Country profile: Djibouti

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Country profile: Djibouti


Going to school: 55% of girls go to primary school and 62% of boys. © Giacomo Pirozzi/Panos Pictures

In some ways Djibouti is changing. In the past, there was a lot of noise around the central mosque and market: people buying and selling in Arabic and Hindi, and local people speaking Somali, Afar and French. Now the city has its first high office block near there. There are new container cranes and cargo ports across the Gulf of Tadjourah. Chinese people are working on new road, rail and duty-free projects to help Ethiopia’s fast-growing economy.


But in other ways Djibouti is still a lively cosmopolitan country between Arabia, the Indian Ocean and Ethiopia. There is a lot of money from the military, and Djibouti is in an important place in the world. There is a very big new five-star hotel in the Gulf of Aden, with private beaches. France first built a port and railway here in the 1880s.

Djibouti has the smallest population in continental Africa. Only Swaziland and Gambia have a smaller area. France gave Djibouti independence in 1977, but France still had some control until 15 years ago. The President, Ismael Omar Guelleh, came to power in 1999 the year after the war in Ethiopia and Eritrea started. Since then nearly all of the foreign trade to Ethiopia comes through Djibouti. Ethiopia grew a lot, so Djibouti has opened a new container port and petroleum terminal. Investors from the United Arab Emirates paid for this and manage it.


A journalist at a local radio station. Giocomo Pirozzi/Panos Pictures

There will be a lot more business with Ethiopia in 2016. The French built the first railway, and now it is run with Chinese money and workers. Quicker trade to Addis Ababa will mean more Foreign Direct Investment. Port fees and Ethiopia’s trade are the most important part of Djibouti’s economy. Ethiopia gives money, electricity and water to dry Djibouti.

They also get a lot of money from military facilities. The French Foreign Legion moved to the Gulf in 2011, but Djibouti is still Paris’ largest base in Africa. Since 2008 it has had 3,500 US military (the main US military base in Africa). They control surveillance, special operations and drone flights over Somalia and Yemen. In 2011 Japan opened a military base there and in 2015 the President announced that China will soon open one too. Djibouti is also the centre for the EU and NATO work against piracy.

The country gets at least $120 million a year for these military bases, but they do not bring jobs or business for local people. The government is also very good at getting investment and aid from Arab, Asian and OECD allies. But the country’s development is very poor and the money does not help poverty or public services.

More than 40 per cent of Djibouti’s population live in extreme poverty. More than 70 per cent of young people are unemployed. The World Food Programme says malnutrition is rising. They import most food from other countries. The cost of living is high, and everyone chews expensive imported qat (a mild stimulant). The worst poverty is around the cities, where most people live.

Most people are cut off from the government. In 2013, they tried to involve more people, but many said there was cheating in the elections, and there was violence. The media has no freedom; human rights activists and people who criticize the government often get arrested. This will probably not change in the elections for president planned for April 2016.

Davi Styan

Country profile: Djibouti Fact File

Leader President Ismael Omar Guelleh; Prime Minister Abdoulkader Kamil Mohamed.

Economy GDP per person $1,805 (Ethiopia $565, France $42,730). Most important in the economy are the port (important for the whole area) and payment from foreign military bases. The unemployment rate is about 60%, with even more young people unemployed.

Money Djiboutian franc (tied to the US dollar).

Main exports Most exports are selling products from Ethiopia and Somaliland eg. animals, leather and animal skins, scrap metal and coffee.

People 876,000. Three-quarters live in the capital city. Annual population growth 1990-2013 1.7%. People per square kilometre 38 (UK 260). There are now about 5,000 refugees from the conflict in Yemen.

Health Infant mortality 57 per 1,000 live births (Ethiopia 44, France 4). Lifetime risk of maternal death 1 in 130 (France 1 in 4,300). HIV 0.9%.

Environment Djibouti is nearly all desert. The only green area is in the north. Farming is only possible on a thousandth of the country’s area. There is not enough water, and it is one of the hottest countries in the world, so only 10 square kilometres has irrigation.

Culture Somali 60%, Afar 35%, other 5%.

Religion Muslim 94% (mainly Sunni), Christian 6%.

Language French and Arabic (official), Somali, Afar.

Human development index 0.465,170th of 187 countries (Ethiopia 0.435, France 0.884).

Country profile: Djibouti in detail

Income It’s the most unequal country in the Horn of Africa. There are rich businesses and very poor people.

Life expectancy 62 years (Ethiopia 64, France 82).

Position of women Since 2008, women must have at least 20% of high-level public-service jobs. Women have the same legal rights as men (except sharia inheritance). But there is no law against sexual harassment. FGM has been illegal since 1995 but many women still suffer some cutting.

Literacy Unknown. Literacy is low but has improved since last profile (about 10%). Only 58% of children go to primary school. They do not want to teach in local languages.

Freedom The government controls what people and the media say about politics. It cannot control social media so much because there are links to other countries.

Sexual minorities There have never been any laws against same-sex activity but there are no anti-discrimination laws. Sexual minorities have to keep secret.

NI Assessment (Politics) They changed the constitution in 2011 so there are no limits to how many times the president can be the same person. President Guelleh will probably win for the fourth time in April 2016. There are opposition parties, but they have many problems. Djibouti’s place in the world is very important. This means the US and the EU often ignore problems with elections and human rights there.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).