For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.
Republic of Djibouti
Area: 21,883 sq. km. (8,450 sq. mi.); about the size of Massachusetts.
Cities: Capital--Djibouti. Other cities--Dikhil, Arta, Ali-Sabieh, Obock, Tadjoura.
Terrain: Coastal desert.
Climate: Torrid and dry.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Djiboutian(s).
Population (est.): Between 466,900 and 650,000.
Annual growth rate (2005 est.): 2.6%.
Ethnic groups: Somalis (Issaks, Issas, and Gadaboursis), Afars, Ethiopians, Arab, French, and Italian.
Religions: Muslim 94%, Christian 6%.
Languages: French and Arabic (official); Somali and Afar widely used.
Health: Infant mortality rate--100 to 150/1,000. Life expectancy (2005 est.)--43.1 years.
Work force: Low employment rate; estimates run well under 50% of the work force. The largest employers are the Government of Djibouti, including telecommunications and electricity; Port of Djibouti; and Airport. The U.S. Government, including the military camp and the embassy, is the second largest employer. Able-bodied unemployed population (est. 1999)--50%.
Constitution: Ratified September 1992 by referendum.
Independence: June 27, 1977.
Branches: Executive--president. Legislative--65-member parliament, cabinet, prime minister. Judicial--based on French civil law system, traditional practices, and Islamic law.
Administrative subdivisions: 6 cercles (districts)--Ali-Sabieh, Arta, Dikhil, Djibouti, Obock, and Tadjoura.
Political parties: People's Rally for Progress (RPP) established in 1981; New Democratic Party (PRD) and the National Democratic Party (PND) were both established in 1992; and the Front For The Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD) was legally recognized in 1994. Five additional parties were established in 2002: Djibouti Development Party (PDD); Peoples Social Democratic Party (PPSD); Republican Alliance for Democracy (ARD); Union for Democracy and Justice (UDJ); Movement for Democratic Renewal (MRD).
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
National holiday: Independence Day, June 27 (1977).
GNP (2002 est.): $600 million.
Adjusted per capita income: $850 per capita for expatriates, $450 for Djiboutians.
Natural resources: Minerals (salt, perlite, gypsum, limestone) and energy resources (geothermal and solar).
Agriculture (less than 3% of GDP): Products--livestock, fishing, and limited commercial crops, including fruits and vegetables.
Industry: Types--banking and insurance (12.5% of GDP), public administration (22% of GDP), construction and public works, manufacturing, commerce, and agriculture.
Trade (2002 est.): Imports--$665 million, consists of basic commodities, pharmaceutical drugs, durable and nondurable goods. Exports--$155 million, consists of everyday personal effects, household effects, hides and skins, and coffee. Major markets (2004)--France, Ethiopia, Somalia, India, China, and Saudi Arabia and other Arabian peninsula countries.
About two-thirds of the Republic of Djibouti's 650,000 inhabitants live in the capital city. The indigenous population is divided between the majority Somalis (predominantly of the Issa tribe, with minority Issaq and Gadabursi representation) and the Afars (Danakils). All are Cushitic-speaking peoples, and nearly all are Muslim. Among the 15,000 foreigners residing in Djibouti, the French are the most numerous. Among the French are 3,000 troops.
The Republic of Djibouti gained its independence on June 27, 1977. It is the successor to French Somaliland (later called the French Territory of the Afars and Issas), which was created in the first half of the 19th century as a result of French interest in the Horn of Africa. However, the history of Djibouti, recorded in poetry and songs of its nomadic peoples, goes back thousands of years to a time when Djiboutians traded hides and skins for the perfumes and spices of ancient Egypt, India, and China. Through close contacts with the Arabian peninsula for more than 1,000 years, the Somali and Afar tribes in this region became the first on the African continent to adopt Islam.
It was Rochet d'Hericourt's exploration into Shoa (1839-42) that marked the beginning of French interest in the African shores of the Red Sea. Further exploration by Henri Lambert, French Consular Agent at Aden, and Captain Fleuriot de Langle led to a treaty of friendship and assistance between France and the sultans of Raheita, Tadjoura, and Gobaad, from whom the French purchased the anchorage of Obock (1862).
Growing French interest in the area took place against a backdrop of British activity in Egypt and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. In 1884-85, France expanded its protectorate to include the shores of the Gulf of Tadjoura and the Somaliland. Boundaries of the protectorate, marked out in 1897 by France and Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia, were affirmed further by agreements with Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I in 1945 and 1954.
The administrative capital was moved from Obock to Djibouti in 1892. In 1896, Djibouti was named French Somaliland. Djibouti, which has a good natural harbor and ready access to the Ethiopian highlands, attracted trade caravans crossing East Africa as well as Somali settlers from the south. The Franco-Ethiopian railway, linking Djibouti to the heart of Ethiopia, was begun in 1897 and reached Addis Ababa in June 1917, further facilitating the increase of trade.
During the Italian invasion and occupation of Ethiopia in the 1930s and during World War II, constant border skirmishes occurred between French and Italian forces. The area was ruled by the Vichy (French) government from the fall of France until December 1942, and fell under British blockade during that period. Free French and the Allied forces recaptured Djibouti at the end of 1942. A local battalion from Djibouti participated in the liberation of France in 1944.
On July 22, 1957, the colony was reorganized to give the people considerable self-government. On the same day, a decree applying the Overseas Reform Act (Loi Cadre) of June 23, 1956, established a territorial assembly that elected eight of its members to an executive council. Members of the executive council were responsible for one or more of the territorial services and carried the title of minister. The council advised the French-appointed governor general.
In a September 1958 constitutional referendum, French Somaliland opted to join the French community as an overseas territory. This act entitled the region to representation by one deputy and one senator in the French Parliament, and one counselor in the French Union Assembly.
The first elections to the territorial assembly were held on November 23, 1958, under a system of proportional representation. In the next assembly elections (1963), a new electoral law was enacted. Representation was abolished in exchange for a system of straight plurality vote based on lists submitted by political parties in seven designated districts. Ali Aref Bourhan, allegedly of Turkish origin, was selected to be the president of the executive council. French President Charles de Gaulle's August 1966 visit to Djibouti was marked by 2 days of public demonstrations by Somalis demanding independence. On September 21, 1966, Louis Saget, appointed governor general of the territory after the demonstrations, announced the French Government's decision to hold a referendum to determine whether the people would remain within the French Republic or become independent. In March 1967, 60% chose to continue the territory's association with France.
In July of that year, a directive from Paris formally changed the name of the region to the French Territory of Afars and Issas. The directive also reorganized the governmental structure of the territory, making the senior French representative, formerly the governor general, a high commissioner. In addition, the executive council was redesignated as the council of government, with nine members.
In 1975, the French Government began to accommodate increasingly insistent demands for independence. In June 1976, the territory's citizenship law, which favored the Afar minority, was revised to reflect more closely the weight of the Issa Somali. The electorate voted for independence in a May 1977 referendum. The Republic of Djibouti was established on June 27, 1977, and Hassan Gouled Aptidon became the country's first president. In 1981, he was again elected president of Djibouti. He was re-elected, unopposed, to a second 6-year term in April 1987 and to a third 6-year term in May 1993 multiparty elections.
In early 1992, the constitution permitted the legalization of four political parties for a period of 10 years, after which a complete multiparty system would be installed. By the time of the December 1992 national assembly elections, only three had qualified. They were the Rassemblement Populaire Pour le Progres (People's Rally for Progress--RPP) which was the only legal party from 1981 until 1992; the Parti du Renouveau Democratique (The Party for Democratic Renewal--PRD), and the Parti National Democratique (National Democratic Party--PND). Only the RPP and the PRD contested the national assembly elections, and the PND withdrew, claiming that there were too many unanswered questions on the conduct of the elections and too many opportunities for government fraud. The RPP won all 65 seats in the national assembly, with a turnout of less than 50% of the electorate.
In early November 1991, civil war erupted in Djibouti between the government and a predominantly Afar rebel group, the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD). The FRUD signed a peace accord with the government in December 1994, ending the conflict. Two FRUD members were made cabinet members, and in the presidential elections of 1999 the FRUD campaigned in support of the RPP.
In 1999, Ismail Omar Guelleh -- President Hassan Gouled Aptidon's chief of staff, head of security, and key adviser for over 20 years -- was elected to the presidency as the RPP candidate. He received 74% of the vote, with the other 26% going to opposition candidate Moussa Ahmed Idriss, of the Unified Djiboutian Opposition (ODU). For the first time since independence, no group boycotted the election. Moussa Ahmed Idriss and the ODU later challenged the results based on election "irregularities" and the assertion that "foreigners" had voted in various districts of the capital; however, international and locally based observers considered the election to be generally fair, and cited only minor technical difficulties. Ismail Omar Guelleh took the oath of office as the second President of the Republic of Djibouti on May 8, 1999, with the support of an alliance between the RPP and the government-recognized section of the Afar-led FRUD.
In February 2000, another branch of FRUD signed a peace accord with the government. On May 12, 2001, President Ismail Omar Guelleh presided over the signing of what is termed the final peace accord officially ending the decade-long civil war between the government and the armed faction of the FRUD. The peace accord successfully completed the peace process begun on February 7, 2000 in Paris. Ahmed Dini Ahmed represented the FRUD.
In the presidential election held April 8, 2005 Ismail Omar Guelleh was re-elected to another 6-year term. Currently, political power is shared by a Somali president and an Afar prime minister, with cabinet posts roughly divided. However, the Issas presently dominate the government, civil service, and the ruling party, a situation that has bred resentment and political competition between the Somali Issas and the Afars.
Djibouti has its own armed forces, including a small army, which grew significantly with the start of the civil war in 1991. In recent years the armed forces have downsized, and with the peace accord with the FRUD in 2001, the armed forces are expected to continue downsizing. The country's security also is supplemented by a special security arrangement with the Government of France. France maintains one of its largest military bases outside France in Djibouti. There are some 2,600 French troops, which includes a unit of the French Foreign Legion, stationed in Djibouti.
The right to own property is respected in Djibouti. The government has reorganized the labor unions. While there have been open elections of union leaders, the Government of Djibouti is working with the International Labor Organization (ILO) to hold new elections.
Although women in Djibouti enjoy a higher public status than in many other Islamic countries, women's rights and family planning face difficult challenges, many stemming from poverty. Few women hold senior positions. Education of girls still lags behind boys and, because of the high unemployment rate, employment opportunities are better for male applicants.
Principal Government Officials
President--Ismail Omar Guelleh
Prime Minister--Dileita Mohamed Dileita
Foreign Affairs--Mahamoud Ali Youssouf
Ambassador to the United Nations and the United States--Roble Olhaye Oudine
Djibouti's mission to the UN is located at 866 UN Plaza, Suite 4011, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-753-3163). Djibouti's embassy in Washington is located at Suite 515, 1156 15th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005 (tel. 202- 331-0270; fax 202-331-0302).
Djibouti's fledgling economy depends on a large foreign expatriate community, the maritime and commercial activities of the Port of Djibouti, its airport, and the operation of the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railroad. During the civil war (1991-94), there was a significant diversion of government budgetary resources from developmental and social services to military needs. France is insisting that future aid be conditional on an overhaul of Djibouti's dilapidated state finances in conjunction with the International Monetary Fund. Agriculture and industry are little developed, in part due to the harsh climate, high production costs, unskilled labor, and limited natural resources. Only a few mineral deposits exist in the country, and the arid soil is unproductive--89% is desert wasteland, 10% is pasture, and 1% is forested. Services and commerce provide most of the gross domestic product.
Djibouti's most important economic asset is its strategic location on the shipping routes between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean--the republic lies on the west side of the Bab-el-Mandeb, which connects the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Its port is an important transshipment point for containers. It also functions as a bunkering port and a small French naval facility. Business increased at the Port of Djibouti when hostilities between Eritrea and Ethiopia denied Ethiopia access to the Eritrean Port of Assab. Djibouti became the only significant port for landlocked Ethiopia, handling all its imports and exports, including huge shipments of U.S. food aid in 2000 during the drought and famine. In 2000, Jebel Ali Port Managers, which manages the Port of Dubai, took over management of Djibouti's port. This was part of a regional management scheme that also included the Port of Beruit and the Port of Djeddah. The Addis Ababa-Djibouti railroad is the only line serving central and southeastern Ethiopia. The single-track railway--a prime source of employment--occupies a prominent place in Ethiopia's internal distribution system for domestic commodities such as cement, cotton textiles, sugar, cereals, and charcoal. The governments of Ethiopia and Djibouti are jointly pursuing privatization of the railroad. In July 2004, four international companies applied for the concession of the railway. The railroad will undergo a two-year transitional period before concession is handed over.
Principal exports from the region transiting Djibouti are coffee, salt, hides, dried beans, cereals, other agricultural products, wax, and salt. Djibouti itself has few exports, and the majority of its imports come from France. Most imports are consumed in Djibouti, and the remainder goes to Ethiopia and northwestern Somalia. Djibouti's unfavorable balance of trade is offset partially by invisible earnings such as transit taxes and harbor dues. In 2001, U.S. exports to Djibouti totaled $18.7 million while U.S. imports from Djibouti were about $1 million.
The city of Djibouti has the only paved airport in the republic. Djibouti has one of the most liberal economic regimes in Africa, with almost unrestricted banking and commerce sectors.
Military and economic agreements with France provide continued security and economic assistance. Links with Arab states and East Asian states, Japan and China in particular, also are welcome. Djibouti is a member of the Arab League, as well as the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).
Djibouti is greatly affected by events in Somalia and Ethiopia, and, therefore, relations are important and, at times, very delicate. The fall of the Siad Barre and Mengistu governments in Somalia and Ethiopia, respectively, in 1991, caused Djibouti to face national security threats due to the instability in the neighboring states and a massive influx of refugees estimated at 100,000 from Somalia and Ethiopia. In 2000, after 3 years of insufficient rain, 50,000 drought victims entered Djibouti. In 1996 a revitalized organization of seven East African states, the IGAD, established its secretariat in Djibouti. IGAD's mandate is for regional cooperation and economic integration.
With the Ethiopia-Eritrea war of 2000, Ethiopia channeled most of its trade through Djibouti. Though Djibouti is nominally neutral, it broke off relations with Eritrea in November 1998, renewing relations in 2000. Eritrea's President Isaias visited Djibouti in early 2001 and President Ismail Omar Guelleh made a reciprocal visit to Asmara in the early summer of 2001. While Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh has close ties with Ethiopia's ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, he has tried to maintain an even hand, developing relations with Eritrea.
In April 1977, the United States established a Consulate General in Djibouti and at independence several months later raised its status to an embassy. The first U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Djibouti arrived in October 1980. The United States provides nearly $75 million in bilateral assistance for humanitarian programs, military training and border security.
Djibouti has allowed the U.S. military, as well as other nations, access to its port and airport facilities. The Djiboutian Government has generally been supportive of U.S. and Western interests, as was demonstrated during the Gulf crisis of 1990-91. After the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Djibouti quickly supported international efforts to fight terrorism. As a victim of past international terrorist attacks, President Ismail Omar Guelleh took a very proactive position among Arab League members to support coalition efforts.
Principal U.S. Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--David W. Ball
Political and Consular Officer--Andrea Lewis
Public Affairs Officer--Tiffany Bartish
Political and Economic Officer--Erinn Reed
United States Military Liaison Officer--Major Brian Jenkins
Management Officer--Rick Denniston
Regional Security Officer--Gary Stoner
The U.S. Embassy in Djibouti is located at Villa Plateau du Serpent, Blvd. Marechal Joffre (Boite Postal 185), Djibouti (tel. 253 35-39-95; fax 253 35-39-40).