Italy invaded Eritrea in 1890 and held it until World War II, when the British evicted the Italians. Ethiopia was given Eritrea as part of a federation in 1952. Ethiopian takeover of Eritrea as a province 10 years later triggered a 30-year independence war that concluded in 1991 with Eritrean rebels beating Ethiopian and Ethiopian-backed troops. A UN-run referendum in 1993 resulted in a resounding yes vote for independence.
When the new state was formed, hopes were high, but in 1998, a new border conflict with Ethiopia began, which was finally resolved under UN auspices in December 2000. Eritrea hosted a UN peacekeeping mission that supervised a 25-kilometer-wide Temporary Security Zone on the Ethiopian border for a short time. In 2002, the conclusions of an international panel established to settle the boundary issue were published. However, owing to Ethiopian concerns, definitive delineation is on hold, and the boundary remains contentious to this day. Eritrea has now dismissed the troops, citing a lack of UN assistance in enforcing the boundary decision.
Eritrea’s government has degenerated into one of the world’s most controlling governments, using the conflict as a justification. There have never been national elections, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice is the only political party permitted, dissidents are imprisoned, and the country ranks dead last in the Press Freedom Index. Men and women are now required to serve in the military for eight years, border guards shoot on sight at anyone attempting to flee, and Eritreans living outside the nation must pay fees to visit. The nation is impoverished, with half of the people living on less than $1 per day. The conflict and the cessation of commerce with Ethiopia slowed growth, but it has lately stabilized thanks to government collaborations with mining firms.