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Atlas Djibouti

Country (long form)
Republic of Djibouti
Total Area
8,494.25 sq mi
22,000.00 sq km
451,442 (July 2000 est.)
Estimated Population in 2050
French (official), Arabic (official), Somali, Afar
46.2% total, 60.3% male, 32.7% female (1995 est.)
Muslim 94%, Christian 6%
Life Expectancy
49.01 male, 52.68 female (2000 est.)
Government Type
1 Djiboutian franc (DF) = 100 centimes
GDP (per capita)
$1,200 (1999 est.)
Labor Force (by occupation)
agriculture 75%, industry 11%, services 14% (1991 est.)
limited to a few small-scale enterprises, such as dairy products and mineral-water bottling
fruits, vegetables; goats, sheep, camels
Arable Land
re-exports, hides and skins, coffee (in transit)
foods, beverages, transport equipment, chemicals, petroleum products
Natural Resources
geothermal areas
Current Environmental Issues
inadequate supplies of potable water; desertification
Telephones (main lines in use)
8,000 (1995)
Telephones (mobile cellular)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)

Despite the climate's inhospitality, Djibouti's arid plains have been populated since the Paleolithic era, fought over by Afar and Somali nomadic herdspeople. Islam spread its prayer rugs from around 825 AD in a region that was then used as grazing lands by several tribes, including the Afars from eastern Ethiopia and the Issas from Somalia. Arab traders controlled the region until the 16th century, but the Afar sultans of Obock and Tadjoura were in charge by the time the French arrived in 1862. The French were seeking to counterbalance the British presence in Aden on the other side of the Bab al-Mandab Strait and, after negotiating with the sultans for the right to settle, they bought the place for 10,000 thalers.

In 1888 the French started building Djibouti City on the southern shore of the Gulf of Tadjoura, a region that had mostly been settled by Somalis. French Somaliland began to take shape. Djibouti was soon designated the official outlet of Ethiopian commerce, and the French-built Djibouti-Addis Ababa railway became - and remains - of vital strategic and commercial importance to the Ethiopians.

The Issas demonstrated against the colonial powers in 1949, agitating for reunification of Italian, British and French Somaliland and the expulsion of all colonial powers. The Afars supported French rule, so not surprisingly the French favoured them, putting Ali Aref and his fellow Afars in control of local government. A 60% vote for continued French rule in 1967 was achieved largely by the massive expulsion of ethnic Somalis and the arrest of opposition leaders, and caused serious riots in the capital. Colonial authorities conceded something needed to be done, so they changed the colony's name to the 'French Territory of the Afars and Issas', hoping that would do the job. But Djibouti by any name had become a hornets' nest, and by the early 1970s many of those expelled had joined the Somali Coast Liberation Front and begun chucking bombs.

Ali Aref and his party were on the nose by 1976, following further huge demonstrations in support of the opposition. Aref resigned, and France reluctantly granted independence the following year. The People's Progress Assembly (RPP), led by Hassan Gouled Aptidon, won the elections, and Hassan Gouled became president. Djibouti was the last French colony on the African mainland to win independence.

During Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Hassan Gouled played a tricky double game - giving lip service to opposition to the military buildup (Djibouti had signed a military pact with Iraq only a few months previously), while allowing France to considerably increase its military forces in Djibouti. He also allowed allied forces to use Djibouti's naval facilities.

In November 1991, Afar rebels launched a civil war in their traditional territory in the north of the country. They accused the Issar-dominated government of favouring Issars, and after four months of bloodshed and hundreds of casualties, Hassan Gouled's government finally agreed to concessions. The people approved a new constitution at a 1992 referendum, and a peace accord was finally signed in 1994 despite simmering ethnic hostilities, particularly in the north and in border regions.

As Djibouti geared up for the 1997 general elections, renewed fighting between Afar sepratists who had opposed the peace negotiations and government forces broke out along the Eritrean border. Hassan Gouled systematically squashed the rebels, and after winning the election turned his attentions to the Isaak-Somalis, who wanted their own breakaway republic of Somaliland recognized. With the help of Ismael Omar Guelleh, who became president in 2000, the Isaak-Somalis were also defeated. Since his election, Guelleh has moved to strengthen ties with France by siding with Ethiopia in its dispute with Eritrea and allowing a buildup of French soldiers within Djibouti.

At the last general elections in January 2003, the RPP won again. Seven women (out of 65 members of parliament) won a seat to the National Assembly.

During the Second Gulf War in 2003, Djibouti continued to play an ambivalent role, allowing a US presence in the country to the great displeasure of France, who would have liked to be considered as the most privileged ally.