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Republic of Djibouti

République de Djibouti Jumhouriyya Djibouti

CAPITAL: Djibouti

FLAG: A white triangle, with a five-pointed red star within, extends from the hoist; the remaining area has a broad light blue band over a broad light green band.

ANTHEM: No information available.

MONETARY UNIT: The Djibouti franc (dFr) of 100 centimes is the national currency. There are coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 500 Djibouti francs, and notes of 500, 1000, 5000, and 10,000 Djibouti francs. dFr1 = $0.00563 (or $1 = dFr177.72) as of 2004.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is in use.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Labor Day, 1 May; Independence Day, 27 June; Christmas Day, 25 December. Movable religious holidays are Milad an-Nabi, Laylat al-Miraj, 'Id al-Fitr, 'Id al-'Adha', and Muslim New Year (1st of Muharram).

TIME: 3 pm = noon GMT.


Djibouti (formerly known as French Somaliland and then as the Territory of the Afars and the Issas) is situated on the east coast of Africa along the Bab al-Mandab, the strait that links the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden. It is bordered by Eritrea to the n, Ethiopia n, w, and s, by Somalia on the se, and by the Bab al-Mandab, Gulf of Tadjoura, and Gulf of Aden on the e. Djibouti encompasses approximately 22,000 sq km (8,494 sq mi) and has a total boundary length of 830 km (516 mi), which includes a coastline of 314 km (195 mi). Comparatively, the area occupied by Djibouti is slightly smaller than the state of Massachusetts.

Djibouti's capital city, Djibouti, is located in the eastern part of the country.


Originally formed by volcanic action that accompanied the uplifting and faulting of the East African shield and the Rift Valley system, Djibouti consists of a series of high, arid tablelands surrounding faults, within which are low plains. Many areas exhibit thick layers of lava flow. There are three principal regions: the coastal plain, less than 200 m (656 ft) above sea level; the mountains, averaging about 1,000 m (3,300 ft) above sea level; and the plateau behind the mountains, rising 3001,500 m (9844,921 ft). The highest point, Mt. Moussa Ali, rises to 2,028 m (6,654 ft) on the northern frontier. The saline Lake Assal, at 155 m (509 ft) below sea level, is the lowest point in Africa and the second-lowest in the world.

In general, the terrain is bare, dry, desolate, and marked by sharp cliffs, deep ravines, burning sands, and thorny shrubs. There is very little groundwater except in an area along the southern border with Somalia, and Djibouti is dependent on saline subterranean aquifers. Located above the meeting point of the Arabian and African tectonic plates, low magnitude earthquakes are common.


The climate is torrid, and rainfall is sparse and erratic. During the hot season, from May to September, daytime temperatures in the capital average 31°c (87°f) and the northeastern monsoon blows. During the warm season, from October to April, average daytime temperatures moderate to 37°c (99°f). Humidity is high all year, but annual rainfall averages less than 13 cm (5 in).


Over 90% of the land in Djibouti is desert. On Mt. Goda, near Tadjoura, there are rare giant juniper trees, acacias, and wild olive trees. However, most of the vegetation is typical of the desert and semidesert, consisting of thorn scrubs and palm trees.

In its animal reserves, Djibouti has antelopes, gazelles, hyenas, and jackals.


Djibouti's most significant environmental problems are deforestation, desertification, water pollution, and the protection of its wildlife. Djibouti's forests are threatened by agriculture and the use of wood for fuel. The rare trees on Mt. Goda are protected within a national park. The water supply is threatened by increasing salinity. Underwater reserves have been established in the Gulf of Tadjoura to prevent overfishing of tuna, barracuda, grouper, and other species. No hunting of wild animals is permitted, but abuses continue. Haramous-Loyada is a Ramsar wetland site.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the number of threatened species included four types of mammals, six species of birds, nine species of fish, and two species of plants. Threatened species include the spotted eagle, several species of sharks, the green turtle, the spotted hyena, and Grevy's zebra.


The population of Djibouti in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 793,000, which placed it at number 155 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 3% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 41% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 100 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population growth rate for 20052010 was expected to be 1.9%, a rate the government viewed as too high. The projected population for the year 2025 was 1,107,000. The population density was 34 per sq km (89 per sq mi). The vast majority lives in and around the capital, with much of the rest of the country inhabitable.

The UN estimated that 82% of the population lived in urban areas (primarily Djibouti) in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 1.81%. The capital city, Djibouti, had a population of 502,000 in that year.

The prevalence of HIV/AIDS has had a significant impact on the population of Djibouti. The UN estimated that 7.1% of adults between the ages of 1549 were living with HIV/AIDS in 2001, with an estimated 11% of those ages 1524 infected with the virus. The AIDS epidemic causes higher death and infant mortality rates, and lowers life expectancy.


The peoples of Djibouti, Somalia, and Eritrea are historically nomadic, migrating with flocks of camels and goats across borders that now separate their nations. Somalis from Djibouti have also historically sought work across the Gulf of Aden in Yemen and the Persian Gulf sheikdoms.

In mid-1993, some 18,000 Afar refugees from Djibouti fled into northeastern Ethiopia because of ethnic clashes and the civil war. A peace agreement was signed in 1994. Almost all voluntarily repatriated to Djibouti by the end of 1997.

Between September 1994 and November 1996, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) helped repatriate 31,617 Ethiopian refugees from Djibouti; 2,500 remained. In 2004, Somalian refugees numbered 25,444, of which 8,448 were voluntarily repatriated. At of the end of 2004, there were 18,035 refugees in Djibouti, and no asylum seekers. In 2005 the estimated net migration rate was zero migrants per 1,000 population, a considerable change from the -11.4 migrants per thousand in 1990.


The Issa branch of the Somali people and related clans constitutes 60% of all Djibouti's inhabitants; most live in southern Djibouti or in the capital. The Afars, a related people of north and west Djibouti, who also live in the Danakil depression of neighboring Ethiopia, number about 35%. The remaining 5% consists of French (about 3%), Arabs of Yemeni background, Ethiopians, and Italians.


Although French and Arabic are the official languages, the home languages of the vast majority of Djiboutians are Somali and Afar, both of Cushitic origin.


Over 99% 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.


Djibouti had about 100 km (62 mi) of single-track, narrow gauge railway in 2004, which linked the capital with Addis Ababa. It was closed during the Somali-Ethiopian War of 197778; by the time it reopened, the Ethiopians had developed their port of Assab (now part of Eritrea), so traffic did not return to its former level. However, in 1998, Djibouti and Ethiopia announced plans to revitalize the century-old railroad that links their capitals.

Djibouti had 2,890 km (1,796 mi) of road in 2002, 364 km (226 mi) of which was paved. A tarred road runs most of the distance from Djibouti city to Dikhil, Yoboki, and Galafi, on the Ethiopian border, where it connects with the main Assab-Addis Ababa highway. Except for the 40-km (25-mi) road from Djibouti city to Arta, all other roads are rough. A secondary road connects Obock and Tadjoura, on the northern side of the Gulf of Tadjoura, with Randa and Dorra in the northern interior. A highway between Djibouti city and Tadjoura was completed by 1991.

Djibouti's improved natural harbor consists of a roadstead, outer harbor, and inner harbor. The roadstead is well protected by reefs and the configuration of the land. The inner harbor has five outer and six inner berths for large vessels. A quarter of Ethiopia's imports and half of its exports move through the port. Car ferries ply the Gulf of Tadjoura from Djibouti city to Tadjoura and Obock, which are ports of minor commercial importance. As of 2005, Djibouti had one cargo ship totaling 1,369 GRT.

Also in 2004, there were an estimated 13 airports, only 3 of which had paved runways as of 2005. Ambouli Airport, about 6 km (4 mi) from the city of Djibouti, is the country's international air terminal. There are local airports at Tadjoura and Obock. Air Djibouti, partly government-owned and partly owned by Air France, provides domestic service to six centers and flies to a number of overseas destinations.


Somali (Issa) and Afar herders, nomadic, Muslim and Cushiticspeaking, lived in and around Djibouti for hundreds of years before European explorers in the 19th century brought the region to the attention of the modern West. Obock and, later, Djibouti city were recognized as ports of great usefulness on the sea routes to India, Mauritius, and Madagascar. The Italians and British were active colonizers farther south along the Somali coast, and Britain was gaining control in what are now Yemen, the Sudan, and Egypt. France decided to establish its colonial foothold in 1862 along what is now the northeastern coast of Djibouti. This tentative venture became in 188485 the protectorates of Obock and Tadjoura, which were merged to form French Somaliland.

The administrative capital of French Somaliland was moved from Obock to Djibouti in 1896, a year before the boundaries of the colony were officially demarcated between France and Ethiopia. In 1898, a French consortium began building the narrowgauge railway that finally reached Addis Ababa in 1917. During the Italian invasion and occupation of Ethiopia in the 1930s and during the early part of World War II, there were constant border skirmishes between French and Italian forces. In December 1942, French Somaliland forces joined the Free French under Gen. Charles de Gaulle.

After World War II, French Somaliland gradually gained a measure of local autonomy. In 1957, it obtained a territorial assembly and a local executive council to advise the French-appointed governor-general. The following year, the voters of French Somalil- and opted to join the French Community as an overseas territory, electing one deputy and one senator to the French National Assembly. In late 1958, the first elections to the local assembly were held under a system of proportional representation. In the second elections, held in 1963, plurality voting based on party lists in seven districts replaced proportional voting. The result was the election of an Afar leader as head of the executive council; the more numerous Issas felt they had been prevented by the new electoral procedures from gaining control of the council. In 1967, 60% of the voters in a special referendum opted to retain the colony's association with France, but the Issas again complained that the franchise lists had been unfairly restricted in a way that favored the Afars. After the referendum, French Somaliland became known as the Territory of the Afars and the Issas.

The country's independence movement had been led throughout the postwar period by the Issas, but their movement had been opposed by Ethiopia, which wanted French control to continue, and by the Afars, who feared Issa domination. Finally, in 1975, the French began to accommodate increasingly strident demands for independence. The territory's citizenship law, which had favored the Afar minority, was revised to admit more Issas. In a referendum in May 1977, the now-enlarged Issa majority voted decisively for independence, which was officially established on 27 June 1977, as the country officially became the Republic of Djibouti. Hassan Gouled Aptidon, the territory's premier, had been elected the nation's first president by the territorial Chamber of Deputies three days earlier. Although Gouled, an Issa, appointed Afar premiers and the cabinet was roughly balanced, the dominance of the Issas in administration led to political conflict, including cabinet crises. Gouled was reelected without opposition by universal suffrage in June 1981 and April 1987. A one-party Chamber of Deputies list, elected without opposition in May 1982, consisted of 26 Issas, 23 Afars, and 16 Arabs. Only 12 seats were won by newcomers in the April 1987 election of a one-party list.

A new constitution was voted on in 1992, although the vote was boycotted by opposition parties. In December, legislative elections were held, which, according to the constitution, were to have been open to all parties. Due to administrative restrictions and opposition resolve not to participate, by election time only two parties had been officially allowed to contest seats: the ruling People's Rally for Progress Party (RPP) and the newly formed Democratic Renewal Party (PRD). Due to the antidemocratic nature of the electoral process, more than half the electorate refused to vote. The RPP was said to have won all 65 seats.

Presidential elections were held in March 1993. Five candidates contested the elections for president. The leader of the PDR, Mohamed Elabe, was Gouled's main opponent. But, again, fewer than half the electorate voted, and Gouled was reelected with officially 60% of the vote.

Dissatisfaction with Gouled grew in the late 1980s and contributed to an uprising by Afar guerrillas of the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD) in late 1991. FRUD gained control of some areas of the north and west. In February 1992, France deployed forces in Djibouti, and the Afars declared unilaterally a cease-fire. Yet, fighting continued and a government counteroffensive checked the FRUD by July. Rebel bases in the north were occupied, and many opposition leaders were imprisoned, including Ali Aref Bourhan, for an alleged coup attempt. He was released in December 1993. By the end of 1993, about 35% of the central government's budgetary expenditures went toward maintaining "security"; that is, the military occupation of the north by troops of Somali origin.

In 1993, the FRUD suffered severe losses to a government offensive. In 1994, its leadership split over the issue of negotiations with the government. A more moderate wing then entered into negotiations and called a cease-fire. In March 1995, in compliance with the peace accords signed in December 1994, the majority of the FRUD disarmed, and the military integrated a segment of the insurgents into its ranks. Two FRUD leaders accepted ministerial posts. In March 1996 the FRUD was given legal recognition as a political party. A radical wing of the FRUD, (FRUD-Renaissance) led by Ahmed Dini, remains opposed to the cease-fire. Djibouti and Ethiopia jointly attacked the FRUD rebels in October 1997, and skirmishes continued in 1998.

The human rights record of the authoritarian Gouled regime came increasingly under attack in the late-1980s and 1990s, with allegations of beatings, rapes, arbitrary, prolonged, and incommunicado detentions, extra-judicial killings and disappearances of political/ethnic opponents of Gouled, and union leaders. Journalists have also been harassed, intimidated, and detained.

Gouled became ill in December 1995 and spent several months in hospital in France. During this period there appeared a succession struggle between Ismael Omar Guelleh and Ismael Godi Hared, both close advisors of the president. In part to cut down on inter-party fighting, Gouled elected to remain at the helm after his convalescence. In February 1999 he announced his intention to retire and that he would not be a candidate for the scheduled April 1999 elections. At that point the RPP named Guelleh, a key advisor and chief of staff to the former president for over 20 years, as its candidate. The FRUD, in alliance with the RPP, accepted Guelleh as its candidate, as well. An opposition coalition, which included the PRD (Democratic Renewal Party), the PND (National Democratic Party), and (unofficially) the FRUDRenaissance slated Moussa Ahmed Idriss as their candidate. An estimated 60% of the electorate participated, with Guelleh garnering 74% of the votes cast to 26% for Idriss. There was no official boycott of the elections, for the first time since Djibouti's independence from France in 1977.

In January 2003 Djibouti held a new round of parliamentary elections that the opposition claimed was highly fraudulent. By the official tally, the UAD opposition coalition was only 4,939 votes away from beating the presidential movement. Yet because of Djibouti's winner-takes-all system, the RPP won all 65 seats. For the first time in Djibouti's history, seven women won seats in the parliament.

In the presidential elections that followed on 8 April 2005, the opposition alleged irregularities and intimidation in the run-up to the contest, and boycotted the polls on election day. With the absence of any opposition, President Guelleh was elected to another six-year term. In an effort to validate his victory, Guelleh claimed a 79% voter turn-out. However, given a turnout of 48% in the parliamentary election just two years earlier, his claim was not credible. Following the election, Guelleh attempted to mend fences by announcing that he would step down after his second term and that he would not amend the constitution to seek a third term.

The electoral victories cemented a nearly complete domination of government by the President's sub-clan, the Issa Mamassans, and severely restricted political space and economic opportunities for the Afar people. In 2005 reports began to surface of rebel insurrections allegedly led by disaffected elements of the FRUD. Among the leaders of the insurgency was Aramis Mohamed Aramis, an Afar and the son of a former FRUD commander, who was killed in 1991.

Djibouti is situated in one of the least stable regions of the world, and it occupies a highly strategic location facing the Saudi Arabian peninsula, straddling the choke point between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. President Guelleh maintained harmonious relations with neighbors and superpowers. In 2004, the government signed a bi-lateral treaty with Eritrea promising economic, political and social cooperation, and Djibouti continued to benefit from the significant transit of goods to and from land-locked Ethiopia via its well-developed seaport. Although a potential magnet for terrorists, the presence of French and American military bases in the country has served to dampen potential threats from Somalia's clan rivalries, which have destabilized greater Somalia and its self-declared autonomous states of Somaliland and Puntland.


Under the 1981 and 1992 constitutions, Djibouti is a parliamentary republic. The president, who according to the constitution must be an Issa, is elected by universal adult suffrage; the prime minister, who heads the cabinet, must be an Afar. The legislature consists of the unicameral Chamber of Deputies, whose 65 members are elected for five-year terms. Before 1992, candidates came from a single list submitted by the ruling party, the Popular Rally for Progress (RPP).

In January 1992, the Gouled government named a committee to draft a new constitution that would permit multiparty democracy, limit presidential powers, and establish an independent judiciary. On 4 September 1992, 75% of the voters approved the new constitution in a referendum. According to Djibouti's winner-takes-all electoral rules, the party obtaining a majority in a given district is awarded all the seats within that district, which explains how the FRUD won 36.9% of the vote in 2003, but took no seats in the parliament.


Personalities and clan identities trump party labels, but the system is dominated by the ruling party and its coalition, the Union for the Presidential Majority (UMP), an alliance that includes the People's Rally for Progress (Rassemblement Populaire pour le ProgrèsRPP), the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD), originally formed in 1991, PSD and PND. The opposition coalition, the Union for Democratic Changeover (UAD) is composed of the ARD, MRDD, UDJ, and formerly the PDD (expelled in December 2004).

Ruling party dominance harks back to October 1981 when a law was enacted that restricted political activity to the ruling RPP. That year, the government temporarily detained the leaders of and banned the Djiboutian People's Party (Parti Populaire Djiboutien). Illegal Issa and Afar parties, including an Ethiopianbacked Afar party-in-exile and a Somali-backed Issa party-in-exile, waited in the wings. For the 1987 elections to the Chamber of Deputies, a single list of candidates was drawn up by the RPP, headed by President Gouled; about 90% of the nation's 100,985 voters cast ballots.

Despite the 1992 constitutional changes that legalized opposition parties, Djibouti remained tightly controlled by the RPP (People's Rally for Progress). On 18 December 1992, legislative elections were held, with the RPP gaining 74.6% of the vote and the Democratic Renewal Party (PRD) 25.4%. Other parties boycotted the elections on the grounds that Gouled did not consult the opposition in the "democratization" process. Most Afars did not vote. The RPP, therefore, won all 65 seats. Gouled was reelected, although not convincingly, on 7 May 1993. The four losing parties and FRUD, at the time a paramilitary organization in the north (Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy) accused the government of election fraud, a charge supported by international observers. Only 50% of the eligible voters were reported to have turned out.

In the December 1997 legislative elections, which generally were not considered to be credible, the RPP won 54 seats to the FRUD's 11, though their campaigns were supported by the RPP in alliance. The PRD and PND contested the elections and received 19.2% and 2.3% of the votes, respectively, but won no National Assembly seats. There were no female candidates in the election.

In February 1999 President Gouled designated his successor, longtime advisor Ismael Omar Guelleh, who was then duly elected president on 9 April 1999 and installed on 8 May 1999. His cabinets reflected the proportional ethnic composition required by the constitution, with continued dominance of his sub-clan of the Issas. Barkat Gourad Hammado, the prime minister, was replaced by Mohamed Dileita Dileita on 4 March 2001.

Two groups, the Democratic Renewal Party (PRD) and the Democratic National Party (PND) have contested elections since 1992. FRUD-Renaissance, which separated from the FRUD in 1996, signed a peace accord in Paris on 7 February 2000 with the government, which also included a general release of prisoners held by both sides. The Movement for Unity and Democracy (MUD) allegedly is associated with the Somali National Movement operating out of northern Somalia. It is a coalition of Afaroriented and Issa-oriented dissidents.

In the country's first full multiparty parliamentary elections held 10 January 2003, the UMP led by the RPP garnered 62.2% of the vote to 36.9% for the FRUD, which won no assembly seats. In the capital, Djibouti-Ville, the opposition Union pour une Alternance Démocratique (UAD) took 44.9% of the votes, and the UMP 55%. President Ismail Omar Guelleh ran unopposed in the 8 April 2005 elections, guaranteeing him another six-year term in office. His appointed prime minister was Mohamed Dileita, who held the position as head of government since 4 March 2001. The next parliamentary elections were scheduled for January 2008, and the next presidential elections were due April 2011.


There are five cercles, or districts, with councils and appointed administrators: Ali Sabîh, Obock, Dikhil, Tadjoura, and Djibouti.


The judicial system consists of courts of first instance, a High Court of Appeal, and a Supreme Court. Each of the five administrative districts also has a customary court. The legal system is a blend of French codified law, Shariah (Islamic law) and customary law of the native nomadic peoples.

The 1992 constitution is modeled on the 1958 French constitution. The judiciary is not completely independent of the executive branch. A state security court handles political trials and cases involving purported threats to national security. Political trials may be applied to the Supreme Court.

The Constitutional Council rules on the constitutionality of laws. The constitution states that the accused enjoys a presumption of innocence and has the right to counsel.


In 2005, Djibouti's armed forces of 9,850 active members was divided into an 8,000-man army, an estimated 200-man navy with seven patrol craft, and a 250-man air force with no combat aircraft. Paramilitary forces included 1,400 personnel in the gendarmerie and a national security force of an estimated 2,500. A total of 2,850 French troops were based near the city of Djibouti to deal with threats to French interests in the region. The defense budget in 2005 totaled $25.8 million.


Admitted to the United Nations on 20 September 1977, Djibouti belongs to ECA and all the nonregional specialized agencies except the IAEA. It is also a member of the WTO, the African Development Bank, G-77, the Arab League, the ACP Group, the Arab Monetary Fund, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), COMESA, the Community of Sahel and Saharan States (CENSAD), and the African Union. Djibouti is part of the Nonaligned Movement. In 1981, treaties of friendship and cooperation were signed with Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, and the Sudan. In environmental cooperation, Djibouti is part of the Convention on Biological Diversity, CITES, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change and Desertification.


Djibouti has a market-based, free-enterprise economy. Its economy is dependent upon its strategic position at the narrow straits at the southern entrance to the Red Sea. The French military base in Djibouti is the country's largest single source of economic and commercial activity. The remainder of the money economy is service oriented and centered upon the free port of Djibouti, the railway terminus there, the airport, and government administration. The free port features a deep-water container terminal; France has committed substantial funds to its continuing modernization. There is also an active construction industry.

There is little arable farm land in Djibouti, and the country is subject to periods of severe drought. As a consequence, Djibouti produces only 3% of its food needs. Over half of the population derives its income from livestock: goats, sheep, and camels. A fishing industry has emerged, and the Islamic Development Bank helped finance a canning factory.

Since 1990, recession, civil war, and a high population growth rate combined to reduce per capita consumption by 35%. The unemployment rate exceeded 50% as of 2004 (some estimates placed it at over 70%). The border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea disturbed the normal commerce in which Djibouti allowed Ethiopia the use of its port and conducted regular trade relations. As a consequence, average annual growth of GDP between 1988 and 1998 was -3.1%, and the economy was at zero growth in 2001. The GDP growth rate reached 3.5% in 2002; the inflation rate that year was 2%.

Due to the fact that Djibouti has few exploitable natural resources and little industry, it is heavily dependent upon foreign aid to finance development projects and support its balance of payments. The country has fallen behind on its debt payments and has had difficulty meeting the reform requirements set by foreign aid donors. Ethiopia has developed other trade routes, limiting Djibouti's port activity.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Djibouti's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $619.0 million. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $1,300. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 3.5%. The average inflation rate in 2002 was 2%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 3.5% of GDP, industry 15.8%, and services 80.7%.

It was estimated that in 2001 about 50% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


Labor in the cash economy is concentrated in the city of Djibouti, particularly on the docks and in shipbuilding and building construction. In 2002, (the latest year for which data was available) the labor force numbered 282,000. The railway is a significant employer, as is the national government. However, there is no data available on the occupational breakdown. Unemployment and underemployment are widespread; unemployment was estimated at 50% in 2004.

As of 2005 workers were free to join unions and strik, e provided they complied with prescribed legal requirements. All unions must be legally sanctioned by the government and 48 hours advance notice must be given to the Ministry of the Interior of a planned strike. Independent unions continue to be suppressed. In addition, those who participate in strikes may be arrested. Collective bargaining rarely occurs.

In 2005, the monthly minimum wage for unskilled workers was approximately $125, which had not changed since its inception in 1976. By law, the standard workweek is 40 hours, often spread over six days. A weekly rest period of 24 consecutive hours is also mandated by law, as is the provision of overtime pay. However, these regulations affect only the small fraction of the population that is involved in wage employment. The minimum age for child labor is 14 years old, although the lack of labor inspectors means that compliance is left largely to market forces. The government also lacks inspectors to enforce workplace safety standards, therefore many workers face hazardous work conditions.


Agriculture in Djibouti is very limited, due to acute water shortages in rural areas. In 2003, agriculture contributed only a little more than 4% to GDP. In 2004, some 25,464 tons of vegetables were produced. Tomatoes are grown for domestic consumption. Date palms are cultivated along the coastal fringe. Famine and malnutrition in Djibouti have created a reliance on the distribution of food aid for millions of its people. In 2004, grain imports totaled 87,115 tons.


Cattle, fat-tailed sheep, goats, and camels are grazed in the interior; hides and skins are exported. In 2004, Djibouti had an estimated 512,000 goats, 466,000 sheep, 297,000 cattle, and 8,800 asses. Meat production in 2004 totaled 11,244 tons, of which beef accounted for 6,050 tons. An estimated 13,950 tons of milk were produced in 2004, along with 1,990 tons of cattle hides, sheepskins, and goatskins.


There is no local tradition of commercial fishing or seafaring, although the Gulf of Tadjoura, the Gulf of Aden, and the Red Sea are potentially rich sources of commercial and game fish. The catch was 350 tons in 2003.


There are protected forests on the slopes of the mountains north of the Gulf of Tadjoura. Less than 1% of the country's total land area is forested.


Mining and manufacturing accounted for 3% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2004, which stood at around $1.6 billion. Djibouti has been known to produce occasional small quantities of clays, granite, limestone, marble, salt, sand and gravel, and crushed and dimension stone for domestic construction projects. There was no cement production in the country; most imports came from Persian Gulf countries. Other mineral occurrences of potential economic interest included diatomite, geothermal fluids and mineral salts, gold, gypsum, perlite, petroleum, and pumice. Salt was the only mineral produced in 2004. Extracted from evaporated pans by artisanal miners in the marshes of Tadjoura, salt production fell sharply from the 173,099 metric tons produced in 2001 to an estimated 30,000 metric tons in 2004. The government hoped to establish, by the end of 2002, a fiscal, institutional, and legal framework to support the development of domestic natural resources. The government also planned to promote the use of local materials in construction and public works. The outlook for the mineral industry was for little growth in the short run; constraints included small domestic markets, minimal known natural resources, and slow GDP growth.


Located in the Horn of Africa region, Djibouti had no proven reserves of oil or natural gas, or refining capacity, as of 1 January 2003. In addition, Djibouti has no known reserves of coal. The country's energy and power sector is dominated by electrical power generation. According to an August 2003 Energy Information Administration (EIA) analysis brief, Djibouti has an installed electrical power generating capacity of 85 MW, which is generated from an oil-fired generating station in the capital. In 2002 electical power output was put at 0.232 billion kWh, with consumption at 0.216 billion kWh. All petroleum products are imported. In 2002, imports of refined petroleum products totaled 11,410 barrels per day, with consumption placed at 11,400 barrels per day. There were no natural gas imports for that year. The port in Djibouti's capital city is an important oil shipment and storage site. The Dubai Ports Authority, which in 2000 was awarded a longterm contract to manage the port, hoped to increase its handling capacity to 300,000 metric tons per year over the next 20 years through modernization and expansion of port facilities.


Shipbuilding and urban construction traditionally have been industrial undertakings. The two main factories in 2006 were a mineral-water bottling facility and a dairy, although small plants produce food, beverages, furniture, building materials, and bottled gas.

With the help of France, Italy, the World Bank, OPEC, and the United Nations Development Program, Djibouti was promoting a project to develop geothermal energy resources. Interest was focused on the Goubet-Lac Assal region and, through this project, Djibouti hoped to become self-sufficient in energy. Industry accounted for 15.8% of GDP in 2001.


Because Djibouti is an active volcanic zone, its two principal research organizationsthe Higher Institute for Scientific and Technical Research and the Bureau of Geological and Mineral Researchconcentrate on the earth sciences.


As of 2001, about 80.7% of the GDP was contributed by the service sector, primarily those services related to international import/export trade. The main commercial centers are around the Port of Djibouti, the international airport, and the railroad. Domestic trade is dominated by traffic in live sheep and camels, dates, and melons. The government maintains price controls on a number of essential commodities, including wheat flour, bread, sugar, and petroleum products. French citizens dominate the commerce of the city of Djibouti. Business hours normally are 7:30 am to noon and 3:30 to 6 pm, Sunday through Thursday. Banks are open SundayThursday from 7 am to 12 pm. Banks and offices are closed on Fridays and Saturdays.


About 75% of imports are consumed or used in Djibouti, while the remainder is forwarded to Ethiopia or northern Somalia. Exports include hides and skins, and coffee. Imports are vegetable products, foodstuffs, beverages, vinegar, tobacco, machinery and transportation equipment, and mineral products.

In 2004, Djibouti's primary export partners were: Somalia (63.8%), Yemen (22.6%), and Ethiopia (5%). The primary import partners were: Saudi Arabia (19.7%), India (12.4%), Ethiopia (11.8%), China (8.1%), France (5.6%), and the United States (4.8%).


Since independence, Djibouti has run large trade deficits, which have been offset by surpluses on services and by transfers attributable to the French base, port receipts, the national airline, the national airport, and grants from donors.

In 2004, Djibouti's exports were valued at $250 million, and imports at $987 million. In 2002, the country had an external debt burden of $366 million. In 2001, Djibouti received $36 million in economic aid.


The Djibouti franc was created in 1949 by the government of France. The Djibouti Treasury was replaced in 1983 as the bank

Current Account -23.0
     Balance on goods -171.5
         Imports -205.0
         Exports 33.5
     Balance on services 64.2
     Balance on income 17.2
     Current transfers 67.0
Capital Account
Financial Account -2.1
     Direct investment abroad
     Direct investment in Djibouti 3.2
     Portfolio investment assets
     Portfolio investment liabilities
     Financial derivatives
     Other investment assets
     Other investment liabilities -5.4
Net Errors and Omissions 0.7
Reserves and Related Items 24.5
() data not available or not significant.

of issue and central bank by the new National Bank of Djibouti. There were five commercial banks in 1993 and a National Development Bank, 51% government owned. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $161.2 million. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $318.3 million.

There is no securities exchange.

Both the pace and content of economic reforms are inconsistent. Failures to meet the financial criteria established with the IMF led to a postponement of the disbursal of the second installment of a $6.6 million credit agreed in April 1996. Wrangling over conditionality with France also delayed payment of part of the $9.3 million assistance package agreed upon in September 1996. The attitudes of the IMF and France, combined with problems in rescheduling debts to France, provided a rather somber backdrop to the negotiation of the 1997 budget.


The State Insurance Co. of Somalia and about 10 European insurance companies provide most of the insurance coverage.


Increased military expenditures, declining tax receipts, and political unrest in bordering countries have exacerbated the deterioration of public finance in recent years. France, a major provider of aid to Djibouti, has insisted that future aid packages be conditional on an overhaul of the country's muddled finances.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 1999 Djibouti's central government took in revenues of approximately $135 million and had expenditures of $182 million. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$47 million. Total external debt was $366 million.


The individual income tax, payable by the employer, is collected by withholding from wages and salaries. In addition, the employee and the employer contribute to a medical and pension fund. There is a separate system for civil servants and soldiers. Private corporations and personal companies, as well as public companies and limited companies, pay a flat tax. Other taxes include property, stamp, and registration taxes. There is also an ad valorem consumption tax of 830% (as of August 2003) with a surtax on luxury items.


Formerly a "Free Zone," although the term only applied to the port, Djibouti now levies customs duties on most commodities, with most import taxes ranging from 540%. Luxury goods, such as cigarettes and alcoholic beverages, are taxed at higher rates, as much as 160%. Additionally, Djibouti requires import licenses for all those wishing to import or sell in the country.


Foreign investment is predominantly French, largely in connection with the military base and the port. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China, Korea, and Uganda have cooperation agreements. Bilateral investment agreements (BITs) were concluded with Egypt and Malaysia in 1998 and with Switzerland in 200l. Official development assistance (ODA) was $42 million in 2000 and $36 million in 2001. There are no exchange controls and investors are allowed to transfer their profits freely without tax. Tax relief is offered to some investors.

In 1998, annual foreign direct investment (FDI) inflow rose from $2.4 million in 1997 to $3.5 million and then peaked at a record $4.2 million in 1999. FDI inflow averaged $3.35 million for 2000 and 2001. As of 2003, the total stock of inward FDI was $52 million, and inward FDI flow in 2003 was $11 million.


In 1990, the Djibouti government significantly expanded its public investment program. Projects in communications, agriculture, and fisheries, as well as in social and environmental areas, were planned. Execution of these plans was put on hold as a result of subsequent domestic disturbances. The Persian Gulf War of 1991 also disrupted investment programs sponsored by Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.

French budgetary support of the Djibouti economy is crucial to its stability, providing some 45% of foreign aid. The long-standing French financial commitment has weakened since 1989, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has expressed serious concern over key budget and trade deficits. In 1999, Djibouti negotiated a three-year $26 million Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF, subsequently Poverty Reduction and Growth FacilityPRGF) with the IMF.

Per capita consumption dropped an estimated 35% over the 19982005 period, due to recession, civil war, and a high population growth rate (including immigrants and refugees). The government has fallen in arrears on long-term external debt and struggles to meet the demands of foreign aid donors.


Despite full legal protection, women generally play a subordinate role in the workplace and in the household. Customary law favors men in areas of inheritance and property rights. Domestic violence against women is treated as a family problem. As many as 98% of women have undergone female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation (FGM), a painful and potentially life-threatening procedure. Although the procedure is illegal, no one has been prosecuted under those provisions. The government provides no funds to advance children's welfare.

Discrimination against minority ethnic clans in Djibouti is pervasive. The dominant clan, the Issa, control most government positions and are dominant in the military forces as well. Djibouti's human rights record remains poor, despite the transition to a multiparty system. There are reports of police brutality, deplorable prison conditions, and illegal detentions.


Malnutrition is severe and the incidence of tuberculosis high. Malaria is endemic. There were 3,111 reported cases of tuberculosis in 1994. The city of Djibouti's publicly supplied water is suspect because the system is in disrepair.

In 2004 there were an estimated 13 physicians, 2 dentists, 65 nurses, and 2 pharmacists per 100,000 people. Djibouti's government has developed plans to improve public health and the management of hospitals, train more staff, and rehabilitate existing facilities.

In 2005 life expectancy was estimated at 43.10 years, one of the lowest in the world. That year the infant mortality rate was 104.13 per 1,000 live births. The death rate was 14.4 deaths per 1,000 inhabitants. As of 2002, the birth rate was estimated at 40 births per 1,000 people.

The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 2.90 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 9,100 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 690 deaths from AIDS in 2003.

There were 1,007 cases of malaria in 1994. Between the mid1970s and the mid-1990s, 23% of children under five were underweight. In Djibouti nearly every woman has had female genital mutilation.


Djiboutian nomads generally live in branch-framed, transportable huts (toukouls ), which are covered with woven mats or boiled bark pulled into fine strands and plaited; they are carried from place to place on camels. Good-quality urban housing is in short supply. Construction of 5,000 low-cost dwellings was planned for the 198186 period, but only 729 were built. In the past, housing costs have often been subsidized by the government, particular for government or civil employees. This status has begun to change since the late 1990s as the government has imposed housing taxes as part of a greater economic reform package sponsored in part by the International Monetary Fund. In 2000, nearly 100% of the total population had access to improved water sources; about 99% of urban and 50% of rural dwellers had improved sanitation systems.


Education is compulsory for six years at the primary level followed by seven years of secondary education. Primary school enrollment in 2001 was estimated at about 32% of age-eligible students; 36% for boys and 28% for girls. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 16% of age-eligible students; 20% for boys and 13% for girls. It is estimated that about 35% of all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 34:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 28:1. In 2003, private schools accounted for about 15.5% of primary school enrollment and 21% of secondary enrollment.

The University of Djibouti is the primary institute of higher education. In 2003, only about 1% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program. In 2003, the adult literacy rate was estimated at 67.9%; 78% for men and 58.4% for women.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 3.5% of GDP.


No information is currently available.


From the city of Djibouti, telephone connections are available by satellite to Europe and the West and by land line to the main cities and towns of the interior; there were 9,500 mainline telephones and 23,000 cellular phones in use throughout the country in 2003.

All media are government controlled. In 1983, Djibouti inaugurated a powerful state-owned AM radio transmitting station, built with French and FRG funds. A television service was first introduced in 1967. Both are state run and broadcast in French, Afar, Somali, and Arabic. As of 2001, there were 1 AM and 2 FM radio stations and 1 television station. In 1997, there were 77 radios and 37 television sets per 1,000 population. Internet access was available to about 6,500 subscribers in 2003.

Djibouti has one primary weekly newspaper, the government-owned La Nation de Djibouti, which had a circulation of 4,300 in 2000. Each political party is allowed to publish a public journal. There are several opposition-run weeklies and monthlies that operate freely. The constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the government is said to generally uphold these rights.


A chamber of commerce and industry, founded in 1912, has its headquarters in the capital. Youth organizations include the Association of Youth Homes in Djibouti, Djibouti Scout Association, and Red Crescent Youth of Djibouti (JCRD).There are some sports organizations in the country as well. The Eglise Protestante (Protestant Church) offers educational and social welfare programs as well as religious evangelism. Volunteer service organizations, such as the Lions Clubs International, are also present. There are national chapters of the Red Crescent Society, Caritas, and UNICEF.


In addition to several seldom-visited sandy beaches along the Gulf of Tadjoura, tourist attractions include swimming and snorkeling off the islands in the Gulf of Tadjoura and the Bab al-Mandab. At Goubbet al-Kharab, at the western end of the Gulf of Tadjoura, there are steep cliffs and a bay turned dark green by black lava. Inland from this point is Lake Assal with a number of active volcanoes nearby. The Forest of the Day is a national park for rare trees on Mt. Goda. In the south, the alkaline Lake Abbé is visited by flocks of flamingos, ibis, and pelicans. Near Ali Sabîh are the famous red mountains and a national park full of various gazelles. Passports and visas are required; visas must be secured in advance. Antimalarial precautions are advisable and yellow fever vaccinations are required if traveling from an infected area.

In 2005, the US Department of State estimated the cost of staying in Djibouti at $278 per day, depending upon the choice of hotel.


Hassan Gouled Aptidon (b.1916) was president from independence in 1977 until 1999, when he decided to step down; his nephew and handpicked successor, Ismael Omar Guelleh (b.1947) was elected to the office in April 1999.


Djibouti has no territories or colonies.


Alwan, Daoud A. Historical Dictionary of Djibouti. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2000.

Kalb, Jon (ed.). Bibliography of the Earth Sciences for the Horn of Africa: Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and Djibouti, 16201993. Alexandria, Va.: American Geological Institute, 2000.

Koburger, Charles W. Naval Strategy East of Suez: The Role of Djibouti. New York: Praeger, 1992.

Woodward, Peter. The Horn of Africa: Politics and International Relations. New York: I.B. Tauris, 2003.

Zeilig, Leo and David Seddon. A Political and Economic Dictionary of Africa. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2005.

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Republic of Djibouti
République de Djibouti
Jumhouriyya Djibouti



Djibouti is situated in the Horn of Africa, at the southern entrance to the Red Sea, bordering the Gulf of Aden. To the north lies Eritrea with a shared border of 113 kilometers (70 miles); to the north, west, and southwest lies Ethiopia, with a border length of 337 kilometers (209 miles); and to the southeast lies Somalia, with a border length of 58 kilometers (36 miles). Djibouti has a land area of 23,000 square kilometers (8,880 square miles), making it slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Massachusetts. It has 314 kilometers (195 miles) of coastline. The city of Djibouti, located on the coast, is the nation's capital and only major urban center.


The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency estimated the population of Djibouti at 460,000 in July 2001, though the accuracy of this figure is uncertain. The uncertainty arises because there are an unknown number of expatriates and refugees, and sensitivity over the ethnic composition of Djibouti makes the government unwilling to produce definitive figures. The population is comprised of 2 main ethnic groups. The Somali are estimated as 60 percent of the population, and the Afar are estimated at 35 percent. The remaining 5 percent are mostly French, Arabs, Ethiopians, and Italians. Both the Somali and the Afar are Muslim groups and speak related Cushitic languages. French and Arabic are the official languages. There is an Arab minority population that numbers 12,000 and is mostly people of Yemeni descent. The European population in Djibouti (including French troops) was estimated at 8,000 in 1997. The Somalis are divided into clans, of which the Issa, Gadburs, and Issaqs are the largest.

The population was estimated to be growing at a rate of 2.6 percent per year in 2001, with 43 percent of the population less than 15 years of age. In the 1980s a survey showed that 75 percent of the population were urban (with around half living in the capital), and the rest primarily lived nomadic lives. The urban population has increased significantly in recent years as people have fled from the civil war in the north, the Eritrea-Ethiopia border clash, and the conflicts in Somalia.


Djibouti is a small country both in terms of geographical size and population, with an economy that depends on the provision of port services for goods in transit to and from Ethiopia. The only other links between the coast and Ethiopia pass through Eritrea. However, since the start of the border dispute and the subsequent war between Ethiopia and Eritrea that took place from 1988 to 2000, Ethiopia has not been inclined to use the Eritrean routes. Thus Ethiopian use of Djibouti's port facilities has expanded.

The structure of the economy has not changed much since Djibouti achieved independence from France in 1977. The economy is mostly based on services, and this sector accounted for 75 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 1998. The significance of the service sector is connected to the country's strategic location and its free trade status in Northeast Africa. The primary components of the sector are the port and railway service, the civil service, and the French garrison stationed in Djibouti. Public administration is the largest sector in the economy. Djibouti has no significant mineral resources, and farming is constrained by the poor quality of the land and limited water availability.

Uncertainty over the size of the population makes estimates for per capita gross national product (GNP) rather tentative, but using the exchange rate conversion the figure is approximated at US$750. The United Nations (UN) provides a figure using purchasing power parity conversion (which makes allowances for the low price of some basic commodities in Djibouti) of $1,300 in per capita GDP in 2000. Both of these estimates place Djibouti in the low-income category of nations.

After modest growth enjoyed during Djibouti's first decade of independence, poor planning and reduced foreign assistance led to GDP growth that averaged only 1 percent per year from 1989 to 1991. Growth became negative following the outbreak of civil war (1991-94), which was instigated by dissidents from the minority Afar group. Informal sector activities, which evade both tax and customs, flourished in the mid-1990s, resulting in the apparent 5.5 percent per year decrease in the GDP from 1991 to 1994 as reported by the UN Development Program . Since 1992 the port has registered a fall in the number of imports for domestic use, leading to the closure of many outlets. The reduced use of the French garrison since 1999 will also decrease growth, though the increased provision of services for the transit trade with Ethiopia due to its war with Eritrea is expected to provide some compensation.

In the 1980s attempts to improve infrastructure and reduce structural problems in the economy had little impact. A program for the decentralization of the economy, the development of free trade zones , and agricultural and livestock programs all depended on foreign aid, which was terminated in 1991 following the outbreak of the civil conflict. In 1992 the depth of the crisis led to the suspension of government investment which resulted in the crumbling of infrastructure, most notably of electric power.

Djibouti has had a stable government since independence under the ruling People's Progress Assembly (RPP), namely the presidencies of Hassan Gouled and his successor Ismael Gouleh. Nonetheless, government policy since 1991 has consisted of a series of short-term responses to both external donor pressure (particularly from France) and internal demands (especially during the civil war). The government controls the major sectors of the economy the port facilities, railway, and utilitiesbut there are currently plans for privatization of these enterprises.

In the period from 1991 to 1994, the civil war upset an already limited tax base, and budget controls disappeared as income dwindled. Expenditures rose, causing major deficitsalthough the extent was hidden by irregular accountingand the government built up debts in salary arrears with private creditors.

In 1996 proposed budget cuts caused a general strike and civil unrest, which led to a policy reversal. A more comprehensive package was then drafted in 1996 with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and French help. This culminated in an IMF US$6.2 million standby credit, which started in April 1996, and the resumption of limited French budget assistance. A donor conference in 1997 secured limited funds for reforms, especially for the demobilization of the army after the civil war, which had been the single biggest cause of the budget deficit in recent years.

In the period from 1999 to 2000, the government launched plans for the privatization of all the major utilities (including water, electricity, post, railway, telecommunications, and port facilities). The government also hopes to attract private capital in free-trade zone projects.


The French first took control of the small coastal settlement of Obock in 1859. The completion of the Franco-Ethiopian railway in 1917 established the town of Djibouti and began a period of economic growth as the port facilities were developed. Djibouti was known as French Somaliland until 1967 when it was renamed the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas; it became Djibouti at independence in 1977.

Ethnic tension between the Afars and Somali has always been high. In 1967 the people of Djibouti voted in a referendum to maintain an association with France, despite claims of expulsions of pro-Somali politicians and vote rigging favoring the Afars in the first election supervised by the French. Growing pressure from the Organization for African Unity (OAU) led to the peaceful progression towards independence in 1977, and Hassan Gouled (an Issa) became the first president. Within one month, Somalia and Ethiopia began the Ogaden war, which had severe economic effects for Djibouti since the fighting, ranging over the rail link between Ethiopia and Djibouti, closed rail links to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for a year and cut port traffic.

Despite the resignation of 5 Afar members from the cabinet in 1977, the president managed to contain ethnic strife for most of the 1980s. Political stability was maintained through patronage dispensed through the RPP, the sole political party. Despite winning the elections in 1982 and 1987, the government became extremely unpopular in the late 1980s, and there were calls for a multiparty political system. The government's suppression of Afar civil unrest in Djibouti caused an insurgency in the north.

The Afar rebellion, led by former Prime Minister Ahmed Dini, spread rapidly, and 3 rebel groups came together to form the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD). However, the government was able to deflect French pressure for compromise, and with Arab funding regained control of the north, defeating the insurgents. The government signed a cosmetic peace accord with the minority group of the now divided rebels in 1994 and gave 2 of its leaders cabinet posts. The presidential adviser Ismail Omar Guelleh consolidated his position during president Gouled's long illness and became president himself in the 1999 election. The change of president is not expected to lead to a change in policy, as Guelleh headed the cabinet for 20 years and has proved ruthless in dealing with opposition. Guelleh has retained most of the previous cabinet, but power essentially lies with him and his personal advisers.

The constitution is largely French in structure, and provides for universal suffrage. The president is elected for a 6-year term and the members of the 65-member Chamber of Deputies for 5-year terms. At the height of the civil war in 1992, a constitution endorsed by a referendum brought in a multiparty system, though it only recognized 4 political parties. However, formal government institutions have been severely disrupted since 1991. The judicial system has been undermined by political pressure, and most actual power resides in the hands of the security services, which are under the direct control of the president.

The 2 opposition parties are divided anddespite large supportthe Party for Democratic Renewal (PRD) and the National Democratic Party (PND) failed to gain any seats in the 1992 or the 1997 elections, mainly due to infighting. In the 1999 presidential election they presented a united candidate, Moussa Ahmed Idriss, who gained a quarter of the votes in a 15 percent voter turnout.

Internationally, Djibouti has remained politically non-aligned, though it has been watchful of its larger neighbors and has been active in promoting the regional developmental organization, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

The border dispute in 1998 between Ethiopia and Eritrea brought economic benefit to Djibouti, since most international trade with Ethiopia then had to come through Djibouti's ports. This situation strengthened Djibouti's trade ties with Ethiopia, which have remained strong after the cessation of the border dispute. Djibouti broke off diplomatic links with Eritrea and forged solid links with the ruling Ethiopian party in 1998.

Unrest in neighboring Somalia, which began in 1991, could have been destabilizing for Djibouti, but the establishment of the stable, but unrecognized, Somaliland Republic adjacent to the border has limited the impact. French military presence in the form of a naval base has protected Djibouti from international threats both before and after independence, although French presence is currently being scaled down. Despite having an Arab minority, Djibouti declares itself an Arab state and plays an active role in the Arab League.

Djibouti succeeded in raising 31 percent of the GDP as government revenue in 1997. About 19 percent of this money was raised by income taxes on individuals and corporations, 20 percent from other direct taxes (mostly property taxes), 46 percent by indirect taxes (mostly customs duties ), and 15 percent came from license fees and property sales. Grants received from abroad (mostly from France) are about 3 percent of GDP. Administration made up 41 percent of government recurrent expenditure, 28 percent was spent on defense, education accounted for 12 percent, transfers were 10 percent, 5 percent was spent on health care, and subsidies to state-owned enterprises was 4 percent. Government capital expenditure was about 5 percent of the GDP. Defense spending in 1997 was about twice its normal level as a result of demobilization payments made to reduce the size of the defense forces at the conclusion of the civil war.


Transport in Djibouti is geared towards international trade, with local transport being only of secondary concern. The port facilities are central to the economy. Djibouti's use as a naval base by French, British, Italian, and U.S. fleets that operate in the Gulf may be lucrative but is not a basis for growth. Improved port efficiency was needed for the 1998 increase in Ethiopian trade, with traffic up 333 percent to 1.2 million metric tons. Only 10 percent of the 2,800 kilometers (1,740 miles) of roads in Djibouti are paved, and the railway, jointly owned with Ethiopia, is in desperate need of an overhaul.

The capital of Djibouti houses the nation's only international airport, which is serviced by Air France, Ethiopian Airlines, and Yemenia. Several small companies fly to Somalia. Djibouti Air was relaunched in 1997 with private investment and flies to Ethiopia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

The international telephone exchange has a radio link with Saudi Arabia and Yemen, 2 earth satellite stations, and a submarine fiber optic link to Sri Lanka and Europe. Domestic and international telephone exchanges are being restructured to attract foreign investment. There were 8,000 telephone main lines in use in 1997. The country's international telecommunications company offers a range of Internet services. In 1992 Japan provided a TV studio for Djibouti. The only newspaper printed in Djibouti is state-owned.

Energy resources are very limited. The population has no access to trees for wood fuel and must import charcoal and all petroleum products. The Boualos diesel electricity generator is in urgent need of repair, and power cuts are frequent. In 1999 the country produced a total of just 180 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity, 100 percent of which was generated from fossil fuels.


Agriculture, though it engaged 75 percent of the working population in 1991, provides very low incomes and generated only 3 percent of the GDP in 1998. Industry contributed some 22 percent of the GDP in 1998 and engaged 11 percent of the working population in 1991. The largest sector by far in terms of contribution to the GDP is the services sector, which accounted for 75 percent of the GDP in 1998 and engaged 14 percent of population in 1991. The services sector is strongly dependent on the reexporting of goods.


Official figures suggest that 75 percent of employment was in agriculture in 1991 and that the sector produced

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Djibouti N/A N/A N/A N/A 742
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Egypt 516 731 890 971 1,146
Eritrea N/A N/A N/A N/A 175
SOURCE : United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.
Country Telephones a Telephones, Mobile/Cellular a Radio Stations b Radios a TV Stations a Televisions a Internet Service Providers c Internet Users c
Djibouti 8,000 203 AM 2; FM 2; shortwave 0 52,000 1 (1998) 28,000 1 1,000
United States 194 M 69.209 M (1998) AM 4,762; FM 5,542; shortwave 18 575 M 1,500 219 M 7,800 148 M
Egypt 3,971,500 (1998) 380,000 (1999) AM 42; FM 14; shortwave 3 (1999) 20.5 M 98 (1995) 7.7 M 50 300,000
Eritrea 23,578 (2000) N/A AM 2; FM 1; shortwave 2 (2000) 345,000 1 (2000) 1,000 4 500
a Data is for 1997 unless otherwise noted.
b Data is for 1998 unless otherwise noted.
c Data is for 2000 unless otherwise noted.
SOURCE : CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online].

3 percent of GDP in 1998. These figures are somewhat deceptive in that almost everyone over the age of 10 in the rural areas is considered to be involved in agricultural production, though many of them are not engaged in such work full time. However, this also indicates that incomes in agriculture are very much lower than in the industrial and the service sectors. Given the aridity of the area, barely 6,000 hectares (14,827 acres) can be farmed even with irrigation, though only 500 hectares (1,236 acres) are under permanent cultivation. Crop production is mostly limited to fruit and vegetables. Several market garden plots have been established and are provided with water by 50 wells (18 of which were provided by Saudi Arabia since independence), though many of these wells have fallen into disrepair.

Livestock has always been more important than farming in Djibouti, but animal husbandry is highly susceptible to droughts. Droughts in the 1970s and 1980s cost some of the nomads their entire herds. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates the number of animals in Djibouti at 200,000 cattle, 500,000 sheep, 500,000 goats, and 62,000 camels.

Djibouti has a short coastline, but there is an estimated fish catch of 7,000 to 9,000 metric tons per year. Most of the catch is caught by large-scale industrial trawlers, many of which are foreign owned. Only 500 metric tons per year are caught by traditional methods by approximately 140 small vessels. About two-thirds of the fish catch is exported, with Djiboutian fish consumption at 3.5 kilograms (7.7 pounds) per person per year. The fishing port is being upgraded with African Development Bank money to try to raise the catch.


No minerals are mined in Djibouti, despite the fact that perlite (on the Ergelaba plateau), limestone, gypsum (located at Ali Sabieh), and high magnesium content diatomites (present at Lake Assal) have been found by surveys. In 1997, a U.S. company received a license to prospect for gold, although it is unclear if deposits exist.

Manufacturing is small, providing only 5 percent of the GDP, with only 13 companies employing more than 10 people in 1989. The most important producers in the industrial sector are the water bottling plant, the dairy plant, the Coca-Cola plant, the flour mill, and the ice factory. All of them closed during the civil war, however, and many remain idle. Privatization of parastatal enterprises is being discussed as part of economic reforms.

Construction has been depressed by low industrial activity and by the fact that most people in Djiboutian towns live in shanty areas, despite some state housing and donor-funded sanitation schemes. The reconstruction of the port and the airports will be major projects in the near future.


The main high-income activities in Djibouti are located in the services sector, in port and transportation services, government administration, and in providing services for the considerable contingent of French troops and their dependents.

The port and transportation services are, however, particularly vulnerable to political developments in the region. The French were aware of the strategic importance of Djiboutilocated at the mouth of the Red Sea and in a position to control access to the Suez Canal when they took possession of the territory in 1859. The importance of Djibouti to France was enhanced when a French company constructed the railway from Djibouti to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Ethiopia is a large country, both in terms of population and geographical area, and the railway through Djibouti was for many years the only practical link Ethiopia had with the coast. When the Italians occupied Ethiopia in 1935, they constructed a road from Asab in Eritrea (an Italian colony) to Addis Ababa, which ended Ethiopia's near total reliance on the railway. This road proved to be a sound strategic move on the part of the Italians since Italy and France found themselves on opposite sides during World War II. The existence of the road led to neglect of the railway, and, in turn, a stagnation of the services provided by the port and the railway. This slow down was exacerbated by the paralysis of the Ethiopian economy under the Marxist regime in the 1970s and 1980s. The demand for Djibouti's port services began to recover with the fall of the Ethiopian Marxist regime in 1991 and the resulting restoration of economic growth and external trading links. When Eritrea became independent in 1993, Ethiopia became landlocked and entirely dependent on surface transport links through either Djibouti or Eritrea. The outbreak of the border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 1998 led to a complete reliance of Ethiopia on Djibouti, and this business has been a big boost for the Djibouti port and railway sectors. There will undoubtedly be some reconciliation between Eritrea and Ethiopia at some stage in the future, so the task for Djibouti is to establish a level of efficiency in their port and railway services so that they can be competitive with the road link through Asab when Ethiopia eventually resumes use of this route.

Likewise, the income generated by the French troops and their families is dependent on how the French see their role as a world power and, particularly, the nature of their involvement in Africa. The reduction in French forces stationed in Djibouti is a reflection of the reduced emphasis that France is currently placing on its role in Africa.

Djibouti is effectively a city-state; there is little banking outside of the capital. A number of banks have been established in Djibouti, most of which are French-owned or backed. The central bank is the Banque National de Djibouti. The formal retail and wholesale sectors are in private hands, and the role of French companies in the economy is in decline. Since 1997 there has been an increase in Ethiopian business near the port. The potential for tourism in Djibouti has not been exploited.


Merchandise exports, including reexports, were valued at $260 million in 1999, and merchandise imports, including goods for reexport, at $440 million. Excluding the reexport trade, Djibouti exported $16 million of domestically produced goods and imported $24 million of goods for domestic use in 1998. The trade gap is met by the receipts from the port and transport services supplied by Djibouti and the earnings from the presence of French troops.

Locally produced merchandise exports are limited to livestock and hides (21 percent), miscellaneous manufactures (20 percent), and coffee products (11 percent), with all the other exports (48 percent) not classified according to category. The reexports are predominantly coffee from Ethiopia, fish caught by foreign fishing fleets, livestock, meat products and hides from Somalia, and manufactured goods reexported to Ethiopia. The main destinations of domestically produced exports are Somalia (53 percent), Yemen (23 percent), and Ethiopia (5 percent).

Imports for domestic use consist mainly of foods and beverages (39 percent); machinery, metals, and vehicles (20 percent); fuels (13 percent); and qat (13 percent). Qat is a mild but legal stimulant that is chewed. Official trade statistics do not reflect the level of the informal trade with Ethiopia and Somalia, much of which involves the smuggling of qat. In 1998, the main sources of imports for domestic use were France (13 percent), Ethiopia (12 percent), Italy (9 percent), Saudi Arabia (6 percent), the United Kingdom (6 percent), and Japan (4 percent).


The Djiboutian franc has been tied to the U.S. dollar since 1973 at Dfr 177.72:US$1, which allows for considerable stability, although the Djiboutian franc has experienced a steady climb against the French franc. Foreign reserves have been steady during the 1990s and stood at $66 million in 1998. Devaluation of the Djiboutian franc seems unlikely in the foreseeable future. The Banque Nationale de Djibouti, the central bank, controls the money supply through the issue of currency and regulates the commercial banks.

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Djibouti
Exports Imports
1975 .015 .140
1980 .012 .213
1985 .014 .201
1990 .025 .215
1995 N/A N/A
1998 N/A N/A
SOURCE : International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.
Exchange rates: Djibouti
Djiboutian francs per US$1
Jan 2001 177.721
2000 177.721
1999 177.721
1998 177.721
1997 177.721
1996 177.721
Note: Djibouti currency has been at a fixed rate since 1973.
SOURCE : CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].
GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Djibouti N/A N/A N/A N/A 742
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Egypt 516 731 890 971 1,146
Eritrea N/A N/A N/A N/A 175
SOURCE : United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.


Per capita GDP, using the purchasing power parity conversion, was estimated at $1,300 in 2000. There are wide disparities between those who are engaged in modern sector activities in the town of Djibouti and the rest of the population, which mainly consists of shanty-dwellers relying on the informal sector, rural farmers, and nomadic shepherds. Perhaps 80 percent of the people who rely on agriculture for their livelihood are below the US$1 per day poverty line, meaning that approximately 60 percent of the total population live in poverty. Of an estimated labor force of 282,000 in 2000, formal unemployment stands at 50 percent, although many of the unemployed are engaged in informal sector activities

In 1987, government statistics indicated that 66 percent of the population were able to read, but in 1995 a new estimation measured the literacy rate of the population over 15 years of age as 46 percent (males 60 percent; females 33 percent). In the period from 1991 to 1992 there were 33,500 pupils, 66 schools, and 707 teachers in primary education. In 1996, the total enrollment at primary and secondary schools was equivalent to 26 percent of the school-age population. Education is limited primarily to urban areas, where teacher strikes are frequent. There is no university in Djibouti, and technical skills are often found lacking.

Life-expectancy estimates are 49 years for males and 53 years for females in 2001. Infant mortality stands at 102 per 1,000, which marks an improvement from the past but is still a long way from what can be achieved (the U.S. rate is 7 per 1,000). There is a 600-bed hospital in the capital and a 60-bed maternity and pediatric hospital in Balbala. There are 6 medical centers and 21 dispensaries cover the interior of the country. Virtually all medicines can be obtained, but since they must be imported they are expensive. The large prostitute population, attracted by the French troops stationed in Djibouti, leads to a high incidence of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.


The labor force in 1991 was estimated at 282,000. However, 50 percent of the labor force was thought to be unemployed in 2000. Of those who had employment, around 75 percent were engaged in agriculture, almost entirely on small family farms or in family-based cattle herding. The largest single employer in the formal sector is the civil service, with an estimated 10,000 employees. The rest of the state-owned sector (which includes the port, railway, posts, telecommunications, and utilities) employs an estimated 16,000 people. Many people seek work in the government sector since it entails considerable job security, family medical benefits, and a pension. Forced labor is illegal in Djibouti.

There is a social insurance scheme in Djibouti with benefits, which depend on whether the worker is employed in the private sector , the civil service, or the army. Employees receive benefits in case of accidents at work and are allocated retirement pensions after the age of 55 years.

Trade unions and workers can be militant, as was shown in 1996 when proposed budget cuts caused a general strike and civil unrest. The government also has often built up salary arrears that have led to discontent among the workforce.


1859. The French first take possession of the coastal settlement of Obock.

1917. The Franco-Ethiopian railway from Djibouti to Addis Ababa is completed.

1977. Djibouti becomes independent. Hassan Ghouled becomes the first president.

1977-1988. The Ogaden War between Somalia and Ethiopia adversely affects Djibouti's economy.

1981. Ghouled is returned as president in an uncontested election.

1987. Ghouled is returned as president in an uncontested election.

1991. Civil war with the Afars commences in the North. The rebel group FRUD is formed.

1992. Multiparty elections under a new constitution return Ghouled and his RPP party.

1994. A peace accord is signed, ending the 3-year uprising by Afar rebels.

1996. Proposed budget cuts cause a general strike and civil unrest.

1997. Multiparty elections return the FRUD-RPP alliance with Ghouled as president.

1998. A border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea leads to an increase in trade through Djibouti.

1999. The successor to Ghouled, Ismael Guelleh, wins the presidential election.


The key factors for the Ethiopian economy are the amount of Ethiopian trade passing through the port and the size of the French garrison. Despite the interim settlement between Ethiopia and Eritrea, almost all of Ethiopia's trade still flows through Djibouti, and this situation is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Domestic political pressure to maintain employment levels in the public sector is likely to limit the pace of economic reform through privatization, despite IMF pressure. Delegation visits by the IMF have not resolved concerns over the lack of financial transparency and the poor availability of data, and this will impair the prospects for financial assistance from the donor community. The economy is not expected to show much significant growth in the near future, with the expansion of the use of port facilities by Ethiopia being offset by the scaling-down of the presence of French troops.

In politics, Guelleh received praise for having convened the Somali peace conference. Full relations have been restored with Eritrea, and there is now the prospect of more stable relations in the area. If peace comes to Somalia, it will reduce tensions caused by the influx of Somali refugees as the refugees begin to return home.


Djibouti has no territories or colonies.


"Djibouti and the IMF." International Monetary Fund. <>. Accessed October 2001.

"Djibouti: Economy." <>. Accessed September 2001.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Djibouti. London, England, 2001.

Hodd, M. "Djibouti." The Economies of Africa. Aldershot, England: Dartmouth Publications, 1991.

Ministére de l'Economie, des Finances et de la Planification Chargé de la Privatisation. <>. Accessed October 2001.

République de Djibouti. <>.Accessed October 2001.

Tholomier, Robert. Djibouti, Pawn of the Horn of Africa. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1981.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2001. <>. Accessed September 2001.

U.S. Department of State. Background Notes: Djibouti, March 1996. <>. Accessed October 2001.

Michael Hodd




Djiboutian franc (Dfr). One Djiboutian franc equals 100 centimes. There are notes of 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000 francs and coins of 10, 20, 50, 100, and 500 francs. Since 1973 the Djiboutian franc has been tied to the U.S. dollar at a rate of Dfr177.72:US$1.


Reexports, hides and skins, and coffee (in transit).


Foods, beverages, transport equipment, chemicals, and petroleum products.


US$574 million (purchasing power parity, 2000 est.).


Exports: US$260 million (1999 est.). Imports: US$440 million (1999 est.).

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Republic of Djibouti

Major City:


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated December 1996. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


DJIBOUTI , a tiny city-state tucked between Ethiopia and Somalia, has been one of Africa's most stable and secure nations since gaining its independence from France in 1977. It was known for nearly a century as French Somaliland, and briefly as the French Territory of the Afars and Issas. A large percentage of its population of 560,000 is nomadic, herding in the country's harsh, stony desert and low, barren hills.

Djibouti is a nation with an open societya crossroads where Africa, the Middle East and, in many ways, Europe meet. Its Afro-Arab culture is spiced with post-colonial French influence. It has been said that Djibouti is "the set from Casablanca, the geography of Death Valley, the cast of Beau Geste, and the spirit of a Graham Greene or Joseph Conrad novel."



The city of Djibouti, capital of the republic and largest city in the country, is built on three coral islands, joined by filled-in causeways, on the Gulf of Aden. The influence is more Arab and Muslim than African, but the people are a mixture of races from Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

Djibouti's town population is about 493,000. A large French colony exists here, and many stores are owned and operated by European merchants. Sizable numbers of Arabs and Yemenis, and some Indians, also have similar businesses in the capital.

The local markets are colorful, but neither large nor clean. Since Djibouti is a port city, almost anything can be found in the stores or markets. Items are imported from India, Thailand, Burma, Taiwan, the People's Republic of China, Eastern and Western Europe, and the United States.

The architecture is old-style French colonial/tropical, and the spacious, older houses are built for hot weather, with excellent cross ventilation. The newer homes are smaller and many have air conditioning.

Westerners find that living in Djibouti can be comfortable, however quiet the pace. In addition to the United States, other countries are represented in the capital, including the People's Republic of China, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Iraq, Libya, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.


French-speaking education is available in French-or Djiboutian-run schools from kindergarten through high school. All curricula follow the French system, and no English-language schools exist. No special educational opportunities, such as universities and museums, are available.

A knowledge of French is essential in Djibouti. Those who speak Arabic or Amharic are able to use those languages in most non-European situations.


The life-style in Djibouti is gentle and informal, although social life can be busy. Activities tend to revolve around home and family, plus boating, beach outings, or safaris to the interior. Some culture shock may be experienced upon arrival, but usually this is temporary. The torrid climate also necessitates a period of adjustment.

The majority of Americans live an outdoor life of tennis, swimming, and snorkeling; some are members of the Cercle Hippique (riding club).

Djibouti has only a few pools, but beaches are plentiful, fairly clean (outside the city proper), and enjoyable. Diving and snorkeling are popular sports; the coral and fish are spectacular. It is important to provide one's own equipment for these activities; a small air compressor for divers is useful, as local ones do not always function properly.

Deep-sea and surf fishing, water-skiing, and wind surfing also are possible. The use of small sailboats is limited to the October-through-May season.

The Club des Cheminots provides judo, karate, and gymnastic classes. The Club Hippique in Ambouli offers horseback riding, but all equipment should be brought from home as it is expensive locally. Jodhpurs should be washable and lightweight.

Djibouti's landscape offers excellent photography subjects. Permission to photograph people must be obtained beforehand, and this usually requires a monetary payment. Cameras and film are available, but processing must be done in Europe or the U.S.

Bird-watchers find the limited species interesting. From August through May, water birds can be seen on their southward and northward migrations.

Weekend trips can be arranged to the Forest of Day, Lake Assal, Lake Abbe, and Ardoukoba (the volcano which erupted in 1978).


The French Cultural Center sponsors monthly concerts, legitimate theater, dance (ballet and modern), and has an extensive French book and film library. Several open-air cinemas show French-language films.

Almost all entertaining is done at home. Several good restaurants in the city serve French and Chinese food.


Geography and Climate

The Republic of Djibouti is situated in the Horn of Africa on the continent's east coast. It encompasses 8,400 square miles (21,883 square kilometers), and is about the size of Massachusetts. It is bordered on the north and west by Ethiopia, on the south by Somalia, and on the east by the Gulf of Aden. Djibouti shares with Ethiopia and the Republic of Yemen direct access to the strategic strait of Bab el Mandab ("Gate of Tears"), which controls the southern approach to the Red Sea.

The capital city of Djibouti is a verdant oasis in an area of dry water-sheds composed of low hills and rough, torrid desert. To the north of the Gulf of Tadjoura, the terrain is more varied, with a large desert region rising to Mount Mousa Ali, at 3,600 feet the highest point in the country. Also to the north is the Forest of Day, a national park on Mount Goda. In the last vestige of the forest which once covered the area, several rare species of plants, trees, and birds may be found. About 80 miles west of the capital is Lake Assal, a unique natural phenomenon over 500 feet below sea level. This salt lake is the lowest point on the African continent, and the second lowest point on earth (after the Dead Sea, which is 1,296 feet below sea level).

In addition to the city of Djibouti, the country has four provincial capitals: OBOCK, TADJOURA, DIKHIL , and ALI SABIEH. These centers provide the focal points for the nomads who herd in the country's barren interior.

Because of its peculiar geographical location between the Ethiopian and Yemeni escarpments, Djibouti gets little precipitation. Occasional rains occur mostly in the hills of the interior, but the average rainfall is only five to 10 inches; some years are rainless.

Djibouti sits astride the East Africa, Red Sea, and Gulf of Aden rift systems, providing a singular environment for studying movements of these three tectonic plates. The location also provides an abundance of earthquake, volcanic, and geo-thermal activity. More than 600 tremors are recorded every year, but few are strong enough to be felt.

Djibouti's hot season is from May through September, when temperatures range from 100°F to over 120°F. During this period come the hot, sandy winds of the northeastern Kahm Sin. The cooler season lasts from October through April, providing refreshing breezes and temperatures that dip into the 80's. Humidity is high throughout the year.


Djibouti has an estimated population of 455,000. Of these, two-thirds live in or around the capital. Unlike most other African countries, the nation is inhabited by only two major cultural groups, the Somali Issas and the Afars. Arabs comprise less than five percent of the population.

Little is known about the area's original inhabitants. Archaeological investigations in the west and north confirm settlement of this zone by Oromo and other Cushitic peoples now dwelling in Ethiopia. The Oromo are thought to have been known to early Greek and Egyptian voyagers in the Red Sea area about the time of Christ. The development of Islamic communities in the lowlands of Cape Horn is well documented, and this area probably provided troops to the many conflicts between the Islamic lowlands and the Christian highlands of Ethiopia.

Nearly all of the geographical names in Djibouti are of Afar origin, suggesting their longtime presence in the region. Somali ethnic expansion into the Horn has been the subject of many studies, but there is scanty information about the confrontation between the Afars and the Somali groups spreading north into the territory around Djibouti. Historians are certain that the arrival of foreigners (Turks, Egyptians, British, French, and Italians) caused greater population movements in the interior.

Djiboutians are heir to a strong tradition of individuality, independence, and hospitality. They are known for their friendliness to Westerners in their midst. Djibouti City is one of the less crime-prone capitals of Africa.


On May 8, 1977, the people of the French Territory of the Afars and Issas voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence; seven weeks later, on June 27, the Republic of Djibouti was born.

The National Assembly has 65 elected members and, with few exceptions, ministers are chosen from these elected representatives.

A new 1992 constitution provided for multiparty politics. In 1999, Ismail Omar Guellah was elected to a 6 year term as president.

As a result of a defense agreement made with France during the transition from territory to republic, Djibouti hosts some 3,200 French military personnel, including the Foreign Legion. The French also have assumed responsibility for creating a national army. Djibouti's navy and air force are small, but efficient.

The flag of Djibouti consists of blue and green horizontal bands with a white triangle enclosing a red star at the upper left.

Commerce and Industry

Most of the country's commerce centers around the maritime and commercial activities of the Port of Djibouti; the international airport, Djibouti-d'Amboulie; and the railroad, Compagnie du Chemin de Fer Djibouti-Ethiopien, which is the only line serving central and southeastern Ethiopia. The railroad did not function during the Ethiopia-Somalia War of 1977-78, but has since reopened. This line handles a significant portion of Ethiopia's import and export trade.

Services and commerce, mainly because of the substantial French military presence in Djibouti, account for most of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The greatest part of the country is desert, with virtually no arable land. Only about 200 acres are under cultivation. Agriculture accounts for only three percent of GDP. Crop production is limited to mostly fruits and vegetables. Djibouti's industrial capacity is limited to a few small-scale enterprises, such as dairy products and mineral-water bottling. Mineral deposits are extremely limited. However, considerable potential exists for using geo-thermal energy. The country is heavily dependent on foreign aid to finance projects.

The Chambre Internationale de Commerce et d'Industrie is located at place Lagarde, B.P. 84, Djibouti; telephone: 351070.


Djibouti is linked to Europe by several Air France flights per week to Paris. Flights are also available to Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa (Ethiopia), Jeddah, Sanaa, Taiz (Yemen), Reunion, Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, Dubai, and Cairo.

Slow but inexpensive rail travel is available between Djibouti and Addis Ababa. Rail travel suffers from overcrowding, lack of travel support infrastructure en route, and the potential for banditry.

Most Americans in the area have private vehicles, which can be imported duty free. Registration is standard, and a driving permit easy to arrange. Traffic moves on the right. The best service facilities are for Toyota, Daihatsu, Isuzu, Peugeot, Renault, and Suzuki. It is advisable to choose a light-colored car (to reflect sunlight) with air-conditioning and complete rustproofing. Local laws require yellow headlights. Standard-drive autos are adequate for city driving; four-wheel-drive vehicles are used only for cross-country trekking. It is an advantage to use diesel fuel because of the high price of gasoline in the country.

In the capital, inexpensive bus and taxi services are available, but are often in poor condition and driven erratically. Taxi fares are controlled, and rates are posted in the vehicles.


The telephone system in Djibouti City functions reasonably well and is reliable. Long-distance calls are via a satellite system to France. Direct-dial service to the U.S. has recently been made available, although rates are about three times as high as for calls initiated in the U.S. Outside of Djibouti City, there are few telephones. An international radio telephone service connects Djibouti with Europe.

Domestic and international telegraph service usually is dependable. All airmail letters should be sent through U.S. Department of State facilities. Letters from the U.S. can take up to two weeks or longer to reach Djibouti; mail from Djibouti to the U.S. requires about six days for delivery.

Television and radio programs are broadcast by the government station, Radiodiffusion-Télévision de Djibouti (RTD). There are 24 hours of radio and seven hours of television daily; TV news is given in French, Afar, Somali, and Arabic, and usually is followed by a feature film, nature program, documentary, or sports program. Many expatriates have VCR's. The U.S. Embassy has a video club which purchases current films and keeps a well-stocked library in both VHS and Beta format.

Voice of America (VOA), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) can be received on shortwave radio. A set that operates on both AC and batteries is useful.

Time, Newsweek, and the International Herald Tribune arrive from Europe. French newspapers, magazines, and books are readily available.


Djibouti has no major infectious diseases. Routine immunizations currently are required for cholera and yellow fever for persons arriving from affected areas. Endemic diseases in the country include extensive polio, tuberculosis, and hepatitis A, but these maladies are due to diet and social circumstances and present little danger to Americans.

Because the tap water is brackish in Djibouti, Americans and Europeans use bottled mineral water for drinking, ice cubes, coffee, and tea. Unpeelable fruits and vegetables should be soaked in a chlorine solution.

Persons arriving here from a temperate climate require adjustment to the intense heat. More rest, fluids, and salt intake are needed; copious amounts of water prevent kidney stones and other medical problems.

Once infected, any wound heals slowly. Bites, scratches, or other skin penetrations require prompt treatment to prevent infection.

Prescription drugs and personal medical supplies for which there is no substitution should be brought to Djibouti; French pharmacies are adequate, but their supplies differ from those in the U.S. Prescription glasses should be brought in pairs. Strong sunglasses are essential for everyone.

Clothing and Services

Washable, lightweight clothing is the only practical attire for Djibouti. Adequate dry cleaning is available, but expensive. Clothing wears out quickly from frequent washing; shoes also have a short life in the hot climate. A few articles of warmer clothing (sweaters or shawls, a cotton jacket, a tropical suit) are useful for the cooler season or for travel; neighboring Arta, for instance, is cool at an altitude of 1,200 feet. French-made clothing can be bought in the city at high prices.

Informality is the rule in Djibouti. Suits are seldom worn, even for formal evening functions; slacks and sport shirts are standard for men, and cotton dresses and sandals for women. Women find that both long and short style dresses are popular for special functions. Nylon hosiery is never worn. Every family member needs sports clothes and bathing attire, and a hat (either straw or cloth) for protection from the sun.

Djibouti Muslims do not practice widely the custom of purdah. The severe restrictions on women's dress and employment opportunities, evident elsewhere in the Arab world, are not observed here. Common sense and good taste are, however, in order.

Children's clothing should be lightweight. Bring a generous supply of underclothes, jeans, long-and short-sleeved polo shirts, and a few sweaters. Small children wear a minimum of clothing during the hottest months, often only shorts. Several pairs of sandals are needed; sneakers or jellies (rubber sandals) are used for swimming and for walking across hot sand. Shoes can be found locally, but are expensive.

Despite all these admonitions, the climate in Djibouti is reasonably comfortable for most of the year (October through May).

Most services are available, although they can be either expensive or rudimentary. In Djibouti City, there are several beauty and barber shops. The best European salon provides good service, but prices are high. Appointments are required.

Tailoring and dressmaking is fair. Dry cleaning is available, but expensive.

Domestic Help

Domestics are not highly trained and their salaries are high by African standards. Night guards will also water gardens while they are on duty.

It is advisable, if possible, to hire a domestic who has worked for other Americans. Frequent supervision in the kitchen and throughout the house is necessary, and personal cleanliness should be stressed. Some families provide towels and soap for their domestics for use before starting the day's work and before serving food.

In addition to salaries, the employer provides the necessary uniforms (white) and pays into the local social security system which includes medical care. All employees are entitled to one month's paid vacation each year. Depending on length of service, either notice or severance pay is required before termination of employment. A fifteen-day trial period is imposed, during which time there is no obligation on the part of the employer or employee.

Domestics should sign for all money received and employers should keep receipts in order to avoid disputes.

All domestics should have medical examinations prior to employment to screen out the possibility of tuberculosis.


European air connections for Djibouti can be made in Paris, Marseilles, and Nice.

Visas are required. Proof of yellow fever and cholera immunization must be submitted by persons arriving from infected areas.

Pets are not quarantined, but must have valid health certificates and documentation of rabies inoculation. Veterinarian care in Djibouti is intermittent and of varying quality. Dogs are considered filthy by Muslims. It should be well noted that Djiboutians will not touch dogs; few dogs are seen, and no rabies exists in the country.

In the capital, masses in French are conducted at the Roman Catholic Cathedral on Saturday and Sunday evenings (Sunday is a regular work-day). English-language Catholic mass is celebrated on alternate Fridays. A French-language Protestant church has Sunday evening services. The Red Sea Mission conducts ecumenical services in English on Sunday mornings. There is no provision for Jewish worship.

The time in Djibouti is Greenwich Mean Time plus three.

The official currency is the Djibouti franc (DF). Among the capital's several banks, all providing good facilities, are: Banque de l'Indochine et de Suez, Mer Rouge; Banque pour le Commerce et l'Industrie, Mer Rouge; the British Bank of the Middle East; Commercial and Savings Bank of Somalia; Bank of Credit and Commerce International; and Commercial Bank of Ethiopia.

The metric system of weights and measures is used.


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

May 1Labor Day

June 27 & 28 Independence Day

Dec. 25 Christmas

Id al-Adha*

Hijra New Year*

Mawlid an Nabi*

Lailat al-Miraj (Ascension of the Prophet Mohamed)*


Id al-Fitr*

*variable, based on the Islamic calendar


The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:

Countries of the World 1993. Detroit: Gale Research, 1993.

Africa South of the Sahara 1992. London: Europa Publications, 1991.

Tholomier, Robert. "Djibouti, New Nation on Africa's Horn." National Geographic, October 1978.

Thompson, Virginia and Richard Adloff. Djibouti: Pawn of the Horn of Africa. (trans.) Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1981.

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of Djibouti
Region: Africa
Population: 451,442
Language(s): French, Arabic, Somali, Afar
Literacy Rate: 46.2%
Academic Year: September-June
Compulsory Schooling: 9 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 8.1%
Foreign Students in National Universities: 8,982
Libraries: 892
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 328,875
  Secondary: 444,682
  Higher: 174,975
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 101%
  Secondary: 121%
  Higher: 48%
Teachers: Primary: 33,100
  Secondary: 50,100
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 10:1
  Secondary: 9:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 101%
  Secondary: 122%
  Higher: 53%

The Republic of Djibouti, a country of about 500,000 people, is situated on the northeastern coast of Africa, bordered by Somalia in the south, Ethiopia in the west, and Eritrea in the north. Until 1967 it was called French Somaliland by France, the colonial power that owned this small piece of land since the late 1800s when the European nations divided up the map of Africa between them. An extremely poor, hot, desert territory, its main significance lies in its strategic location on the western shore of the Gulf of Aden at the entrance to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, linking the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. After 1967 the territory was renamed the French Territory of the Afars and Issas, after the Ethiopian Afars and the Somali Issas, the two largely nomadic ethnic groups that make up the majority of the population. On June 27, 1977, the country gained independence from France and became the nation of Djibouti. The capital is also called Djibouti.

In 2001, the country's economy was based almost entirely on the port and on the railroad that links it with Addis Ababa in neighboring Ethiopia, making it a major source of Ethiopian trade. The official languages of Djibouti are Arabic and French; most of the people speak Afar or Somali though. Radio and television stations broadcast in French, Arabic, Somali, and Afar. Because of a defense agreement with the former colonial power, Djibouti hosts more than 3,000 French military personnel, including the Foreign Legion.

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 sheikh and staffed by preschool teachers characterized by good memory, honesty, modesty and total dedication to their mission, do not necessarily emphasize skill-oriented activities. Private preschools serve less than 500 children, or 0.3 percent of the population (0 to 6 years of age). Tuition fees of about $1,000 a year are out of the reach of any but the most affluent parents.

Western education first arrived in Djibouti when Roman Catholic missionaries opened a school in 1884.

After World War II, state schools became increasingly popular. In 1964 Koranic instruction became part of the curriculum even in state schools and, by the end of the 1970s, enrollment in primary schools rose from approximately 1,100 pupils shortly after World War II to 13,740. Primary school attendance is compulsory and free; however, Djibouti struggles, as do many other African countries, with impossible demands made by the international banking community that the foreign debt be serviced even if this means the disintegration of health and education services and the consequent destruction of the futures of millions of children. Thus, the government does not monitor compliance with compulsory school attendance policy, and many of the schools are in poor condition and need upgrading. Most secondary schools are in the larger centers and the number of classrooms for secondary students is inadequate. Approximately 20 percent of children who start secondary school complete their education. Less than 50 percent of the population can read and write. Approximately 32 percent of girls are literate, as compared with 60 percent of boys; 62 percent of girls attend primary school compared with 73 percent of boys; and 23 percent of girls attend secondary school compared with 33 percent of boys. Overall, girls make up 36 percent of all secondary students. In 1998 the government committed itself to increasing the number of female students in the educational system to 50 percent. Significant progress has been made toward this goal in the primary grades.

At the end of 1999, the Ministry of Education held a national week-long symposium on education policy. Representatives of the education profession, parents, students, and other parties interested in revitalizing education attended this meeting. The people's and the government's obvious will and commitment to education will only be successful if the international community accepts co-responsibility.

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.

The school year runs from September to June and the language of instruction is French in public and Catholic schools and Arabic in Koranic schools. A Teachers' Training College offers two-year training programs. Since 1990 the British Council English Language Project for Teachers has conducted a program to help indigenous teachers of English in secondary schools become more competent in the teaching of English. Through independent study units, set texts, and face-to-face workshops, courses in teaching English language methods are conducted.

On October 14, 2000, in time for the beginning of the 2000-2001 academic year, Pôle Universitaire de Djibouti, Djibouti's new university, opened its doors to its first students. Initially, courses in the arts will be offered, but there were plans to expand the academic curriculum in the near future. The language of instruction is French.

Djibouti's education expenditure is 2.5 percent of the Gross National Product. Newspapers, books, and magazines, mainly in French, are expensive and not readily available except to those affiliated with the international embassies.

Djibouti hosts approximately 100,000 refugees, illegal immigrants, and displaced persons, about one-fifth of the population, from Ethiopia and Somalia, the two countries on its borders wracked by civil war, drought, and famine. As members of the larger community, they share in the health and education services of the country. However, the sheer number of people moving into Djibouti places a heavy burden on the already fragile economy. Several agencies, including the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the International Labor Office based in Geneva, Switzerland, have started educational programs to help especially refugee women who, often without their men to help them take care of their children, need to see to the daily needs of their families. Vocational training centers that provide auto-mechanics and electrical installation for males and handicraft and tailoring for females attempt to ease dependence on outside aid and offer limited opportunities for gainful employment.

Karin I. Paasche

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Official name: Republic of Djibouti

Area: 22,000 square kilometers (8,494 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Moussa Ali (2,028 meters/6,654 feet)

Lowest point on land: Lac Assal (155 meters/509 feet below sea level)

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 3 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 213 kilometers (132 miles) from northeast to southwest; 155 kilometers (96 miles) from southeast to northwest

Land boundaries: 508 kilometers (316 miles) total boundary length; Eritrea 113 kilometers (70 miles); Somalia 58 kilometers (36 miles); Ethiopia 337 kilometers (209 miles)

Coastline: 314 kilometers (195 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Located on the coast of the Horn of Africa, Djibouti is one of the continent's smallest countries. With an area of 22,000 square kilometers (8,494 square miles), it is about the same size as El Salvador, and only about one-sixth as large as England. Because of its location at the southern entryway to the Red Sea, however, the country has a strategic importance that is out of proportion to its small size.


Djibouti claims no territories or dependencies.


The climate is dry and torrid (very hot). The hot, dry hamsin wind increases the already-blistering summer temperatures, which can rise as high as 45°C (113°F). Rainfall is infrequent, averaging less than 13 centimeters (5 inches) annually.

Season Months Average high temperature: °Celsius (°Fahrenheit
Summer May to September 37°C (99°F)
Winter October to April 31°C (87°F)


Djibouti can be divided into three major geographic regions: a coastal plain, mountains behind the plain, and a plateau behind the mountains.


Djibouti lies just south of the entryway to the Red Sea.

Seacoast and Undersea Features

Djibouti's coast is fringed by picturesque coral reefs.

Sea Inlets and Straits

Djibouti's eastern shore forms most of the west bank of the Strait of Mandab (Bab al Mandab), which connects the Gulf of Aden to the south and the Red Sea to the north. The coastline is deeply indented south of Cape Bir to form the Gulf of Tadjoura, which is 45 kilometers (28 miles) wide at its entrance and penetrates 58 kilometers (36 miles) inland, bisecting the eastern part of the country.

Islands and Archipelagos

There are no islands associated with Djibouti.

Coastal Features

An important deepwater port at the capital city of Djibouti receives ships sailing from the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. Much of the coastline consists of white, sandy beaches.


The desert terrain of Djibouti is broken in places by salt lakes. The largest of these is Lac Assal; at 155 meters (509 feet) below sea level, it is the lowest point in Africa and the second-lowest elevation in the world. It is also the world's saltiest body of water, with a concentration surpassing even that of the Dead Sea. Its water reaches temperatures of up to 57°C (135°F) in the summer.


There are no permanent inland watercourses and very little groundwater of any kind.


About 90 percent of Djibouti's terrain is flat, barren desert land made up of volcanic rock. Vegetation, which is minimal, includes scrub and palm trees.


Most of Djibouti's fertile, irrigated coastal plain lies at elevations below 200 meters (650 feet).


The intense summertime heat in Djibouti once led travelers to call it "the Hell of Africa" and inspired the Somali proverb: "Before crossing this country, even the jackal writes his will."


Rugged mountain peaks of volcanic origin in the northern part of the country reach average heights of 1,000 meters (3,300 feet). These include Moussa Ali, the country's highest summit, in the northeastern corner of the country, and the Mabla Mountains north of the Gulf of Tadjoura.


There are no significant caves or canyons in Djibouti.


Djibouti's plateau regions rise from 300 to 1,500 meters (1,000 to 5,000 feet).


There are no man-made features affecting the geography of Djibouti.



Gordon, Frances Linzee. Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti. Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet, 2000.

Saint Viran, Robert. Djibouti, Pawn of the Horn of Africa. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1981.


"Tiny Djibouti's Port Is Thriving as Neighbors' Problems Continue." The Wall Street Journal, Oct 16, 2000.

Web Sites

Mbendi profile. (accessed June 27, 2003).

University of Pennsylvania African Studies Web site. (accessed March 12, 2003).

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of Djibouti
Region (Map name): Africa
Population: 460,700
Language(s): French, Arabic, Somali, Afar
Literacy rate: 46.2%

Despite an urbanized context that might be expected to foster a thriving press, media activity is in fact not extensive in the tiny Republic of DjiboutiRépublic de Djibouti (French), Jumhuriyah Djibouti (Arabic) formerly French Somaliland. Constraining influences are a low literacy rate, little available advanced education, high unemployment, and the ongoing historical patterns of a socially and politically closed society.

The country has a strategic location near oil reserves on the shipping lane linking the Gulf of Aden with the Red Sea. Independence came in 1977, and a 1992 constitution provided for limited multiparty elections. A late-1994 peace accord ended a three-year uprising by Afar rebels.

The country, with barren terrain covering about 9,000 square miles, is over eighty percent urban, with most people living in the capital, Djibouti, a commercially active center serviced by several international airlines. French aid bolsters the economy, and unemployment is high.

The estimated population in the year 2000 was 460,700. Adult literacy in 1995 was 46.2 percent, with the literacy rate for men about twice as high as that for women. Students at institutions of higher education numbered 130.

French and Arabic are the official languages. The use of Somali and Afar as native tongues reflects the ethnic backgrounds of the populace, which is ninety-four percent Muslim.

Newspapers include La Nation de Djibouti, a pro-government weekly, and Carrefour Africain, a Roman Catholic publication issued twice a month. Circulation numbers are low.

The local news agency is Agence Djiboutienne de Press (ADP). Agence France-Presse also has an office in Djibouti.

The state-run Radiodiffusion-Télévision de Djibouti broadcasts in French, Somali, Afar, and Arabic. In 1998, citizens owned about 53,000 radios and 29,000 television sets; the one television transmitter in Djibouti was at that time on the air for thirty-five hours a week.

By 1995, about 1000 personal computers were in use, and figures for the year 2000 showed about 1000 Internet users.


Banks, Arthur S., and Thomas C. Muller, ed. Political Handbook of the World, 1999. Binghamton, NY: CSA Publications, 1999.

Turner, Barry, ed. The Statesman's Yearbook: The Politics, Cultures, and Economies of the World, 2000. 136th ed. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2002.

New York: World Almanac Books, 2002.

Roy Neil Graves

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Djibouti (city, Republic of Djibouti)

Djibouti (jēbōōtē´), town (1995 est. pop. 383,000), capital of the Republic of Djibouti, a port on the Gulf of Tadjoura (an inlet of the Gulf of Aden). It is the nation's only sizable town and its administrative center. Its importance results from the large transit trade it enjoys as a terminus of the railroad from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to the sea and from its strategic position near the shipping lanes that carry the Suez Canal traffic. Activity at its port declined when the Suez Canal was closed (1967–75) after the Arab-Israeli War of 1967. Its rail lines were severely damaged by bombing during the Ethiopian civil war in 1977. The only important industry is the production of salt from the sea. There is a camel market in the town. Djibouti was founded by the French c.1888 and became the capital of French Somaliland in 1892. There was severe rioting in Djibouti in 1967 after the territory voted to retain its ties with France.

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Culture Name



Identification. Djibouti is in northeast Africa, on the Red Sea coast, bordered by Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. The country was created by France in the late nineteenth century during the colonial scramble for Africa. In 1977, it became independent after having been a protectorate and colony for more than a century. Djibouti had no identity as a state or national unit before 1859, when the French concluded a treaty with the local Afar sultan of Obock.

The two dominant ethnic groupsthe Issa-Somali and the Afarhave opposed each other on critical occasions, but a minimal shared identity and national consciousness have emerged, buttressed by social and cultural similarities between originally nomadic-pastoral populations that speak related languages, adhere to Islam, and share a way of life. The wealth brought by Djibouti's seaports unite the inhabitants, who share the idea of being an island of relative stability in a volatile region. While the nation has experienced political turbulence and active armed rebellion, there has never been a prolonged civil war. Compromise has shaped its political life. In international and regional affairs, Djibouti tries to avoid being a pawn of the neighboring countries and maintains an independent position.

Location and Geography. Djibouti lies in a hot, arid area of the Horn of Africa. Its area is 8,960 square miles (23,200 square kilometers). The soil is rocky and sandy and lies on volcanic layers. In the hot and humid climate, rainfall is very low. Most of the soil is not suitable for agriculture, and only about 10 percent is used as pasture. The vegetation consists mainly of desert shrubs and acacia trees. There are only a few patches of perennial forest. The traditional mode of life was nomadic pastoralism, in which state borders were not recognized. Fishing in the Red Sea provides a limited source of income; horticulture is possible only on a small scale.

The Bay of Tadjoura cuts into the country from the Gulf of Aden. The terrain is mainly a desertlike plain with some intermediate mountain ranges near Arta and the eastern border. There is one active volcano. There are seasonal streams that flow toward the sea or into the two salt lakes. Apart from Djibouti City, the capital and large urban center, there are a few small towns: Tadjoura, Obock, Dikhil, Ali Sabieh, and Yoboki.

Demography. The population in 1999 was estimated at about 640,000. It is ethnically diverse, and there are significant numbers of expatriates, including Europeans (mainly French) and Arabs (mainly Yemenis). There is a sizable community of Ethiopians and refugees from Eritrea and Somalia. More than half the population lives in Djibouti City.

Linguistic Affiliation. The main indigenous languages are Afar and Issa-Somali, both of which belong to the Cushitic language group. The official national languages are French, which is used in education and administration, and Arabic, which is spoken by Yemeni and other Arab immigrants.

Symbolism. The coat of arms shows two bent olive branches within which a traditional round shield is pictured over a vertical Somali spear topped with a red star and flanked by two Afar daggers to the left and right. It symbolizes the ideal of coexistence of the two dominant communities. The flag is a tricolor with blue, white, and green fields and a red star on the triangular white field on the left.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Politics has been dominated by the complex relations between the Issa-Somali and the Afar. Before the colonial era, they were nomadic pastoralists and traders and were politically highly organized but had no state-forming tradition. The Afar had chiefdoms and four sultanates. When the French arrived, about 75 percent of the territory was inhabited by Afar nomads. The Issa had a decentralized political organization based on clan loyalty, although the ruler of Zeila, a trading center on the Somali coast, had great influence over them. The number of Issa and Gadabursi (the third largest group, also Somali) grew steadily in the twentieth century because of immigration from Somalia. The Isaak Somali (about 13 percent of the population) also originated in Somalia.

Before independence, the French alternatively promoted the Issa and the Afar; that divisive policy contributed to postcolonial conflicts.

France created Djibouti as a colony and super-imposed a centralist state structure on local pastoral societies. More than two-thirds of the territory traditionally belonged to Afar sultanates, and the remaining southern slice was controlled by Issa nomadic herders. Djibouti as a nation derives its identity from its strategic location and the economic importance of the port. A political crisis occurred with the 1991 armed rebellion of the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD), a largely Afar movement that conquered a major part of the country. This crisis pressured the government into opening the political system and holding multiparty elections in 1992. After the elections, a military crackdown was followed by an accommodative policy in which the FRUD was persuaded to join mainstream politics and abandon violence.

National Identity. Djibouti's identity as a nation is a compromise between the political and social aspirations of two communities that have created a social contract within the context of the state that allows them to maintain their independence.

The new President, Ismail Omar Guelleh, who has been in office since 1999, supports economic integration with Ethiopia and has hinted at favoring economic federation with that country.

Ethnic Relations. Though closely related culturally and linguistically, the Afar and the Somali-speaking groups (especially the Issa) have been rivals for power and access to resources. This tension exploded into open armed conflict in the 1990s. After a military campaign to quell the Afar revolt, the government opted for a policy of compromise without endangering Issa dominance, and a full-scale "ethnicization" of politics was averted. There is also tension between the settled population and newcomers (Gadabursi, Isaak, and refugees), which occasionally turns into open conflict.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Djibouti has no tradition of urban architecture. The indigenous architecture of earlier centuries is found in the capitals of the sultanates of Raheita and Tadjoura, with their old mosques and town centers. Djibouti City was designed by French town planners with a grid street plan and government institutions placed close to each other in the center. The town grew fast, with new neighborhoods added in a less planned fashion. There is a camel market on the outskirts.

In the urban culture, traditional social and cultural features of the indigenous populations tend to fuse and create new forms. In the countryside, the herders' seasonal migrations and transborder crossings of Afar, Issa, and Gadabursi pastoralists show the mobility and free use of space necessary for the survival of humans and herds. These people have huts and furniture that can be easily packed and moved.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Dairy products and meat from the herds are the traditional foods, along with grain dishes. In the cities, the diet is influenced by Italian and other European foods. A notable feature of the diet is the consumption of the light narcotic leaf qat, which is imported from Ethiopia. Qat is consumed recreationally by virtually all men, preferably after lunch, when government offices and work come to a standstill in the midday heat.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Qat is used in religious services, allegedly because it enhances concentration, delays sleep, and mutes the appetite.

Basic Economy. Djibouti is a poor but developing country that is dependent on the expanding port and services sector. The economy is unbalanced, with only rudimentary agriculture and a declining livestock economy, but most people still maintain herds and work in agriculture. Infrastructure and communications, except around the port and in the capital, are underdeveloped. Unemployment, poverty, and social insecurity are rampant, especially in the countryside and the working-class neighborhoods in Djibouti City. The government receives subsidies from Arab oil countries and France for balance of payments support and development projects. There is a growing banking and insurance sector, and the telecommunications sector is the best in the region. The currency used is the Djibouti franc.

Land Tenure and Property. Although the government holds most of the land, urban land can be owned privately. Nomadic pastoralists control their traditional pasture areas through customary rights.

Commercial Activities. Djibouti is a free-trade zone. Port activity and related services dwarf other commercial activities, but there is also a small tourist industry. The expenditures of the French army are substantial. Prostitution in Djibouti City is a big business.

Major Industries. The industrial sector employs thirty-five thousand people in a large mineral water bottling plant, leather tanning, construction, a pharmaceuticals factory, abattoirs, salt mining, and a petroleum refinery.

Trade. The transshipment trade through the port is the mainstay of the economy and creates at least 75 percent of the gross domestic product. It has greatly expanded since 1998, when Ethiopia decided to shift all of its import-export activities to Djibouti. Djibouti produces only 5 percent of its own food needs, making it a huge food importer from Ethiopia (grain and other staples) and Somalia (meat and dairy products). The costs of imports are covered by the profitable service sector (the port) and proceeds from contraband trade.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Issa and Gadabursi social organization was fairly egalitarian, although it has a patriarchal bias. There are positions of wider authority, such as that of the ugaz, a ritual-political clan leader. In the countryside, egalitarianism is still the norm, but there are many impoverished pastoralists as a result of drought, cattle disease, and conflict.

Among the Afar, traditional social stratification was much more hierarchical. The Afar were organized in sultanates and had "tribal" and clan rankings. The Afar distinguish between the more prestigious "red" clans (the Asahimara) and the "white" clans (the Asdohimara), although this division did not coincide with political authority in all regions. In the country as a whole, urbanization, modern state formation and political institutions, and trade have created an urban social stratification based on political power and wealth.

Among the Afar and Somali groups there traditionally are castelike artisan groups that traditionally were held in low esteem. The modern economy gave rise to an incipient class society, including in it the working class. Most workers are state civil servants and port laborers. A relatively large stratum of the population engages in prostitution, works in bars, and trades in contraband. Yemenis traditionally form the trader class.

Symbols of Social Stratification. In line with the socio-economic differentiation into a developing urban society and a largely stagnant agro-pastoral rural society, differences in appearance and life style between social groups are increasingly visible. The urban elites speak French, are well-dressed, have good housing, drive their own cars, and travel abroad frequently for business, education, or leisure. The rural and urban poor have substandard housing, no means of transport, and live under precarious conditions. Most of the rural populations speak Afar or Issa-Somali, not the more prestigious French.

Political Life

Government. Since independence in 1977, there has been a presidential-republican system of government. There is a Chamber of Deputies with sixty-five members that is elected by universal suffrage. Real power lies with the president and his inner circle. The president is also commander in chief of the armed forces. The prime minister, who is always an Afar, is relatively powerless. The country effectively remained an authoritarian one-party state until 1992, when the Afar struggle for more power became a quest for inclusive democracy.

Leadership and Political Officials. Political life since independence has been dominated by a restricted elite of Issa and Afar politicians. In recent years younger politicians have emerged, but they are linked to the same elite. The 1992 constitution limits the number of political parties to four.

There are complex formal and informal rules for the division of power across the various ethnic communities: The president is an Issa; the prime minister is an Afar; and in the Cabinet of Ministers, one seat each is reserved for the Arabs, Isaak, and Gadabursi, while the Afar have one seat more than the Issa. The head of the supreme court is always an Issa.

Social Problems and Control. Unemployment, the decline of pastoral society, a lack of education, and poverty are the major social problems. Prostitution has caused major health problems, including the spread of AIDS. The refugee population strains the national budget and service facilities. In rural areas, communities deal with local political issues and disputes through the use of customary law.

Military Activity. Djibouti has an army of ninety-four hundred men, along with a small navy and air force. Men serve on the basis of conscription. There is a police force of twelve hundred and a national security force of three thousand. In the mid-1990s, the national army grew to a force of twenty thousand to contain the armed revolt led by FRUD. The national security force keeps a tight grip on domestic security. One faction of the FRUD is still active in the Afar part of the country. Djibouti is the base of a large French overseas military force consisting of three thousand men, with one Foreign Legion battalion that helps control the strategic Red Sea entrance and the port, mediates in domestic conflicts, and protects the republic against its neighbors.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

The Djibouti government is not in a financial position to support extended social and welfare programs. There are state pensions for retired civil servants, but no unemployment benefits or social security provisions, except on a private basis via insurance. There are some vocational training institutes, orphanages and food aid institutions run by Islamic and Christian charities, but they do not cover the needs of the population. Several local nongovernmental organizations are active in addressing problems of urban and rural development. Refugees from Ethiopia and Somalia are cared for partly by the government and by United Nations programs.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

With the economy being dominated by the state, the role of nongovernmental organizations and associations is limited. The most important organizations are the trade unions, which have some autonomy.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. If they are not livestock herders or fishermen, men work largely in the civil service, horticulture, corporate business, the military, and the port services. Women are active as lower civil servants and petty traders, mostly in the informal sector.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. By custom and law men have more rights and higher status than women. Traditional Afar and Issa culture as well as Islam tend to support a pattern of gender roles that give men predominance in public life, business, and politics. Economic necessity, conflict, and migration have made many women the sole household head.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Descent and family and ethnic group membership remain important in the conclusion of marriages and in family life, especially in the countryside, where rituals around marriage and kinship are still widely observed. Afar have a traditional preference for patrilateral cross-cousin marriage; the Issa and other Somalis are less strict. There is some Afar-Issa intermarriage.

Domestic Unit. The domestic unit in the city is the nuclear family, although members of extended families often live together and provide mutual support. Pastoralists among the Issa, Afar, and Gadabursi live and move together in extended kin groups, accompanied by allies and adopted members. Men make decisions involving the movement of herds and families.

Inheritance. Inheritance follows the tenets of Islamic law, modified by state law inspired by French civil codes.

Kin Groups. In the indigenous Issa and Afar communities, and among the Gadabursi and Isaak Somali, the clan and the lower-level lineage remain important. Membership in these units is identified for marriage purposes, economic networking and mutual assistance, and recourse to customary law for dispute settlement and decisions about inheritance.


Child Rearing and Education. The family and local community play a crucial role in education and the transmission of culture and morals. Only a minority of children in the countryside, especially in the Afar area, attend schools; often these are Koranic schools with low academic standards. Most children remain in the extended family to assist in economic activities (herding). More than half the population is illiterate. The rural and poor urban populations speak only their indigenous languages. Children are socialized within the family and lineage group and are reared to feel an attachment to kin and community. Among the Somali, children are given more freedom than they are among the Afar, among whom the fima, a disciplinary institution, is strong. Exposure to formal schooling is limited to roughly one-third of school-age children, chiefly in Djibouti City.

Higher Education. There are no universities. Many high school graduates go to France to pursue higher education.


The Issa and Afar value the expression of personal independence and courage, but not recklessness. They feel attached to their cultural tradition, or at least to their idea of it. Older people are treated respectfully.


Religious Beliefs. The dominant religion of Djiboutians and Arabs is Islam (95 percent of the population). The ten thousand Europeans are nominally Christians (Catholic). Ethiopians are mostly Ethiopian Orthodox Christian, and Greeks and Armenians are Eastern Orthodox Christian. Islamic beliefs are deeply rooted in Afar and Somali society. Indigenous Issa, Gadabursi, and Afar beliefs combine folk religion and custom with normative Islamic practices. Sufi orders are also prominent. Islam is not used for political purposes by any major party.

Religious Practitioners. Among the Islamic Issa, Gadabursi, and Afar, sheikhs and marabouts occupy a prominent position and play a role in many lifecycle events. There is one diocese for the nine thousand Catholics.

Rituals and Holy Places. There are no Islamic holy places except the tombs of saints and marabouts. Daily life is oriented to the Islamic cycle of religious rituals and holidays.

Death and the Afterlife. Islamic and Christian religious precepts include the belief in the immortality of the soul, ascending to heaven, or descending to hell, according to the merits of an individual's life. All deceased are buriedthere is no cremation. In traditional Afar and Issa beliefs, shaped by the continuity of patrilineal ideology, the soul of a deceased rejoins the ancestors, who are occasionally appealed to by the living descendants.

Medicine and Health Care

Health care is precarious. In Djibouti City, it is available, although not easily accessible to the poor. In rural areas, there are clinics in the major villages, but the nomadic peoples are dependent on traditional remedies.

Secular Celebrations

Independence Day on 27 June is the most important national holiday and unites all Djiboutians in celebration of their national identity. New Year's Day is celebrated on 1 January and Labor Day on 1 May; 11 November, 25 December (Christmas Day), and 31 December (New Year's Eve) are other public holidays.

The Arts and Humanities

Academic life is lacking, because there are not any universities or a significant intellectual scene. Artists (painters, sculptors, designers) cater to foreign demand. The few literary authors publish in French.

Support for the Arts. The government has few financial or institutional resources to support the arts, but in the capital there is a "people's palace," a national museum, and a national center for the promotion of culture and the arts, where performances and festivals are held. The National Tourism Office has a section to promote interest in the traditional crafts of the country. Connaissance de Djibouti is a study association whose members are interested in retrieving knowledge of the cultures and customs of Djibouti's peoples. Djibouti maintains a cultural exchange and education agreement with France.

Literature. While there is little creative written literature (poetry, novels, drama) to speak of, oral poetry and rhetoric are well developed in Afar and Somali pastoral societies. The Afar are familiar with the ginnili, a kind of warrior-poet and diviner, and have a rich oral tradition of folk stories. Among the Somali, poetic talent and verbal skills expressed in songs and epic stories are also highly developed. In recent years there has been a growing number of politicians and intellectuals who write memoirs or reflections on Djibouti society and its problems, but virtually all of them publish in France.

Graphic Arts. Some painters and sculptors in Djibouti town galleries cater largely to French and other foreign visitors.

Performance Arts. There are no major theaters or playwrights in Djibouti, although there are drama performances in the capital's center for culture and art.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Research is done by foreign institutions and individuals, often in partnership with Djibouti scientists educated abroad. There is a French-supported research institute, the Institut Supérieur des Etudes et des Recherches Scientifiques et Techniques. Research on Djibouti society is not well developed.


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Jon G. Abbink

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Djibouti (Jibuti) Capital of Djibouti, on the s shore of the Gulf of Tadjoura, ne Africa. Founded in 1888, it became capital in 1892, and a free port in 1949. Ethiopian emperor Menelik II built a railway from Addis Ababa, and Djibouti became the chief port for handling Ethiopian trade. While Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia (1952–93), it lost this status to the Red Sea port of Assab. Pop. (2002 est.) 524,700.

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The people of Djibouti are called Djiboutians. There are several ethnic groups in Djibouti. People who trace their origins to the Issa group from Somalia are about 50 percent of all Djiboutians. The Afars, a related people, account for about 25 percent. The remainder are people from Yemen, France, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Italy.

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Djiboutialmighty, Aphrodite, Blighty, flighty, mighty, nightie, whitey •ninety • feisty •dotty, grotty, hottie, knotty, Lanzarote, Lottie, Pavarotti, potty, Scottie, snotty, spotty, totty, yachtie, zloty •lofty, softie •Solti • novelty •Brontë, démenti, Monte, Monty, Visconti •frosty •forty, haughty, naughty, pianoforte, rorty, shorty, sortie, sporty, UB40, warty •balti, faulty, salty •flaunty, jaunty •doughty, outie, pouty, snouty •bounty, county, Mountie •frowsty • viscounty •Capote, coatee, coyote, dhoti, floaty, goaty, oaty, peyote, roti, throaty •jolty •postie, toastie, toasty •hoity-toity • pointy •agouti, beauty, booty, cootie, cutie, Djibouti, duty, fluty, fruity, rooty, snooty, tutti-frutti

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