Controlling access to the Red Sea, Djibouti is of major strategic importance, a fact that has ensured a steady flow of foreign assistance.
During the Gulf War it was the base of operations for the French military, who continue to maintain a significant presence.
France has thousands of troops as well as warships, aircraft and armoured vehicles in Djibouti, contributing directly and indirectly to the country’s income. The US has stationed hundreds of troops in Djibouti, its only African base, in an effort to counter terrorism in the region.
Djibouti’s location is the main economic asset of a country that is mostly barren. The capital, Djibouti city, handles Ethiopian imports and exports. Its transport facilities are used by several landlocked African countries to fly in their goods for re-export. This earns Djibouti much-needed transit taxes and harbour fees.
Djibouti’s Red Sea port is a key African shipping hub
After independence from France in 1977, Djibouti was left with a government which enjoyed a balance between the two main ethnic groups, the Issa of Somali origin and the Afar of Ethiopian origin.
But the country’s first president, Hassan Gouled Aptidon, installed an authoritarian one-party state dominated by his own Issa community. Afar resentment erupted into a civil war in the early 1990s, and though Mr Gouled, under French pressure, introduced a limited multi-party system in 1992, the rebels from the Afar party, the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (Frud), were excluded.
Thus, Mr Gouled’s Popular Rally for Progress party won every seat and the war went on. It ended in 1994 with a power-sharing deal which brought the main faction of Frud into government. A splinter, radical faction continued to fight until 2000, when it too signed a peace deal with the government of Gouled’s successor, Ismael Omar Guelleh.
- Full name: The Republic of Djibouti
- Population: 864,000 (UN, 2009)
- Capital: Djibouti
- Area: 23,200 sq km (8,950 sq miles)
- Major languages: French, Arabic, Somali, Afar
- Major religion: Islam
- Life expectancy: 54 years (men), 57 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 Djiboutian franc = 100 centimes
- Main exports: Re-exports, hides and skins, coffee (re-exported from Ethiopia)
- GNI per capita: US $1,130 (World Bank, 2008)
- Internet domain: .dj
- International dialling code: +253
President: Ismael Omar Guelleh
Ismael Omar Guelleh, known in Djibouti by his initials, IOG, won a second term in one-man presidential race in April 2005.
President Guelleh has ruled Djibouti since 1999
Parliament – which does not include any representatives of the opposition – approved an amendment to the constitution in 2010 allowing the president to run for a third term.
The constitutional reforms also cut the presidential mandate to five years from six, and create a senate.
Mr Guelleh’s second term expires in 2011 and speculation has surrounded his plans for a third mandate.
He succeeded his uncle and Djibouti’s first president, Hassan Gouled Aptidon, in April 1999 at the age of 52. He was elected in a multi-party ballot.
Mr Guelleh supports Djibouti’s traditionally strong ties with France and has tried to reconcile the different factions in neighbouring Somalia.
The government owns the principal newspaper, La Nation, as well as Radiodiffusion-Television de Djibouti (RTD), which operates the national radio and TV. There are no private broadcasters.
The government closely controls all electronic media. Private newspapers and other publications are generally allowed to circulate freely, but journalists exercise self-censorship. The official media are uncritical of the government.
A powerful mediumwave (AM) transmitter in the country broadcasts US-sponsored Arabic-language Radio Sawa programmes to East Africa and Arabia. Local FM relays carry the BBC (99.2) and Voice of America.
- La Nation – government-owned daily
- La Republique – opposition Parti National Democratique periodical
- Le Renouveau – run by opposition Party for Democratic Renewal
- Radio Djibouti – operated by RTD; national network broadcasts in Afar, Arabic and Somali, international network in French
- Djibouti Television – operated by RTD
- Agence Djiboutienne d’Information – state news agency