How was life in 1993

Background current

On May 24, 1993, Eritrea officially declared its independence from Ethiopia. The narrow strip of land on the Red Sea was fiercely contested for centuries. Today there is an autocratic regime there.

Eritrean women celebrate their independence on April 25, 1993 in Massawa. With an overwhelming majority, the inhabitants of the former Ethiopian province of Eritrea voted in a referendum in favor of the region's independence. (& copy dpa - picture archive)

After decades of war against Ethiopia, Eritrea became an independent state on May 24, 1993. For almost 30 years, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) and Ethiopian government troops had fought, in which hundreds of thousands of people died. Both the Ethiopian and Eritrean troops are said to have used cluster bombs and napalm grenades.

Eritrea has had a very eventful history. It is important for understanding the political situation today: Eritrea is significantly shaped by the fascist colonialism of Italy and the annexation by Ethiopia.

Italy declared Eritrea a colony in 1890

In the Middle Ages, the area of ‚Äč‚Äčtoday's Eritrea was part of the Empire of Abyssinia (today: Ethiopia). In the middle of the 16th century, the Ottomans conquered the narrow coastal strip on the Red Sea. From then on, Abyssinia and Eritrea took different historical and cultural developments.

In the 19th century, the Ottomans increasingly lost control of their empire - including what is now Eritrea. In 1869 the missionary Guiseppe Sapeto bought the Bay of Assab for an Italian shipping company. By 1890 the state-controlled Italian colony "Eritrea" developed from this. Its borders were largely congruent with those of today's state. The name comes from the Greek and means "Red Sea".

Italy used Eritrea as a deployment base for the first Italian-Ethiopian war in 1895/96. In the course of this, the Abyssinian Empire managed to defeat the Italian troops. In this way Abyssinia remained one of the few independent countries on the African continent.

After 1941 under British administration

Under the leadership of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, Italy made another attempt to colonize Abyssinia in 1935/36. In the Abyssinian War, which was fought with extreme brutality, the Italian fascists finally triumphed. Up to 700,000 people were killed in the fighting and during the Italian occupation. Together with Eritrea, Abyssinia became part of the colony of Italian East Africa.

But as early as 1941 - in the middle of World War II - Great Britain conquered the Italian colonial empire. While Abyssinia was formally independent from now on and was soon ruled again by Emperor Haile Selassie (1930-1936, 1941-1974), Eritrea remained under British administration.

Abyssinia demanded the integration of Eritrea shortly after the end of the Second World War. In 1952, Great Britain transferred responsibility for the area to the United Nations. Abyssinia then signed a federation agreement, which Eritrea formally acceded to. The treaty provided for extensive autonomy for Eritrea.

1961: Beginning of the Eritrean War of Independence

However, Emperor Haile Selassie did not stick to the agreement. Eritrea - a country that had taken a different route for centuries - was gradually incorporated and downgraded to a province in 1960. Precisely this development is the starting point for the conflicts between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which continue to this day.

In 1961, the Eritrean Liberation Front was the first secessionist movement. Soon afterwards the War of Independence broke out. From the mid-1970s, after the overthrow of Haile Selassie and a military coup, a civil war broke out, the boundaries between which and the Eritrean War of Independence became increasingly blurred.

The Eritrean People's Liberation Front now took over the leadership of the independence movement. According to its political ideology, it was Marxist. At the same time, however, she made a pact with the Ethiopian opposition to the communist military regime under Mengistu Haile Mariam that had ruled after the fall of the emperor. The Ethiopian regime was supported by the Soviet Union and the GDR.

Referendum under the supervision of the United Nations

In the mid-1980s, millions of people in Ethiopia suffered from famine. At the same time the civil war intensified. Power slipped from the communists, and when the Soviet Union also stopped providing military aid, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front captured one place after another. On May 24, 1991, the provincial capital Asmara fell into the hands of the rebels. That was the end of the War of Independence.

In a United Nations-monitored referendum on April 24, 1993, 99.8 percent of Eritreans voted for independence. Exactly two years to the day after Asmara was taken by the Eritrean People's Liberation Front, Eritrea then declared its independence.

Independent but unfree

Today Eritrea has about five million inhabitants. According to the Eritrean government, half of them are predominantly Orthodox Christians, the other half Sunni Muslims. Officially, the country has a democratic constitution; in fact, President Isayas Afewerki, who has been in office since Independence Day in 1993, has ruled the country in an authoritarian manner. The only party allowed is the Popular Front for Democracy and Justice (People's Liberation Front). In the press freedom ranking of the organization "Reporters Without Borders", Eritrea ranks second to last - followed only by North Korea. In the democracy ranking of the "Freedom House" think tank, the country is on a par with the North Korean regime and is rated as "unfree".

From 1998 to 2000, Ethiopia and Eritrea fought another war. This time it was about the course of the common border. It is estimated that up to 120,000 people died. Until 2008, the buffer zone was established by the United Nations Mission in Ethopia and Eritrea monitored, in which German military observers were also involved at times. Because of the persistently difficult political situation, Eritreans are also fleeing to Europe. In 2017, around 10,200 people from Eritrea applied for asylum in Germany.

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