Eritrea is one of the world’s poorest countries. Since independence from Ethiopia in 1993, the country has been an authoritarian one-party state, where extensive human rights violations are committed.
Key figures and facts
- Capital: Asmara
- Ethnic groups: Nine recognized ethnic groups: tigrinja 55%, tigers 30%, saho 4% kunama 2%, rashaida 2%, car 2%, others (afar, beni amir, nera) 5% (2010)
- Language: Tigrinja (official), Arabic (official), English (official), tigers, kunama, afar, other Kushite languages
- Religion: Muslims, Copts, Catholics, Protestants
- Population: 5 600 000
- Control Form: Republic
- Area: 117 400 km²
- Currency: Nakfa
- National Day: May 24th
The population of Eritrea is estimated at 5,970,646 (2018) and annual population growth to 0.9 percent. Birth rates are high, an estimated 29 per thousand, or 3.9 children per woman, while death rates are 7 per thousand (2018). Infant mortality in 2018 is estimated at 44 per 1,000 live births, which is a decrease compared to the estimates of 58 in 2000 and 114 in 1980. Life expectancy at birth is 68 years for women and 65 years for men, up from 48 and 45 in 1980. An estimated 43 percent of the total population is under 15 years.
The liberation war from when Eritrea was annexed by Ethiopia in 1962 until independence in 1993 meant that hundreds of thousands were displaced from their homes, the proportion of orphans and war invalids is very high, and there is massive unemployment and underemployment. In addition, forced military service has led to a mass migration of Eritreans.
The largest cities are the capital Asmara and the port city of Massawa (Mitsiwa).
The population is divided into a number of ethnic groups. The Tigrinja group is the largest with around 50 percent, and Tigré the second largest with around 30 percent. Other important groups are afar (5 percent), naha (5 percent), saho (4 percent), car (2 percent), rashaida (2 percent) and kunama (2 percent). The Afar people, saho and rashaida live mostly in the lowlands.
Eritrea does not have its own national language, and formally the country has linguistic equality. In reality, tigrinja is the country’s official language, spoken by about 50 percent of the population. Arabic is also widely used, and works with tiger grinia as an important working language. Tigrinja and tigré are descended from the old Ethiopian language geez. In the coastal plains, the Kushite languages are spoken saho and afar, while the languages nara and kunama belong to the nilo-sahara group.
There are no reliable figures on religious affiliation in Eritrea, but it is estimated that around half are Muslims, while the rest belong to various Christian churches. The Eritrean Orthodox Church (see Oriental Orthodox Churches), which broke with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in 2002, is the largest church, and about 40 percent of the population belongs to this church today. The Catholic Church is the second largest Christian church with about 3 percent, while various Protestant churches, such as Pentecostal and Lutherans, make up about 7 percent. There are also followers of traditional African religion.
Sunnislam, the Eritrean Orthodox Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church are the only legally registered religious communities in Eritrea, where other faiths have had great difficulty in registering. This has led to state persecution by a number of religious groups, and by Jehovah’s Witnesses in particular.