Parts of Eritrea were ruled by Ethiopia and parts by local clans until 1890, when Italy made the region a colony. The British seized control of Eritrea in 1941, during World War II. Under a United Nations plan, it was loosely federated with Ethiopia in 1952. Ethiopia gradually reduced Eritrean autonomy, and the region was made a province of Ethiopia in 1962. In the previous year Eritrean guerrillas had begun a revolt against Ethiopian rule. The rebellion continued for three decades.

In 1991 Eritrean rebels, allied with various rebel groups in Ethiopia proper, overthrew the Ethiopian government. In a referendum in 1993, Eritreans voted to sever ties to Ethiopia; the government of Ethiopia agreed, and Eritrea became independent. Disputes over the border lingered, however, and, in 1998, led to a ground-and-air war with Ethiopia. Fighting ceased in 2000 with the signing of a peace accord between the two countries. In 2005 an international court based in The Hague, Netherlands, found Eritrea to blame for starting the border war. In 2009 the court ruled that Eritrea owed Ethiopia money for war damages totaling $10 million.