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The History Page


                      THE HISTORY OF ...
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 among 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, Tadjoura, and Gobaad, from whom the French purchased the anchorage of Obock in 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 Tadjoura and the Somaliland, installing Léonce Lagarde as governor of this protectorate. Boundaries of the protectorate, marked out in 1897 by France and Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia, were reaffirmed by agreements with Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia in 1945 and 1954.
The administrative capital was moved from Obock to Djibouti in 1896. 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, increasing the volume of trade passing through the port. 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.
Reform 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.
Independence: 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, and the Republic of Djibouti was established June that same year. Hassan Gouled Aptidon became the country's first president. In 1981, Aptidon turned the country into a one party state by declaring that his party, the Rassemblement Populaire pour le Progrès (RPP) (People's Rally for Progress), was the sole legal one. Civil war broke out in 1991, 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. Aptidon resigned as president 1999, at the age of 83, after being elected to a fifth term in 1997. His successor was his nephew, Ismail Omar Guelleh. On May 12, 2001, President Ismail Omar Guelleh presided over the signing of what is 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.
Government Type: Republic. Constitution: Ratified September 1992 by referendum.
Independence: June 27, 1977.
Branches: Executive--president. Legislative--65-member parliament, cabinet, prime minister. Judicial--based on French civil law system, traditional practices, and Islamic law. Administrative subdivisions: 6 cercles (districts)--Ali-Sabieh, Arta, Dikhil, Djibouti, Obock, and Tadjoura. Political parties: People's Rally for Progress (RPP) established in 1981; New Democratic Party (PRD) and the National Democratic Party (PND) were both established in 1992; and the Front For The Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD) was legally recognized in 1994. Five additional parties were established in 2002: Djibouti Development Party (PDD); Peoples Social Democratic Party (PPSD); Republican Alliance for Democracy (ARD); Union for Democracy and Justice (UDJ); Movement for Democratic Renewal (MRD). Suffrage: Universal at 18.National holiday: Independence Day, June 27 (1977). Economy: GNP (2002 est.): $600 million. Adjusted per capita income: $850 per capita for expatriates, $450 for Djiboutians. Natural resources: Minerals (salt, perlite, gypsum, limestone) and energy resources (geothermal and solar). Agriculture (less than 3% of GDP): Products--livestock, fishing, and limited commercial crops, including fruits and vegetables. Industry: Types--banking and insurance (12.5% of GDP), Public administration (22% of GDP), construction and public works, manufacturing, commerce, and agriculture. Trade (2002 est.): Imports--$665 million, consists of basic commodities, pharmaceutical drugs, durable and nondurable goods. Exports--$155 million, consists of everyday personal effects, household effects, hides and skins, and coffee. Major markets (2004)--France, Ethiopia, Somalia, India, China, and Saudi Arabia and other Arabian peninsula countries.
PEOPLE: About two-thirds of the Republic of Djibouti's 650,000 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 3,000 troops.
Geography: Area: 21,883 sq. km. (8,450 sq. mi.); about the size of Massachusetts. Cities: Capital--Djibouti. Other cities--Dikhil, Arta, Ali-Sabieh, Obock, Tadjoura.Terrain: Coastal desert. Climate: Torrid and dry.