Its balmy, temperate climate, safe and spotless streets, remarkable architecture and cultural diversity make it one of the most hospitable cities in the continent.

Nearly all of Eritrea’s major towns and cities were originally built according to urban plans. The Eritrean government revised and developed these master plans in reconstructing and expanding many urban centres after liberation. Strict zoning standards have preserved the social and architectural character of the cities. This, coupled with sustained aid to poorer rural areas, has prevented the emergence of the slum belts and shantytowns that encircle many African cities.

Civil Society

The Eritrean society is one of the most unified societies in the world. The strength of the people’s unity and their ability to organize themselves can be traced back to the ancient times before the scramble for Africa era. They have highly sophisticated and documented customary laws, giving them a firm foundation for internally generated growth and development that enables them to selectively draw upon the experiences and achievements of others without jeopardizing either their integrity or dynamism.

During the colonial period the colonizers sought to divide the society regionally, tribally, religiously and ideologically. But the Eritrean people continued to prevail in their unity even I the most adverse of times.

Women: Eritrean women can boast of a unique history in that they found an opportunity to show their potential during the independence struggle period, which they pulled it off quite brilliantly. They fought side by side with their male compatriots during the armed struggle and today they continue to be active participants in the frontlines of the country’s economic and political life.

Because of the important role women play in the society and economy, the Eritrean government has sought to ensure their full and equal participation while eliminating the disadvantages many experience in marriage, separation, divorce, inheritance and access to property. Measures taken so far include:

*Reserving a minimum of 30 percent of seats in the national assembly for women.

*Appointing women to high political positions, including ministerial positions.

*Promoting economic empowerment through education and skills training.

*Encouraging women’s employment in the civil services and acting to ensure equal treatment in promotion and job retention.

*Establishing institutional mechanisms (including educational) to ad-dress women’s issues in public policy and resource allocation.

Some 45% of households are headed by women, though as a group, they are not poorer than the households headed by men. This is partly because women have access to land and other productive assets and partly because they participate actively in the labour force (47 percent of which is comprised of women). Though women are still less likely to be more literate than men, this too is steadily changing.

The National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) is the main nongovernmental organization working with women throughout Eritrea and in the Diaspora. Founded in 1979 during the struggle for independence period, the NUEW became an autonomous, non-governmental organization in 1992. Now it has more than 200,000 members. Among its main achievements are securing women’s participation in land reform policies, organizing literacy campaigns, building awareness of discrimination against women, operating a rural credit program and lobbying government bodies for an improvement in women’s role within society.

Youth: the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students is also a non-governmental organization. The vision of this organization is to build a strong youth that participates in all national affairs with responsibility and dedication. High school students spend their summers working in agricultural and other development programs across the nation. At the age of eighteen they join the eighteen months national service program. The organization has about 240,000 (with about144000 males and 99,000 females) members from the 6 regions in Eritrea. It is actively engaged in several programs such as;

  • Education: it awards the “Zagre Awards” to those who score full grades in

their matriculation exams and motivates and provides skill enhancing

courses…etc.

  • Health: execute programs such as first aid, HIV and FGM awareness, vol-

untary blood testing and counselling service, hot-line phone ..etc

  • Youth empowerment: to improve the life standard the org. gives micro-

credit loans, foster HIV careers, vocational and leadership training.

  • Gender: ensuring women’s equality, campaigns against underage mar-

riage…etc.

  • Club and media activities; organizing clubs for youth to exercise their tal-

ents, publicizes a magazine in three languages, produce youth and children

programs in the national media with the cooperation of the Ministry of Information, and goes online to update the youth on current issues

(www.eriyouth.org)

  • Providing infrastructure; builds or renovates buildings for youth for entertainment, exchange ideas andviews, internet cafes, friendly clinics…etc.
  • Communal activities; help the families of fallen heroes and other disadvantages parts of society, participate in communal hygiene and plant seed lings activities.
  • Diaspora youth; helps them to organize and participate in national affairs

and contribute their role. Conserve their culture, update current situations

in their country, organize tours for them to come to their homeland…etc.

The organization is one of the largest Non-Governmental-Organization in Eritrea, which involves the Eritrean youth all over the world.

Workers: Eritrea’s first trade union, the United Eritrean Workers for Independence-was launched in 1952, the year the UN federated the country with Ethiopia. The organization was banned soon afterward, but its members continued to meet and protest for their rights as workers and as Eritreans. In 1958, during the largest of several mass demonstrations staged by the union, Ethiopian troops opened fire, killing and wounding many workers. These events marked the effective end of legal trade union organization for the next three decades.

The EPLF organized the National Union of Eritrean Workers in 1979 to support the war for independence. The NUEW mobilized Eritrean workers abroad and it functioned clandestinely within Ethiopian-controlled towns and cities in Eritrea. Between 1991 and 1993, the organization was transformed into a formal trade union structure, starting with “base unions” and proceeding to the establishment of five industrial federations. In September 1994 these unions launched the National Confederation of Eritrean Workers with 20,000 members.

By the end of the decade, with most of the industrial and semi industrial workforce organized, the confederation began to look at such issues as: how the upgrade the skills of the workforce through the trade union education program; how to build shop floor democracy into the unions’ structures through a shop steward training project; how to engage working women more actively in the unions through a confederation-wide Women’s Committee; and how to mobilize peasant producers into cooperatives and other new forms of self organization.

Other civic organizations: In the years since liberation, many professional organizations have emerged fresh vigor. Among them are associations of teachers, nurses, medical doctors, lawyers, engineers and architects, pharmacists and chemists. In 2001, the Asmara branch of the Eritrean Studies Association hosted the first international conference on Eritrean Studies where more than 150 papers were presented by researchers and scholars from around the world.

Private charitable organizations are also thriving. Some are affiliated with religious institutions. Others like Rotary International, function as local branches of non-religious international organizations. Still others, such as the Eritrean War Disabled Fighters Association, the Eritrean National Association for the Blind and Health Association, are the product of local initiatives designed to meet specific needs.

The Cultural Assets Rehabilitation Project works to conserve monuments, heritage sites, and the built environment, while also supporting living cultures. The Library and Information Studies Association helps communities across Eritrea to expand and develop public libraries. And numerous community based sports federations, arts groups, and cultural associations flourish at the national, regional and local levels.

The Eritrean government has established a proclamation 145/2005 concerning NGO’s emerging in the country. The proclamation includes points such as:

  • Relief includes the provision of food, water, sanitary materials, medicines, shelter and other emergency supplies to the victims of natural or man-made disaster or displaced people.
  • Rehabilitation means enabling activities carried out to restore dam age caused by natural or man-made disasters and includes construction, reparation and maintenance.

This will help the NGOs go in line with the government’s developmental activities so as function efficiently and effectively. Currently there are about ten NGO’s functioning in Eritrea with their focus on environmental conservation activities, assist in the food security strategy (building micro-dams, drilling wells, set water-drip and farm irrigation, seed multiplication…etc.) and awareness of HIV, FGM and Gender Equality in the society.

Eritreans In The Diaspora: During the early period of the armed struggle, Eritrean communities in the Middle East, Europe, North America and as far away as Australia had integrated into Eritrea’s quest for self-determination and national viability, as source of moral and material support.

At first such communities were mainly comprised of students sent abroad on scholarships to the Middle East in the 1950s and to North America and Europe in the 1960s and 1970s. War and instability fed a steady exodus of others from this period onward-punctuated by large outflows when political repression was particularly intense in the urban centres-giving these communities a more complex, multi-layered character.

Students, workers and women organized themselves into popular associations to support the liberation struggle. Community centres developed to give people a reference point for one another, as well as a venue for sharing news, acculturating children, organizing cultural and social events and mobilizing resources for the homeland.

Source: Shabait