Djibouti, a small country in northeastern Africa. The country is bounded by Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and the Gulf of Aden, including the Gulf of Tadjoura and the Bab el Mandeb, the entrance to the Red Sea. Its area is 8,494 square miles (21,999 km2).
Virtually all the land is desert. The coast is fringed by a narrow plain. The interior consists mainly of rough plateaus. In some areas volcanic mountains attain heights of 5,000 to 6,000 feet (1,500 to 1,800 m). There are also deep depressions, or basins, one of which is occupied by Lake Assal. It lies 512 feet (156 m) below sea level—the lowest elevation in Africa. The climate is exceedingly hot all year. From May to October a burning, sandladen wind called a khamsin blows from the northeast, and temperatures rise well above 100 F. (38 C.) and average more than 90 F. (32 C.).
Djibouti is an extremely poor nation and receives large amounts of foreign aid. Virtually all of its internally produced income is derived from the port at Djibouti, the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway, and international banking. The port's significance is due partly to its strategic location on the shipping lanes leading to the Suez Canal; the railway carries Ethopian imports and exports. Some commercial fishing is done along the coast. In the desert there is virtually no activity other than nomadic herding, mainly goats. An international airport serves Djibouti. Roads are poor. Djibouti's basic currency unit is the Djiboutian franc.
About half of the people live in Djibouti, the capital and only sizable city; the rest are largely desert nomads. About nine-tenths of the inhabitants are of Hamitic stock; they are about equally divided between the Somalis (most of whom belong to the Issa clan) and the Afars. The French and the Arabs are the largest foreign groups. French is the official language, but Somali, Afar, and Arabic are also widely used. Although schooling is limited in much of the country, about two-thirds of the adult population can read and write.
Under the constitutional law of 1981, the country has an elected president. (chief of state), who serves a six-year term. Members of its legislature, the Chamber of Deputies, serve five-year terms. The president appoints the premier (head of government).
French interest in the area began in the early 1860's. Treaties of friendship were signed with local sultans, and France soon established a protectorate recognized by Ethiopia. In the 1890's the protectorate came to be known as French Somaliland.
French Somaliland was given some internal self-rule in 1957. In a referendum held in 1967 the Somalis voted for independence but the Afars, who made up most of the registered voters, voted to remain associated with France. Also in 1967, the territory's name was changed to Afars and Issas. In 1977, the French granted the country independence. At about the same time its name was changed to Djibouti. Thousands of refugees from military conflicts in Ethiopia and Somalia fled to Djibouti in the 1970's and 1980's. A civil war began in the early 1990's. France pressured the government to negotiate with the rebels, and a peace deal was signed in 1994.
|Facts in brief about Djibouti|
|Capital: Djibouti (city).|
|Official language: Arabic.|
|Area: 8,958 mi2 (23,200 km2). Greatest distances—east-west, 110 mi (177 km); north-south, 125 mi (201 km). Coastline—152 mi (245 km).|
|Elevation: Highest—Mousaalli, 6,768 ft (2,063 m) above sea level. Lowest—Lake Assal, 509 ft (155 m) below sea level.|
|Population: Current estimate—838,000; density, 94 per mi2 (36 per km2); distribution, 85 percent urban, 15 percent rural. 1998 official government estimate—652,000.|
|Chief products: Hides, skins.|
|Flag: The flag of Djibouti, adopted in 1977, has a blue horizontal stripe at the top, a green horizontal stripe at the bottom, and a red star on a white triangle near the staff.|
|Money: Basic unit—Djibouti franc.|