total: 23,200 sq km
land: 23,180 sq km
water: 20 sq km
Total: 528 km
border countries (3):
Eritrea 125 km,
Ethiopia 342 km,
Somalia 61 km
Coastline: 314 km
Total: 842 km
desert; torrid, dry
coastal plain and plateau separated by central mountains
mean elevation: 430 m
elevation extremes: lowest point: Lac Assal -155 m
highest point: Moussa Ali 2,021 m
potential geothermal power, gold, clay, granite, limestone, marble, salt, diatomite, gypsum, pumice, petroleum
agricultural land: 73.4%
arable land 0.1%; permanent crops 0%; permanent pasture 73.3%
other: 26.4% (2011 est.)
10 sq km (2012)
Population – distribution:
most densely populated areas are in the east; the largest city is Djibouti, with a population over 600,000; no other city in the country has a total population over 50,000
earthquakes; droughts; occasional cyclonic disturbances from the Indian Ocean bring heavy rains and flash floods
People and Society
Djibouti is a poor, predominantly urban country, characterized by high rates of illiteracy, unemployment, and childhood malnutrition. More than 75% of the population lives in cities and towns (predominantly in the capital, Djibouti). The rural population subsists primarily on nomadic herding. Prone to droughts and floods, the country has few natural resources and must import more than 80% of its food from neighboring countries or Europe. Healthcare, particularly outside the capital, is limited by poor infrastructure, shortages of equipment and supplies, and a lack of qualified personnel. More than a third of health care recipients are migrants because the services are still better than those available in their neighboring home countries. The nearly universal practice of female genital cutting reflects Djibouti’s lack of gender equality and is a major contributor to obstetrical complications and its high rates of maternal and infant mortality. A 1995 law prohibiting the practice has never been enforced.
Because of its political stability and its strategic location at the confluence of East Africa and the Gulf States along the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, Djibouti is a key transit point for migrants and asylum seekers heading for the Gulf States and beyond. Each year some hundred thousand people, mainly Ethiopians and some Somalis, journey through Djibouti, usually to the port of Obock, to attempt a dangerous sea crossing to Yemen. However, with the escalation of the ongoing Yemen conflict, Yemenis began fleeing to Djibouti in March 2015, with almost 20,000 arriving by August 2017. Most Yemenis remain unregistered and head for Djibouti City rather than seeking asylum at one of Djibouti’s three spartan refugee camps. Djibouti has been hosting refugees and asylum seekers, predominantly Somalis and lesser numbers of Ethiopians and Eritreans, at camps for 20 years, despite lacking potable water, food shortages, and unemployment.
865,267 (July 2017 est.)
Somali 60%, Afar 35%, other 5% (includes French, Arab, Ethiopian, and Italian)
French (official), Arabic (official), Somali, Afar
Muslim 94%, Christian 6%
Ethnicity, Language, and Religion
The Somali ethnic group makes up 60% of the population of Djibouti. These individuals mainly belong to sub-clans of the Dir clan which stretches throughout Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Kenya. The biggest sub-clan in Djibouti is the Issa clan who have a long history living as nomadic cattle herders. The Issa make up about half of the total population in the country. The second largest ethnic group is the Afar at 35% of the population. The northern region of Djibouti is where the majority of the Afar live. Their primary language is Saho-Afar, and they traditionally live a nomadic lifestyle. The remaining 5% of the population is made up of people of Ethiopian, Yemeni, Arab, French, Italian and other ethnicities. Those individuals of French and Italian descent have been in the region since the days of the French colony and the Italian invasion.
The republic recognizes two official languages: French and Arabic. However, Somali is the most widely spoken language, although it is rarely written and is not taught in the schools. The use of Afar is mostly restricted to Afar areas. Many Djiboutians are multilingual. Fluency in French is particularly important for those with political aspirations. French is the means of instruction in primary and secondary schools, although Arabic is also taught as the first language at both these levels.
About 94% of the population practices Islam, which is the state religion. However, the constitution provides for freedom of religion and there is not widespread discrimination against other faiths. A small number of Djiboutians are Roman Catholic, Protestant, or affiliated with the Baha’i Faith. A large foreign community also supports Greek and Ethiopian Orthodox churches. Proselytizing is not prohibited, but is discouraged. Christmas is the only non-Muslim holiday that is officially recognized. Religious groups must register with the Ministry of the Interior. The Ministry of Muslim Affairs oversees all Muslim activities.
The education system in Djibouti was originally developed to meet a limited demand for education; it was essentially designed for elites and borrowed heavily from the French system (administrative structure and pedagogical methods). Traditionally, education in Djibouti, a largely Islamic country and the first in Africa to adopt this religion, is the domain of the Koranic schools where tuition is in Arabic. Koranic, community-based preschools are especially abundant; here children learn the Holy Koran, reading, writing, religious instruction, Islam, and how to perform prayers. These preschools, usually run by a sheik and staffed by preschool teachers characterized by the good memory, honesty, modesty and total dedication to their mission, do not necessarily emphasize skill-oriented activities.
Pre-primary education is a two-year education and the first stage of basic education. Primary education is a five-year education and the second stage of basic education Gender parity index for gross enrollment rate in primary education was 0.88 in 2008. Private enrollment share in primary education is 14%. Middle education consists of four years. In middle education, 17,503 male and 12,448 female were enrolled in 2008.
The three years of secondary school complete the options for young people unless their parents can afford to send them on to university or higher technical school. One-quarter of secondary schools are privately administered and are noticeably superior to government ones. The University of Djibouti illustrated here is the country’s only tertiary education institution. It provides undergraduate and graduates programs through its faculties of pure sciences, life sciences, civil & industrial engineering, and liberal arts.
The proud and free nomadic people who live in the interior of Djibouti are not yet fully integrated into the country’s educational system. Ways are being sought to provide a basic education to these people, who are totally unimpressed with modern ways. Some, in fact, regard someone who “goes to town” as a person who doesn’t want to take responsibility for his/her community. One of the possibilities suggested is that teachers would be found, perhaps from their midst, who would travel with the community and so provide an education that would give the children a wider choice in the future.
Djibouti is a small country in which more than 23% of the population lives in extreme poverty. With less than 1,000 km2 of arable land (0.04% of 23,200 km2) and an average annual rainfall of 5.1 inches, Djibouti has a chronic food deficit and is totally dependent on imports to meet its food needs. As such, it is highly sensitive to external shocks such as spikes in food and fuel prices and natural disasters such as floods and droughts.
Djibouti’s economy is dependent on foreign financing, foreign direct investments, rents from foreign countries’ military bases, and port services, which capitalize on both the country’s strategic position at the southern entrance to the Red Sea and on being Ethiopia’s main import-export route.
Because of its global location – geographic and geopolitical – transportation and logistics services drive the economy. Djibouti has enjoyed rapid and sustained growth over the past fifteen years with per capita GDP increasing by 3.1 percent on average per annum in 2001-2017.
Economic growth accelerated to more than 6.5 percent on average per year in 2014-2016 as the country engaged in mega-investments in port infrastructure development and railway construction to link Djibouti to Ethiopia. Those strategic investments are expected to boost export of services over the coming decade with GDP growth remaining around 7 percent. Inflation rates have declined from a peak of 11.9 percent in 2008 to 0.6 percent in 2017.
In the first two months of 2018, consumer prices declined by 0.5 percent on a year-on-year basis. Extreme poverty declined in the last fifteen years but remains high since about one-fifth of the population continues to live below the international poverty line. Fiscal deficits rose significantly in 2014-2016 to more than 15 percent of GDP on average per year as the country was implementing an ambitious public investment program but declined to around 3 percent of GDP in 2017.
As a result, public and publicly guaranteed debt more than doubled to reach 87 percent of GDP in 2017. Foreign exchange reserves are projected to remain strong in 2018 at US$435 million, sufficient for coverage of about 3.6 months of imports. Thanks to Ethiopia natural wealth and Chinese money, most of the Djiboutians will enjoy clean water before 2020, as well as over 100 MW cheap electricity. Djibouti is already receiving over 60 MW (coverage over 50%) from Ethiopia every year since 2012, where electricity coverage is about only 24%.
GDP (purchasing power parity):
$3.64 billion (2017 est.)
$3.402 billion (2016 est.)
$3.194 billion (2015 est.)
note: data are in 2017 dollars
GDP (official exchange rate):
$2.082 billion (2017 est.)
GDP – real growth rate:
7% (2017 est.)
6.5% (2016 est.)
6.5% (2015 est.)
GDP – per capita (PPP):
$3,600 (2017 est.)
$3,400 (2016 est.)
$3,300 (2015 est.)
Gross national saving:
12.6% of GDP (2017 est.)
16.9% of GDP (2016 est.)
19% of GDP (2015 est.)
GDP – composition, by sector of origin:
services: 76.1% (2017 est.)
Agriculture – products:
fruits, vegetables; goats, sheep, camels, animal hides
construction, agricultural processing, shipping
Population below poverty line:
revenues: $699.8 million
expenditures: $865.4 million (2017 est.)
Port of Djibouti
The Port of Djibouti S.A. is located at the southern entrance to the Red Sea, at the intersection of major international shipping lanes connecting Asia, Africa, and Europe. The port is a minimal deviation from the principal East-West trade route and provides a secure regional hub for transshipment and relay of goods. Since 1998, the port handled 100% of Ethiopia’s maritime traffic, which moves to and from Addis Ababa by truck and rail. To accommodate this important business, the Port has made an additional 20 ha of dry yard area available. The port of Djibouti is ideally located to serve the COMESA market, linking 19 countries and 380 million people.
Djibouti as a main maritime passage and the main trading route between East and West stretches back since 3500 years, the time of maritime explorations of the Red Sea. A strategic meeting point between two worlds (Africa and Asia) the Red Sea was a place of contact and passage used by the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, the Ptolemaists, the Romans, the Greeks, the Byzantine, the Arabs, and then by the Europeans in search of the spices route. Its apogee came with the opening of the Suez Canal. The port evolved out of Ethiopia’s search for a maritime outlet to its railway line, and Djibouti’s coastline provided both easy access and sheltered anchorage. Work on the railway began in 1897, as did the initial construction of the port. Once the line was completed, in 1917, the port grew rapidly.
Djibouti is politically and socially stable state strategically located at the southern entrance to the red sea, at a point where three continents intersect (Asia Africa and Europe). A staggering 50% of the world’s shipping lines pass in part of Djibouti’s maritime route on their way to Europe and Asia & connected by road and rail to landlocked Ethiopia and thereafter into the heart of Africa. 95% of the goods handled by Port of Djibouti are destined for landlocked Ethiopia amongst them petroleum products and food aids.
Between 2011 and 2016, the Chinese built a high-capacity standard gauge railway to replace the colonial-era French railway. The Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway terminates at the nearby Port of Doraleh and restores Ethiopia’s railroad access to the sea. As of 2013, the Djibouti Ports & Free Zones Authority (DPFZA) is the governmental body administering the Port of Djibouti and other ports in the country. The organization also oversees the national free zones, serving as a liaison between the companies working therein and other government agencies. The DPFZA is subject to the Presidential Office.
population without electricity: 400,000
electrification – total population: 50%
electrification – urban areas: 61%
electrification – rural areas: 14% (2013)
Electricity – production:
405 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – consumption:
376.7 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – exports:
0 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – imports:
60 MW (2015 est.)
Electricity – installed generating capacity:
130,000 kW (2015 est.)
Electricity – from fossil fuels:
74 % of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Electricity – from nuclear fuels:
0% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Telephones – fixed lines:
total subscriptions: 24,925
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 3 (July 2016 est.)
Telephones – mobile cellular:
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 40 (July 2016 est.)
Internet country code:
percent of population: 13.1% (July 2016 est.)
Industry and Mining
Given Djibouti’s economic reliance on international trade and the scarcity of natural resources, manufacturing industries have always played a secondary role in the country’s economic development. However, authorities are now looking to boost their development as a means to cut unemployment and foster more sustained and inclusive economic growth. SECTOR SIZE: In line with many emerging markets in Africa, Djibouti’s manufacturing sector has seen its contribution to GDP trend downwards in recent decades, with a limited share of 3.7% of GDP in 2014 compared to 8.1% in 1977 – a result in this instance of the country’s expanding focus on service activity.
As a result, there are currently just over 30 formal, large-scale, commercial manufacturing enterprises operating in the 850,000-person country, which is equivalent to just over 1% of the total number of companies. The firms are, by and large, focused on the domestic market as opposed to exports, with a number of companies operating in the building materials, beverage and mineral water, industrial gas, and plastic and paper production segments.
As a result, while activity was historically dominated by domestic investors, that is now beginning to change: Djibouti’s National Investment Promotion Agency (Agence Nationale de Promotion des Investissements, NIPA) noted an increased number of international industrial investment projects between 2010 and 2014, corresponding to 32% of the total projects approved by the Code of Investments. As the country continues to liberalize and seeks to expand its role as a gateway to East Africa, manufacturing activities are beginning to benefit.
Banking and Finance
The financial sector of the Republic of Djibouti has grown dramatically in recent years, a process that began in the early 2000s, and that was in large part prompted by an explosion the number of exchange agencies and remittances throughout the country. Growth in the banking sector began in the middle of the decade, paralleled by an expansion of the microfinance sector. Microfinance is a growing field in Djibouti, but access to finance remains limited for micro and small enterprises, reducing the potential for self-employment.
Currently, only 4 percent of the population benefits from microcredit. In the coming years, microfinance institutions are expected to develop a range of new services including microinsurance and micro-transfers. Authorities are also working closely with banks to address these issues and further expand their range of financial products and services (such as automated teller machines, Islamic products, and products for small and medium-sized enterprises). The area of micro-finance has, for its part, three savings banks with service points located throughout the country.
Djibouti’s banking sector, which features both Islamic and conventional banks, has grown significantly in recent years with the arrival of new banks bringing the number of institutions to eleven, compared with only two in 2006. The sector remains highly profitable with a low level of non-performing loans (approximately 6 percent). The banking sector accounts for 97 percent of financial assets and 10 percent of GDP, and is a showcase for Djibouti, and enjoys a solid reputation in the region. In addition to the intrinsic characteristics of expertise, professionalism, and experience inherent in each bank that has contributed to this reputation, the whole profession and hence the financial sector has benefited from the solid foundations provided by the country’s monetary system.
The Republic of Djibouti today can thus boast of having a healthy and reliable banking center fully connected to the international banking sphere, and able to provide all banking services, both locally and internationally via a large network of foreign correspondents. The Djiboutian financial sector, with total assets of 265 billion FD or 102 percent of GDP, has not been affected by the international financial crisis. Banking is entirely under the supervision of the Central Bank of Djibouti, while the capital of local banks is majority owned by foreign groups. The insurance sector, regulated by the Ministry of Finance, consists of two large corporations.
This tiny speck of a country packs a big punch. What it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in beauty. Few countries in the world, with the possible exception of Iceland, offer such weird landscapes – think salt lakes, extinct volcanoes, sunken plains, limestone chimneys belching out puffs of steam, basaltic plateaus and majestic canyons. Outdoorsy types will enjoy a good mix of land and water activities, including hiking, diving and whale-shark spotting in the Gulf of Tadjoura.
Whether its outdoor adventures inside a real African jungle or indoor delights with rich African cultural artifacts, Djibouti is undoubtedly a perfect choice for you. Although it is one of the smallest countries in Africa, Djibouti stands out as one of Africa’s most-frequented travel destinations. Situated in the Horn of Africa, Djibouti offers the perfect eco-travel experience for people who crave the ancient African nomadic life.
Place of Attractions
Located on the western side of the Gulf of Tadjoura, Lake Assal is estimated to be 155 meters below sea level, making it the lowest point of Africa.
For snorkelers, the Gulf of Tadjoura is the perfect diving spot. The gulf is also crawling with whales and sharks for your sightseeing adventures.
If you have ever desired to visit a real African jungle, then the Day Forest National Park in Djibouti is the right place for you. It is located 20 kilometers away from the Gulf of Tadjoura and is surrounded by desert.
Located 15 kilometers from Djibouti City, the Doral and Khor Ambado beaches are perfect for various water sports and cruising.
Located near the border of Somalia and Ethiopia, Ali Sabieh Town sits right in the middle of a breathtaking desert. It is the best place to experience rustic and rugged Africa.
Formerly a port for slave traders, Tadjoura Town is one of the oldest towns on the African east coast, dating back to the 12th century. It is commonly referred to as “La Ville Blanche” or the White Town due to its whitewashed houses.
The Djibouti area has been inhabited since at least the Neolithic. Pottery predating the mid-2nd millennium has been found at Asa Koma, an inland lake area on the Gobaad Plain. The site’s ware is characterized by punctate and incision geometric designs, which bear a similarity to the Sabir culture phase 1 ceramics from Ma’layba in Southern Arabia. Long-horned humpless cattle bones have also been discovered at Asa Koma. Rock art of what appear to be antelopes and a giraffe are likewise found at Dorra and Balho. A team of archaeologists discovered funds stone houses, the walls of a rectangular edifice with orienteer recess to Mecca. They have also updated shards of ceramics, chipped stone tools, and a glass bead.
Asa Koma is an inland lake area on the Gobaad Plain. Pottery predating the mid-2nd millennium BC has been found at the site. The ware is characterized by punctate and incision geometric designs, which bear a similarity to the Sabir culture phase 1 ceramics from Ma’layba in Southern Arabia. Additionally, ceramics like some of the pottery from Sihi on the Saudi coast and Subr on the Yemeni littoral have been found here. Long-horned humpless cattle bones have also been discovered at Asa Koma, suggesting that domesticated cattle were present by around 3,500 years ago.
The engravings oldest discovered to date are from the fourth or third millennium BC In the pre-Islamic period, the most famous is the site of Handoga there where the ruins of a village squares subcircular dry stone delivered different objects. An old settlement, Handoga is the site of numerous ancient ruins and buildings, many of obscure origins. Including ceramic shards matching vases used brazier or containers that can hold water, several choppers, and microliths, blades, drills, trenchers basalt, rhyolite or obsidian. A team of archaeologists discovers an elephant date of 1.6 million years near the area. Also a pearl orange coralline, three glass paste, etc.. No trace of the metal object.
Ifat first emerged when Umar ibn Dunya-Huz, later to be known as Sultan Umar Walashma, carved out his own kingdom and conquered the Sultanate of Showa (located in the highlands of Eastern Shewa province in Tegulat). Taddesse Tamrat explains Sultan Walashma’s military acts as an effort to consolidate the Muslim territories in the Horn of Africa in much the same way as Emperor Yekuno Amlak was attempting to consolidate the Christian territories in the highlands during the same period.
In 1320 a conflict between the Christian monarch and Muslim Ifat leaders began. The conflict was precipitated by Al-Nasir Muhammad of Egypt. The Mamluk ruler Al-Nasir Muhammad was persecuting Christian Copts and destroying Coptic churches. The Ethiopian Emperor Amda Seyon I sent an envoy with a warning to the Mamluk ruler that if he did not stop the persecution of Christians in Egypt, he would retaliate against Muslims under his rule and would starve the peoples of Egypt by diverting the course of the Nile. According to Pankhurst, of the two threats, the diversion of Nile was an idle threat and the Egyptian sultan dismissed it because he likely realized this to be so. The fear that the Ethiopians might tamper with the Nile, states Pankhurst, was nevertheless to remain with Egyptians for many centuries.
The Sultanate of Ifat eventually disappeared as the Christian kingdom expanded. Adal Sultanate with its capital of Harar emerged in the southeastern areas as the leading Muslim principality in the latter part of the 14th century. Several small territories continued to be ruled by different Walasma groups up to the eighteenth century. By eighteenth century several Christian dynasties named Yifat and Menz, which were the province names of Ifat Sultanate were established. Presently, its name is preserved in the modern-day Ethiopian occupied districts of Harar situated in Ethiopian Somali land and Yifat, situated in Shewa.
In 1332, the King of Adal was slain in a military campaign aimed at halting Amda Seyon’s march toward Zeila. When the last Sultan of Ifat, Sa’ad ad-Din II, was also killed by Dawit I of Ethiopia at the port city of Zeila in 1410, his children escaped to Yemen, before later returning in 1415. In the early 15th century, Adal’s capital was moved further inland to the town of Dakkar, where Sabr ad-Din II, the eldest son of Sa’ad ad-Din II, established a new Adal administration after his return from Yemen. During this period, Adal emerged as a center of Muslim resistance against the expanding Christian Abyssinian kingdom. Adal would thereafter govern all of the territory formerly ruled by the Ifat Sultanate, as well as the land further east all the way to Cape Guardafui, according to Leo Africanus.
After 1468, a new breed of rulers emerged on the Adal political scene. The dissidents opposed Walashma rule owing to a treaty that Sultan Muhammad ibn Badlay had signed with Emperor Baeda Maryam of Ethiopia, wherein Badlay agreed to submit yearly tribute. This was done to achieve peace in the region, though tribute was never sent. Adal’s Emirs, who administered the provinces, interpreted the agreement as a betrayal of their independence and a retreat from the polity’s longstanding policy of resistance to Abyssinian incursions. The main leader of this opposition was the Emir of Zeila, the Sultanate’s richest province. As such, he was expected to pay the highest share of the annual tribute to be given to the Abyssinian Emperor.
According to the 16th-century explorer Leo Africanus, the Adal Sultanate’s realm encompassed the geographical area between the Bab el Mandeb and Cape Guardafui. It was thus flanked to the south by the Mogadishu Sultanate (Kingdom of Magadazo) and to the west by the Abyssinian Empire (Abassin Empire). Emir Mahfuz, who would fight with successive emperors, caused the death of Emperor Na’od in 1508, but he was in turn killed by the forces of Emperor Dawit II (Lebna Dengel) in 1517. After the death of Mahfuz, a civil war started for the office of Highest Emir of Adal. Five Emirs came to power in only two years. But at last, a matured and powerful leader called Garad Abuun Addus (Garad Abogne) assumed power. When Garad Abogne was in power he was defeated and killed by Sultan Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad, and In 1554, under his initiative, Harar became the capital of Adal.
The Sultanate of Harar (Ethiopia)
Harar, formerly written as Harrar or Harer and known to its inhabitants as Gēy, is a walled city in eastern Ethiopia. It was formerly the capital of Hararghe and now the capital of the modern Harari Region of Ethiopia, the city is located on a hilltop in the eastern extension of the Ethiopian Highlands, about five hundred kilometers from Addis Ababa at an elevation of 1,885 meters. Based on figures from the Central Statistical Agency in 2015, Harar had a total population of 170,000. Harar Jugol, the old walled city, was listed as a World Heritage Site in 2006 by UNESCO in recognition of its cultural heritage and it is sometimes known in Arabic as the City of Saints.
According to UNESCO, it is considered the holy city of Islam with 110 mosques. The Fath Madinat Harar records that the cleric Abadir Umar ar-Rida, Harar was later made the new capital of the Adal Sultanate in 1520 by the Sultan Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad. The city saw a decline during the ensuing Emirate of Harar. During the Ethiopian Empire, the city decayed while maintaining a certain cultural prestige, today, it is the seat of the Harari Region. It is likely the inhabitants of the region were the Harla people. The Argobba and the ancestors of the Harari people are believed to be founders of the city, called Gēy by its inhabitants, Harar emerged as the center of Islamic culture and religion in the Horn of Africa during the end of the Middle Ages. Abadir was met by the Harla, Gaturi, and Argobba, Abadi’s brother Fakr ad-Din subsequently founded the Sultanate of Mogadishu.
According to the 15th-century chronicles of Amda Seyon I, Gēt was an Arab colony in Harla country, during the Middle Ages, Harar was part of the Adal Sultanate, becoming its capital in 1554 under Sultan Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad. The sixteenth century was the city’s Golden Age, the local culture flourished, and many poets lived and wrote there. It also became known for coffee, weaving, basketry, and bookbinding and his successor, Emir Nur ibn Mujahid, built a protective wall around the city. Four meters in height with five gates, this structure, called Jugol, is intact and is a symbol of the town to the inhabitants. Silte, Wolane, and Harari lived in Harar while the two moved to the Gurage region. Following the death of Emir Nur, Harar began a decline in wealth.
From 1862 until 1894, the land to the north of the Gulf of Tadjoura was called Obock and was ruled by Somali and Afar Sultans. Minilik II of Ethiopia, the autonomous local authorities, and France signed(ill-advised) various treaties between 1883 and 1887 with France to first gain a foothold in the region. In 1894, Léonce Lagarde established a permanent French administration in the city of Djibouti and named the region French Somaliland. It lasted from 1896 until 1967, when it was renamed the Territoire Français des Afars et des Issas (TFAI) (“French Territory of the Afars and the Issas”).
In 1958, on the eve of neighboring Somalia’s independence in 1960, a referendum was held in Djibouti to decide whether to remain with France or to join the Somali Republic. The referendum turned out in favor of a continued association with France, partly due to a combined yes vote by the sizable Afar ethnic group and resident Europeans. There were also allegations of widespread vote rigging. The majority of those who had voted no were Somalis who were strongly in favor of joining a united Somalia as had been proposed by Mahmoud Harbi, Vice President of the Government Council. Harbi was killed in a plane crash two years later.
In 1967, a second plebiscite was held to determine the fate of the territory. Initial results supported a continued but looser relationship with France. Voting was also divided along ethnic lines, with the resident Somalis generally voting for independence, with the goal of eventual union with Somalia, and the Afars largely opting to remain associated with France. The referendum was again marred by reports of vote rigging on the part of the French authorities. In 1976, members of the Front de Libération de la Côte des Somalis also clashed with the Gendarmerie National Intervention Group over a bus hijacking en route to Loyada. Shortly after the plebiscite was held, the former Côte française des Somalis (French Somaliland) was renamed to Territoire français des Afars et des Issas.
On 8 May 1977, the people of the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas overwhelmingly voted for independence through a national referendum. On 27 June 1977, the Republic of Djibouti became an independent state. A constitution split power between the Issas and Afars; Hassan Gouled Aptidon was elected president and Ahmed Dini became prime minister. In 1981, Djibouti held its first presidential elections since independence. All political parties were banned from participation in the election except for Aptidon’s People’s Rally for Progress (RPP). Consequently, Aptidon ran unopposed and was reelected. The same was true for the Parliamentary elections in 1982; all candidates ran unopposed.
Afar dissatisfaction with Aptidon grew in the late 1980s. Insurgent Afars in the north formed the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD) in 1991 in frustration with some of Aptidon’s policies. FRUD claimed that the Issa-dominated central government did not respect the rights of the Afars. The Afars called for the creation of a new state from parts of Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Eritrea; FRUD gained control of some areas of the north and west. By the end of 1993, 35 percent of the central government’s budgetary expenditures were used to support the military occupation of the north by Issa troops. In March 1995, in compliance with the peace accords, the majority of FRUD disarmed.
Upon Aptidon’s retirement in 1999, Ismail Omar Guelleh was elected president. On 7 February 2000, representatives of the Djibouti government and the remaining FRUD combatant rebels signed a peace accord calling for the immediate release of prisoners by both sides, as well as for reforms to decentralize and enhance democracy. FRUD leader Ahmed Dini returned to Djibouti in March. 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, led by Ahmed Dini Ahmed, an Afar nationalist, and former Gouled political ally. The peace accord successfully completed the peace process begun on February 7, 2000, in Paris.