Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

A small country of north-east Africa, formerly part of French Somaliland, on the south coast of the Gulf of Aden at the narrow entrance to the Red Sea, opposite Yemen.


It lies on the Great Rift Valley: Lake Assal lies at 155 m (509 feet) below sea-level. The climate is harsh and much of the country is semi-arid desert.


Trade is the mainstay of the economy; Djibouti City, the capital, is a free port and through its rail link to Addis Ababa handles trade for Ethiopia and other neighbouring African states.


The small enclave of Djibouti was created as a port c.1888 by the French and became the capital of French Somaliland (1892). Its importance results from its strategic position on the Gulf of Aden. In 1958 it was declared by France to be the Territory of the Afars and Issas, but in 1977 it was granted total independence as the Republic of Djibouti under President Hassan Gouled Aptidon (re-elected in 1981 and 1987), leading the Popular Rally for Progress (RPP) party. Famine and wars in neighbouring countries have produced many economic problems, with refugees arriving in large numbers from Ethiopia and Somalia. In November 1991 the Front pour la Restauration de la Unité et la Démocratie (FRUD) was formed, mostly of Afar opposition groups opposed to the one-party rule of Gouled Aptidon. There was fighting in the west and south until French mediation in February 1992. Later that year a multiparty constitution was adopted and elections were held. Only one opposition party was allowed to contest the elections; the others called for a boycott of the elections. Less than half the population voted and the RPP won all the seats. A ceasefire was agreed in 1993 but sporadic fighting continued until 2001. Genuinely multiparty elections were held in 2003.




23,200 sq km (8950 sq miles)


477,000 (2005)


1 Djibouti franc = 100 centimes


Sunni Muslim 94%; Roman Catholic 4%; Protestant 1%; Orthodox 1%

Ethnic Groups:

Somali 46.0%; Afar 35.4%; Arab 11.0%


Arabic, French (both official); Somali; minority languages

International Organizations:

UN; AU; Arab League; Non-Aligned Movement; WTO

Subjects: African Studies — History.

Reference entries

See all related reference entries in Oxford Index »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.