Lying on the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, the tiny African nation of Djibouti serves as a gateway to the Suez Canal, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.
Its port is the lifeblood of its economy, providing the biggest source of income and employment in this otherwise barren country.
The highest point in Djibouti is Moussa Ali (2,028 m).
Lake Assal, the lowest point in Djibouti, is also the lowest point in Africa (approximately 155 m below sea level). The lake is one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world.
Djibouti is a geologically active region, situated at the convergence of two tectonic plates.
Djibouti is located in a strategic position on the southern access route to the Red Sea.
The nomadic way of life in Djibouti goes back thousands of years.
The people of Djibouti traded with merchants from China, Egypt and India.
Islam arrived in the region around the ninth century.
In 1862 the Sultanates on the Somali coast sold the port of Obock to France.
By the end of the 1880s the French had established French Somaliland.
In 1892 the French capital was moved from Obock to Djibouti.
A treaty between France and Ethiopia gave part of the French Colony to Ethiopia (1897).
Construction of a railway linking Djibouti to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia began in 1897. The railway was completed in 1917.
After the Second World War French Somaliland became an Overseas Territory within the French Union (1946).
In 1967 French Somaliland was renamed the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas.
The French Territory of the Afars and the Issas became independent in 1977. The country was renamed Djibouti.
In April 2004 a storm in the capital caused structural damage and flash flooding. Over fifty people were killed and many lost their homes.
In April 2006 a boat from Djibouti capsized in the Gulf of Tadjoura killing over seventy people.
The first case of human infection with H5N1 avian flu in sub-Saharan Africa was confirmed in Djibouti in May 2006.
Some inland areas of Djibouti suffered severe drought in 2007.
A seventeen mile long bridge, linking Djibouti in Africa and Yemen in the Middle East, is under consideration by investors. (2008)
Djibouti’s proximity to restive areas in Africa and the Middle East and its relative stability have made it a prized location for foreign military bases and ensured a steady flow of foreign assistance.
Former colonial power France maintains a significant military presence and the country also hosts America’s largest military base in Africa.
FACTS The Republic of Djibouti
- Capital: Djibouti
- Population 923,000
- Area 23,200 sq km (8,950 sq miles)
- Languages French, Arabic, Somali, Afar
- Religion Islam
- Life expectancy 57 years (men), 60 years (women)
- Currency Djiboutian franc
- UN, World Bank
Ismail Omar Guelleh came to power in elections in 1999, succeeding Hassan Gouled Aptidon, who led the country for two decades since independence.
His re-election as president in 2005 was seen as somewhat of a formality given the opposition’s boycott of the election.
He further consolidated his power when a change to the constitution in 2010 allowed him to stand for a third term. The 2011 presidential election was again boycotted by the opposition.
With no strong challenger, Mr Guelleh won a fourth term of office in the April 2016 presidential election.
Born in Ethiopia in 1947, Mr Guelleh, like his predecessor, belongs to the Mamassans, a sub-clan of the Issa. His family moved to Djibouti in 1960 and eight years later he joined the intelligence services, rising through the ranks to become head of state security in 1977.
Djibouti’s media environment is dominated by the state. There are no private TV or radio stations and the government owns the main newspaper and the national broadcaster Radiodiffusion-Television de Djibouti (RTD).
The few opposition media outlets are based outside the country and opposition websites are closely monitored by the authorities.
Internet access costs are beyond the reach of most people and most users go online at cyber cafes.
Some key dates in Djibouti’s history:
1825 – Somali and Afar ethnic groups become first Africans to embrace Islam in the region.
1862 – France gains a foothold in the region, acquiring the trading port of Obock.
1888 – French colony of Somaliland established.
1894 – Djibouti becomes the capital of French Somaliland.
1946 – Djibouti becomes a French overseas territory.
1967 – Referendum – French Somaliland votes to remain a French Overseas Territory, renamed the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas.
1977 – Independence from France, renamed Republic of Djibouti.
1991-2000 – Civil war: Ends with a power-sharing agreement between Afar rebels and the Somali Issa-dominated government.
2003 – First free multi-party presidential election.
2010 – Constitution amended enabling President Omar Guelleh to run for a third term.
2014 May – Al-Shabab says it carried out a bomb attack on a restaurant in Djibouti, saying the country is used as a launch pad to strike Muslims.