May 20, 2012, 1:54 pm
Source: CIA World Factbook
Content Cover Image

Port of Djibouti. Source: Staphane Pouyllau

Djibouti is a nation of three-quarters-of-a-million people in East Africa on the Gulf of Aden at the entrance to the Red Sea from the Indian Ocean, part of the region known as the Horn of Africa. It is located between the nations of Eritrea and Somalia.

It has strategic location near world's busiest shipping lanes and close to Arabian oilfields. It is a terminus of rail traffic into Ethiopia.

Djibouti is mostly wasteland. Lac Assal (Lake Assal) is the lowest point in Africa.

Two-thirds of Djibouti's inhabitants live in the capital city; the remainder are mostly nomadic herders.

Djibouti's major environmental issues include:

Djibouti is susceptible to earthquakes; droughts; occasional cyclonic disturbances from the Indian Ocean bring heavy rains and flash floods

The French Territory of the Afars and the Issas became Djibouti in 1977.

Hassan Gouled Aptidon installed an authoritarian one-party state and proceeded to serve as president until 1999.

Unrest among the Afars minority during the 1990s led to a civil war that ended in 2001 following the conclusion of a peace accord between Afar rebels and the Issa-dominated government.

In 1999, Djibouti's first multi-party presidential elections resulted in the election of Ismail Omar Guelleh; he was re-elected to a second and final term in 2005.

Djibouti occupies a strategic geographic location at the mouth of the Red Sea and serves as an important transshipment location for goods entering and leaving the east African highlands.

The present leadership favors close ties to France, which maintains a significant military presence in the country, but also has strong ties with the United States. Djibouti hosts the only US military base in sub-Saharan Africa.

Djibouti maintains economic ties and border accords with "Somaliland" leadership while maintaining some political ties to various factions in Somalia.

Kuwait is chief investor in the 2008 restoration and upgrade of the Ethiopian-Djibouti rail link.

In 2008, Eritrean troops move across the border on Ras Doumera peninsula and occupy Doumera Island with undefined sovereignty in the Red Sea.


Location: Eastern Africa, bordering the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, between Eritrea and Somalia

Geographic Coordinates: Eastern Africa, bordering the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, between Eritrea and Somalia

Area: 23,000 km2 (22,980 km2 land and 20 km2 water)

Arable land: 0.04%
Permanent crops: 0%
Other: 99.96% (2005) 

Land Boundaries: 516 km. Border countries: Eritrea 109 km, Ethiopia 349 km, Somalia 58 km

Coastline: 314 km

Maritime Claims:

territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

Natural Hazards: earthquakes; droughts; occasional cyclonic disturbances from the Indian Ocean bring heavy rains and flash floods

Volcanism: Djibouti experiences limited volcanic activity; Ardoukoba (elev. 298 m) last erupted in 1978; Manda-Inakir, located along the Ethiopian border, is also historically active

Terrain:Coastal plain and plateau separated by central mountains. Its lowest point is Lac Assal (-155 metres) and its highest point is Moussa Ali (2,028 metres).

Climate: Desert; torrid, dry

Topograpgy of Djibouti. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


Source: NASA


Ecology and Biodiversity

  1. Most of Djiboutiis included within the Ethiopian xeric grasslands and shrublands (pink), an arid, semi-desert ecoregion bordering the Red Sea and the Gulf of Oman. Rainfall is very low and yearly averages range from 100 to 200 millimeters (mm). As a suggestion of floral richness, an estimated 825 to 950 species have been observed in Djibouti, although many of these have been found only in the small outlying patches of the Ethiopian montane forest. These outliers are part of the Day Forests and Mabla Massifs above 1,100 m in Djibouti.
  2. The northern coastline is part of the Eritrean coastal desert ecoregion which runs along the southern coast of the Red Sea from Balfair Assoli in Eritrea to Ras Bir near Obock in Djibouti. It thus forms the southern shore of the Bab-el-Mandeb straits, which form the entrance to the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aden. Here, the shores of Yemen and Djibouti funnel a huge bird migration each autumn.

See also: Biological diversity in the Horn of Africa

People and Society

Population: 774,389 (July 2012 est.)

About two-thirds of the Republic of Djibouti's 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 approximately 3,000 troops.

Ethnic groups: Somali 60%, Afar 35%, other 5% (includes French, Arab, Ethiopian, and Italian)

Astronaut Photo of Djibouti, Djibouti taken from the International Space Station (ISS) during Expedition 22 on March 15, 2010. Source: NASA

Afar salt caravan, Lac Assal. Source: Charles Fred/Flickr.

Age Structure:

0-14 years: 35% (male 132,592/female 132,114)
15-64 years: 61.7% (male 206,323/female 260,772)
65 years and over: 3.3% (male 11,349/female 13,924) (2011 est.)

Population Growth Rate: 2.285% (2012 est.)

Birthrate: 24.91 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Death Rate: 8.08 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)

Net Migration Rate: 6.02 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Life Expectancy at Birth: 61.57 years 

male: 59.15 years
female: 64.07 years (2012 est.)

Total Fertility Rate: 2.63 children born/woman (2012 est.)

Languages: French (official), Arabic (official), Somali, Afar

Literacy:  67.9% (male: 78% - female: 58.4% [2003 est.])

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 for women's affairs and is engaged in an ongoing effort to increase public recognition of women's rights and to ensure enforcement. The government is leading efforts to stop illegal and abusive traditional practices, including female genital mutilation. As the result of an ongoing 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 applicants.

Urbanization: 76% of total population (2010) growing at an annual rate of change of 1.8% (2010-15 est.)


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 Islam.

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, Tadjourah, 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 Tadjourah and 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. 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 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 effect.

Government Type: Republic

Capital: Djibouti - 567,000 (2009)

Administrative Divisions: 6 districts (cercles, singular - cercle):

  1. Ali Sabieh
  2. Arta
  3. Dikhil
  4. Djibouti
  5. Obock
  6. Tadjourah

Independence Date: 27 June 1977 (from France)

Legal System: mixed legal system based primarily on the French civil code (as it existed in 1997) and Islamic religious law (in matters of family law and successions), and customary law. Djibouti accepts cumpulsary International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction, with reservations. It also accepts International Criminal Court (ICCt) jurisdiction

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal

Source: Wikimedia Commons

International Environmental Agreements

Djibouti is party to international agreements on: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, and Wetlands.


Total Renewable Water Resources: 0.3 cu km (1997)

Freshwater Withdrawal: Total: 0.02 cu km/yr (84% domestic, 0% industrial, 16% agricultural).

Per Capita Freshwater Withdrawal:: 25 cu m/yr (2000)

Access to improved sources of drinking water: 92% of population

Access to improved sanitation facilities: 56% of population

Hypersaline Resources: Lake Assal is the largest Hypersaline lake on Earth


Agricultural Products: fruits, vegetables; goats, sheep, camels, animal hides

Irrigated Land: 10 sq km (2003)


Natural Resources: geothermal areas, gold, clay, granite, limestone, marble, salt, diatomite, gypsum, pumice, petroleum.

Since independence from France in 1977, the salt exploitation on the perimeter of Lake Assal has been growing at an explosive rate, expecting to yield four million tons per annum by the year 2012; along with very recent developments in wind energy and geothermal plans around Lake Assal, this part of Djibouti is facing potentially severe adverse environmental impacts from this intensive resource and energy development.


  Production Consumption Exports Imports Reserves
Electricity 280 million kWh
(2008 est.)
260.4 million kWh
(2008 est.)
0 kWh
0 kWh
Oil 0 bbl/day
12,000 bbl/day
(2010 est.)
19.18 bbl/day
(2009 est.)
11,230 bbl/day
(2009 est.)
0 bbl
(1 January 2011 est.)
Natural Gas 0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
0 cu m
(1 January 2011 est.)
Source: CIA Factbook

See also: Energy profile of Djibouti


International Disputes: Djibouti maintains economic ties and border accords with "Somaliland" leadership while maintaining some political ties to various factions in Somalia; Kuwait is chief investor in the 2008 restoration and upgrade of the Ethiopian-Djibouti rail link

Refugee: refugees (country of origin): 8,642 (Somalia) (2007)


The economy is based on service activities connected with the country's strategic location and status as a free trade zone in the Horn of Africa.

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 foreign direct investment inflows that now top $200 million annually. It has also significantly improved its finances, paying current salaries, maintaining reserves, and generating a growth rate in 2008 of approximately 5.8%. 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 Assal, 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 port is an increasingly important transshipment point for containers as well as a destination port for Ethiopian trade. In 2009, Djibouti and Dubai Ports World inaugurated the state-of-the-art, $300 million Doraleh Container Terminal. The older portion of the 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 needs upgrades, but remains an important source of employment. A weekly train from Ethiopia brings in most of Djibouti's fresh fruits and vegetables. The bulk of Ethiopia-bound imports from Djibouti’s port are transported via truck. 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 2007, U.S. exports to Djibouti totaled $59 million, while U.S. imports from Djibouti were about $4 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.

Djibouti (2009). Source: Stéphane Pouyllau/Flickr

Two-thirds of Djibouti's inhabitants live in the capital city; the remainder are mostly nomadic herders.

Scanty rainfall limits crop production to fruits and vegetables, and most food must be imported.

Djibouti provides services as both a transit port for the region and an international transshipment and refueling center.

Imports and exports from landlocked neighbor Ethiopia represent 70% of port activity at Djibouti's container terminal.

Djibouti has few natural resources and little industry. The nation is, therefore, heavily dependent on foreign assistance to help support its balance of payments and to finance development projects.

An unemployment rate of nearly 60% in urban areas continues to be a major problem.

While inflation is not a concern, due to the fixed tie of the Djiboutian franc to the US dollar, the artificially high value of the Djiboutian franc adversely affects Djibouti's balance of payments.

Per capita consumption dropped an estimated 35% between 1999 and 2006 because of recession, civil war, and a high population growth rate (including immigrants and refugees).

Djibouti has experienced relatively minimal impact from the global economic downturn, but its reliance on diesel-generated electricity and imported food leave average consumers vulnerable to global price shocks.

GDP (Purchasing Power Parity): $2.244 billion (2011 est.)

GDP (Official Exchange Rate): $1.3 billion (2011 est.)

GDP-per capita (PPP): $2,600 (2011 est.)

GDP-composition by sector:

agriculture: 3.2%
industry: 16.6%
services: 80.1% (2011 est.)

Population Below Poverty Line: 42% (2007 est.)

Industries: construction, agricultural processing

Exports: reexports, hides and skins, coffee (in transit)

Imports: foods, beverages, transport equipment, chemicals, petroleum products

Currency: Djiboutian franc (DJF)

Ports and Terminals: Djibouti


  1. Lake Salt Project, Djibouti:Environmental Impact Assessment (pdf). Government of Djibouti:Salt Investment S.A.Z.F. November 2008.




Agency, C., & Department, U. (2012). Djibouti. Retrieved from


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