A city-state that serves as a transit point for neighbouring countries
Though there are mountains in the north of this small country, most of Djibouti consists of a bare arid plateau—one of the world's hottest places. Most activity centres on the capital, also called Djibouti, and particularly its port, which is crucial to its now landlocked neighbour, Ethiopia.
The country's brief period since independence in 1977 has been soured by conflict between its two main ethnic groups. More than half the population are Somalis of the Issa and other clans, while around one-third are the Afar, who are of Ethiopian origin. However, the precise ethnic division is uncertain, partly because of the flows of refugees, but also because the ethnic population balance is a sensitive issue. Djibouti's population growth rate is around 2%. Three-quarters of these people live in the capital; most of the remainder are pastoral nomads.
Djibouti is a poor country: 20% of people live on less than $1.25 a day and life expectancy is only 55 years. It is also remarkable for its consumption of a mild intoxicant: qat. Every day, Djiboutians together chew their way through a remarkable 11 tons of the drug—which is imported from Ethiopia—devoting a high proportion of household expenditure to the habit. Most of Djibouti's economy depends on its location as a transit point for neighbouring countries: trade and services make up around 80% of GDP. But this makes Djibouti vulnerable to developments around it, such as wars between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Road and rail links with Addis Ababa are now in a very poor state—and in need of investment. Most food has to be imported and there is little industry.
Since independence in 1977, Djibouti has been ruled by the Rassemblement populaire pour le progrès (RPP), which from 1981 to 1992 was also the only legal party. But the government could not contain the Somali–Afar rivalry and in 1990 an armed rebellion was started by the Afar front pour la restauration de l'unité et la démocratie (FRUD).
Decision-making is centralized around the president. Until April 1999, Djibouti had had only one president, Hassan Gouled Aptidon, who was then replaced by his close confidant, and former security chief, Ismaël Omar Geulleh. He has continued in the same vein, eliminating political opponents and using military force to crush the rebels. In 2005 Geulleh achieved a second six-year term, and in the 2008 general election, due to an opposition boycott, his coalition won every seat in the National Assembly.
www.presidence.dj/ Presidency, in French
www.gouv-exil.org/index.html Government in exile - Brussels-based site with news and information
Land area: 23,000 sq. km.
Population: 0.8 million—urban 88%
Capital city: Djibouti, 596,000
People: Somali 60%, Afar 35%, other 5%
Language: French, Arabic, Somali, Afar
Religion: Muslim 94%, Christian 6%
Life expectancy: 55 years
GDP per capita: $PPP 2,061
Currency: Djibouti franc
Major exports: Hides and skins, coffee