Eritrea was formerly the northernmost province of Ethiopia. Much of the country is mountainous. Its narrow Red Sea coastal plain is one of the hottest and driest places in Africa. The cooler central highlands have fertile valleys that support agriculture. Eritrea is bordered by the Sudan on the north and west, the Red Sea on the north and east, and Ethiopia and Djibouti on the south.
On 1 January 1890, Italy set the boundaries of Eritrea and ruled Eritrea as a colony until 1941, when the British defeated the Italians in Africa and took over the administration. After the Italian defeat in World War II, Britain administered Eritrea. Following a decision by the United Nations, Eritrea was federated to Ethiopia in 1952, with a certain amount of autonomy.
However, during the federation with Ethiopia, Emperor Haile Selassie's government systematically violated the rights granted by the UN. The oppression culminated with the dissolution of the Eritrean parliament and the annexation of Eritrea as Ethiopia's fourteenth province in 1962.
In 1961, an armed struggle for independence began. The thirty years of fighting ended in May 1991, when the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) liberated Asmara and established the Provisional Government of Eritrea (PGE). In an internationally supervised referendum in April 1993, 99.8 % of the Eritreans voted for independence, which was officially declared on 24 May 1993
There are two main seasons in Eritrea- a rainy season from June to September and a dry season from October to May. The coastal plains have a rainy season December through March. The highland enjoys an average temperature of about 16 degrees centigrades, while the lowlands and coastal plains are hot with temperatures rising to 35 degrees centigrades sometimes.
Citizens of Eritrea belong to nine major ethnic groups, and are part of three distinct linguistic families - the Cushitic (or Hamitic), the Semitic, and the Nilotic languages. Cushitic languages are spoken by the Beja in western Eritrea, the Afar in the southern tip of the country, and the Saho in the eastern parts of the highlands. The biggest native languages in Eritrea are the Semitic ones, the closely related Tigrigna and Tigré. Tigrigna is spoken by 50 per cent, and Tigré by 25 per cent of the entire population. The Kunama and the Baria are the Nilotic languages of Eritrea, spoken in the lowlands between the Gash and Setit rivers. The main working languages are Tigrigna and Arabic. English is the medium of instruction from high school level upwards.