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 French forces, and France continues to maintain a significant military and technical presence in the country. >
Djibouti’s location is the main economic asset of a country that is mostly barren. The capital, Djibouti city, serves as a major transshipment point for goods entering or leaving Ethiopia. Its relatively good transport infrastructure also enables several landlocked African countries to fly in their goods for re-export. This earns Djibouti much-needed transit taxes and harbour fees.
After independence from France in 1977, Djibouti was left with a government which enjoyed a balance between the two main ethnic groups, the Issa who are of Somali origin, and the Afar minority of Ethiopian origin.
However, the country’s first President, Hassan Gouled Aptidon, soon 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 Gouled, under French pressure, introduced a limited multiparty system in 1992, the rebels from the Afar party, the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD), were not allowed to participate.
As a result, 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 Gelleh.
Major languages: French, Arabic, Somali, Afar
Major religion: Islam
Form of government: Multiparty republic
Monetary unit: 1 Djiboutian franc = 100 centimes
Main exports: Re-exports, hides and skins, coffee (re-exported from Ethiopia)
Internet domain: .dj Time zone: GMT+3
International dialling code: +253
President: Ismael Omar Gelleh
A former head of security, he worked for many years in his uncle’s office. He is known to favour continuing Djibouti’s traditionally strong ties with France, and has played an important role in trying 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.
The government closely controls all electronic media. Independent newspapers and other publications are generally allowed to circulate freely, but journalists exercise self-censorship. The official media are uncritical of the government.