Djibouti - Tips

Bureau of African Affairs
May 2007

Background Note: Djibouti

Flag of Djibouti is two equal horizontal bands of light blue at top and light
green, with a white isosceles triangle based on the hoist side bearing a red
five-pointed star in the center.


Republic of Djibouti

Area: 21,883 sq. km. (8,450 sq. mi.); about the size of Massachusetts.
Cities: Capital--Djibouti. Other cities--Dikhil, Arta, Ali-Sabieh, Obock,
Terrain: Coastal desert.
Climate: Torrid and dry.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Djiboutian(s).
Population (est.): Between 466,900 and 650,000.
Annual growth rate (2005 est.): 2.6%.
Ethnic groups: Somali, Afar, Ethiopian, Arab, French, and Italian.
Religions: Muslim 94%, Christian 6%.
Languages: French and Arabic (official); Somali and Afar widely used.
Education: Literacy--46.2%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--100 to 150/1,000. Life expectancy (2005 est.)
--43.1 years.
Work force: Low employment rate; estimates run well under 50% of the work
force. The largest employers are the Government of Djibouti, including
telecommunications and electricity; Port of Djibouti; and airport. The U.S.
Government, including the military camp and the embassy, is the second
largest employer. Able-bodied unemployed population (est. 2006)--60%.

Type: Republic.
Constitution: Ratified September 1992 by referendum.
Independence: June 27, 1977.
Branches: Executive--president. Legislative--65-member parliament, cabinet,
prime minister. Judicial--based on French civil law system, traditional
practices, and Islamic law.
Administrative subdivisions: 6 cercles (districts)--Ali-Sabieh, Arta, Dikhil,
Djibouti, Obock, and Tadjoura.
Political parties: People's Rally for Progress (RPP) established in 1981; New
Democratic Party (PRD) and the National Democratic Party (PND) were both
established in 1992; and the Front For The Restoration of Unity and Democracy
(FRUD) was legally recognized in 1994. Five additional parties were
established in 2002: Djibouti Development Party (PDD); Peoples Social
Democratic Party (PPSD); Republican Alliance for Democracy (ARD); Union for
Democracy and Justice (UDJ); Movement for Democratic Renewal (MRD).
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
National holiday: Independence Day, June 27 (1977).

GDP (2006 est.): $768 million.
Adjusted per capita income: $850 per capita for expatriates, $450 for
Natural resources: Minerals (salt, perlite, gypsum, limestone) and energy
resources (geothermal and solar).
Agriculture (less than 3% of GDP): Products--livestock, fishing, and limited
commercial crops, including fruits and vegetables.
Industry: Types--banking and insurance (12.5% of GDP), public administration
(22% of GDP), construction and public works, manufacturing, commerce, and
Trade (2004 est.): Imports--$987 million: consists of basic commodities,
including food and beverages, pharmaceutical drugs, transport equipment,
chemicals, and petroleum products. Exports--$250 million: re-exports, hides
and skins, and coffee (in-transit). Major markets (2004)--France, Ethiopia,
Somalia, India, China, and Saudi Arabia and other Arabian peninsula

About two-thirds of the Republic of Djibouti's 650,000 inhabitants live in
the capital city. The indigenous population is divided between the majority
Somalis (predominantly of the Issa tribe, with minority Issaq and Gadabursi
representation) and the Afars (Danakils). All are Cushitic-speaking peoples,
and nearly all are Muslim. Among the 15,000 foreigners residing in Djibouti,
the French are the most numerous. Among the French are 3,000 troops.

The Republic of Djibouti gained its independence on June 27, 1977. It is the
successor to French Somaliland (later called the French Territory of the
Afars and Issas), which was created in the first half of the 19th century as
a result of French interest in the Horn of Africa. However, the history of
Djibouti, recorded in poetry and songs of its nomadic peoples, goes back
thousands of years to a time when Djiboutians traded hides and skins for the
perfumes and spices of ancient Egypt, India, and China. Through close
contacts with the Arabian Peninsula for more than 1,000 years, the Somali and
Afar tribes in this region became the first on the African continent to adopt

It was Rochet d'Hericourt's exploration into Shoa (1839-42) that marked the
beginning of French interest in the African shores of the Red Sea. Further
exploration by Henri Lambert, French Consular Agent at Aden, and Captain
Fleuriot de Langle led to a treaty of friendship and assistance between
France and the sultans of Raheita, Tadjoura, and Gobaad, from whom the French
purchased the anchorage of Obock (1862).

Growing French interest in the area took place against a backdrop of British
activity in Egypt and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. In 1884-85,
France expanded its protectorate to include the shores of the Gulf of
Tadjoura and the Somaliland. Boundaries of the protectorate, marked out in
1897 by France and Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia, were affirmed further by
agreements with Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I in 1945 and 1954.

The administrative capital was moved from Obock to Djibouti in 1892. In 1896,
Djibouti was named French Somaliland. Djibouti, which has a good natural
harbor and ready access to the Ethiopian highlands, attracted trade caravans
crossing East Africa as well as Somali settlers from the south. The
Franco-Ethiopian railway, linking Djibouti to the heart of Ethiopia, was
begun in 1897 and reached Addis Ababa in June 1917, further facilitating the
increase of trade.

During the Italian invasion and occupation of Ethiopia in the 1930s and
during World War II, constant border skirmishes occurred between French and
Italian forces. The area was ruled by the Vichy (French) government from the
fall of France until December 1942, and fell under British blockade during
that period. Free French and the Allied forces recaptured Djibouti at the end
of 1942. A local battalion from Djibouti participated in the liberation of
France in 1944.

On July 22, 1957, the colony was reorganized to give the people considerable
self-government. On the same day, a decree applying the Overseas Reform Act
(Loi Cadre) of June 23, 1956, established a territorial assembly that elected
eight of its members to an executive council. Members of the executive
council were responsible for one or more of the territorial services and
carried the title of minister. The council advised the French-appointed
governor general.

In a September 1958 constitutional referendum, French Somaliland opted to
join the French community as an overseas territory. This act entitled the
region to representation by one deputy and one senator in the French
Parliament, and one counselor in the French Union Assembly.

The first elections to the territorial assembly were held on November 23,
1958, under a system of proportional representation. In the next assembly
elections (1963), a new electoral law was enacted. Representation was
abolished in exchange for a system of straight plurality vote based on lists
submitted by political parties in seven designated districts. Ali Aref
Bourhan, allegedly of Turkish origin, was selected to be the president of the
executive council. French President Charles de Gaulle's August 1966 visit to
Djibouti was marked by 2 days of public demonstrations by Somalis demanding
independence. On September 21, 1966, Louis Saget, appointed governor general
of the territory after the demonstrations, announced the French Government's
decision to hold a referendum to determine whether the people would remain
within the French Republic or become independent. In March 1967, 60% chose to
continue the territory's association with France.

In July of that year, a directive from Paris formally changed the name of the
region to the French Territory of Afars and Issas. The directive also
reorganized the governmental structure of the territory, making the senior
French representative, formerly the governor general, a high commissioner. In
addition, the executive council was redesignated as the council of
government, with nine members.

In 1975, the French Government began to accommodate increasingly insistent
demands for independence. In June 1976, the territory's citizenship law,
which favored the Afar minority, was revised to reflect more closely the
weight of the Issa Somali. The electorate voted for independence in a May
1977 referendum. The Republic of Djibouti was established on June 27, 1977,
and Hassan Gouled Aptidon became the country's first president. In 1981, he
was again elected president of Djibouti. He was re-elected, unopposed, to a
second 6-year term in April 1987 and to a third 6-year term in May 1993
multiparty elections.

In early 1992, the constitution permitted the legalization of four political
parties for a period of 10 years, after which a complete multiparty system
would be installed. By the time of the December 1992 national assembly
elections, only three had qualified. They were the Rassemblement Populaire
Pour le Progres (People's Rally for Progress--RPP), which was the only legal
party from 1981 until 1992; the Parti du Renouveau Democratique (The Party
for Democratic Renewal--PRD); and the Parti National Democratique (National
Democratic Party--PND). Only the RPP and the PRD contested the national
assembly elections, and the PND withdrew, claiming that there were too many
unanswered questions on the conduct of the elections and too many
opportunities for government fraud. The RPP won all 65 seats in the national
assembly, with a turnout of less than 50% of the electorate.

In early November 1991, civil war erupted in Djibouti between the government
and a predominantly Afar rebel group, the Front for the Restoration of Unity
and Democracy (FRUD). The FRUD signed a peace accord with the government in
December 1994, ending the conflict. Two FRUD members were made cabinet
members, and in the presidential elections of 1999 the FRUD campaigned in
support of the RPP.

In 1999, Ismail Omar Guelleh--President Hassan Gouled Aptidon's chief of
staff, head of security, and key adviser for over 20 years--was elected to
the presidency as the RPP candidate. He received 74% of the vote, with the
other 26% going to opposition candidate Moussa Ahmed Idriss, of the Unified
Djiboutian Opposition (ODU). For the first time since independence, no group
boycotted the election. Moussa Ahmed Idriss and the ODU later challenged the
results based on election "irregularities" and the assertion that
"foreigners" had voted in various districts of the capital; however,
international and locally based observers considered the election to be
generally fair, and cited only minor technical difficulties. Ismail Omar
Guelleh took the oath of office as the second President of the Republic of
Djibouti on May 8, 1999, with the support of an alliance between the RPP and
the government-recognized section of the Afar-led FRUD.

In February 2000, another branch of FRUD signed a peace accord with the
government. On May 12, 2001, President Ismail Omar Guelleh presided over the
signing of what was termed the final peace accord officially ending the
decade-long civil war between the government and the armed faction of the
FRUD. The peace accord successfully completed the peace process begun on
February 7, 2000 in Paris. Ahmed Dini Ahmed represented the FRUD.

Djibouti is a republic whose electorate approved the current constitution in
September 1992. Many laws and decrees from before independence remain in

In the presidential election held April 8, 2005 Ismail Omar Guelleh was
re-elected to a second 6-year term at the head of a multi-party coalition
that included the FRUD and other major parties. A loose coalition of
opposition parties again boycotted the election. Currently, political power
is shared by a Somali president and an Afar prime minister, with an Afar
career diplomat as Foreign Minister and other cabinet posts roughly divided.
However, Issas are predominate in the government, civil service, and the
ruling party. That, together with a shortage of non-government employment,
has bred resentment and continued political competition between the Somali
Issas and the Afars. In March 2006, Djibouti held its first regional
elections and began implementing a decentralization plan. The broad
pro-government coalition, including FRUD candidates, again ran unopposed when
the government refused to meet opposition preconditions for participation. A
nationwide voter registration campaign is now underway in advance of the
scheduled 2008 parliamentary elections.

Djibouti has its own armed forces, including a small army, which grew
significantly with the start of the civil war in 1991. With the 2001 final
peace accord between the government and the Afar-dominated FRUD, the armed
forces have been downsized. The country's security is supplemented by a
formal security accord with the Government of France, which guarantees
Djibouti's territorial integrity against foreign incursions. France maintains
one of its largest military bases outside France in Djibouti. There are some
3,000 French troops stationed in Djibouti, including units of the famed
French Foreign Legion.

The right to own property is respected in Djibouti. The government has
reorganized the labor unions. While there have been open elections of union
leaders in the past, some labor leaders allege interference in their internal
elections. Others voice opposition to newly-implemented labor laws that apply
to new jobs created in free zones and that are less favorable to labor.

In 2002, following a broad national debate, Djibouti enacted a new "Family
Law" enhancing the protection of women and children, unifying legal treatment
of all women, and replacing Sharia. The government established a
minister-designate for women's affairs and is engaged in an ongoing effort to
increase public recognition of women's rights and to ensure enforcement. In
2007, it began establishing a network of new counseling offices to assist
women seeking to understand and protect their rights. Women in Djibouti enjoy
a higher public status than in many other Islamic countries. The government
is leading efforts to stop illegal and abusive traditional practices,
including female genital mutilation. As the result of a three-year effort,
the percentage of girls attending primary school increased significantly and
is now more than 50%. However, women's rights and family planning continue to
face difficult challenges, many stemming from acute poverty in both rural and
urban areas. With female ministers and members of parliament, the presence of
women in government has increased. Despite the gains, education of girls
still lags behind boys, and employment opportunities are better for male

Principal Government Officials
President--Ismail Omar Guelleh
Prime Minister--Dileita Mohamed Dileita
Foreign Affairs--Mahamoud Ali Youssouf
Ambassador to the United Nations and the United States--Roble Olhaye Oudine

Djibouti's mission to the UN is located at 866 UN Plaza, Suite 4011, New
York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-753-3163). Djibouti's embassy in Washington is
located at Suite 515, 1156 15th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005 (tel. 202-
331-0270; fax 202-331-0302).

Djibouti's economy depends largely on its proximity to the large Ethiopian
market and a large foreign expatriate community. Its main economic activities
are the Port of Djibouti, the banking sector, the airport, and the operation
of the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railroad. During the "lost decade" following the
brunt of its civil war (1991-94), there was a significant diversion of
government budgetary resources from developmental and social services to
military needs. However, from 2001 on, Djibouti has become a magnet for
private sector capital investment, attracting inflows that now average more
than $200 million. It has also significantly improved its finances, paying
current salaries, maintaining reserves, and generating a growth rate in 2006
of approximately 4.5%. Djibouti has become a significant regional banking
hub, with approximately $600 million in dollar deposits. Its currency, the
Djiboutian Franc, was linked to the dollar (and to gold) in 1949 and
appreciated twice over the interim when the dollar was devalued and then
freed to float. Agriculture and industry are little developed, in part due to
the harsh climate, high production costs, unskilled labor, and limited
natural resources. Mineral deposits exist in the country, but with the
exception of an extraordinary salt deposit at Lac Asal, the lowest point in
Africa, they have not been exploited. The arid soil is unproductive--89% is
desert wasteland, 10% is pasture, and 1% is forested. Deforestation for
charcoal is a significant problem, as it now replaces expensive imported
cooking gas in many urban homes. Services and commerce provide most of the
gross domestic product.

Djibouti's most important economic asset is its strategic location on the
busy shipping route between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean.
Roughly 60% of all commercial ships in the world use its waters from the Red
Sea through the Bab-el-Mandeb strait and into the Gulf of Aden and the Indian
Ocean. Its old port is an increasingly important transshipment point for
containers as well as a destination port for Ethiopian trade. Last year
alone, private investment in the old port totaled approximately $50 million.
Djibouti is now in the second of three phases of a multi-year, $800 million,
privately-financed project to build a new port with fueling, container, and
free zone components. The old port will continue serving as a general
shipping, bulk cargo, and break-bulk facility and also as the host of a small
French naval facility.

Business soared at the Port of Djibouti when hostilities between Eritrea and
Ethiopia denied Ethiopia access to the Eritrean Port of Assab. Djibouti
became the only significant port for landlocked Ethiopia, handling all its
imports and exports, including huge shipments of U.S. food aid in 2000 during
the drought and famine. In 2000, Dubai Ports World took over management of
Djibouti's port and later its customs and airport operations. The result has
been a significant increase in investment, efficiency, activity, and port
revenues. The Addis Ababa-Djibouti railroad is the only line serving central
and southeastern Ethiopia. The single-track railway--a prime source of
employment--occupies a prominent place in Ethiopia's internal distribution
system for domestic commodities such as cement, cotton textiles, sugar,
cereals, and charcoal. A weekly train from Ethiopia brings in most of
Djibouti's fresh fruits and vegetables. In March 2006, the Governments of
Ethiopia and Djibouti (which co-own the railway) selected the South African
firm COMAZAR to manage the line. They are still in negotiations over the
management agreement. In addition, the European Union is considering a $100
million project to upgrade a portion of the rail line.

Principal exports from the region transiting Djibouti are coffee, salt, live
animals, hides, dried beans, cereals other agricultural products, and wax.
Djibouti itself has few exports, and the majority of its imports come from
France. Most imports are consumed in Djibouti, and the remainder go to
Ethiopia and northwestern Somalia. Djibouti's unfavorable balance of trade is
offset partially by invisible earnings such as transit taxes and harbor dues.
In 2001, U.S. exports to Djibouti totaled $18.7 million, while U.S. imports
from Djibouti were about $1 million.

The city of Djibouti has the only paved airport in the republic. Djibouti has
one of the most liberal economic regimes in Africa, with almost unrestricted
banking and commerce sectors.

Military and economic agreements with France provide continued security and
economic assistance. Links with Arab states and East Asian states, Japan and
China in particular, also are welcome. Djibouti is a member of the Arab
League, as well as the African Union, the Inter-Governmental Authority on
Development (IGAD), and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa

Djibouti is greatly affected by events in Somalia and Ethiopia, so relations
are important and, at times, delicate. The 1991 falls of the Siad Barre and
Mengistu governments in Somalia and Ethiopia, respectively, caused Djibouti
to face national security threats due to instability in the neighboring
states and a massive influx of refugees estimated at 100,000 from Somalia and
Ethiopia. In 2000, after 3 years of insufficient rain, 50,000 drought victims
entered Djibouti. In 1996, a revitalized organization of seven East African
states, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), established
its secretariat in Djibouti. IGA


to Leave a Comment or