History of Djibouti

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.

The beginning

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 one-thousand years, the Somali and Afar tribes in this region became among the first on the African continent to adopt Islam.

French Interest

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.

French Somaliland

Growing French interest in the area took place against a backdrop of British actvity in Egypt and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. In 1884-85, France expanded its protectorate to include parts of Somaliland. Léonce Lagarde was installed 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 in 1896. The city of Djibouti, which had a harbor with good access that attracted trade caravans crossing East Africa as well as Somali settlers from the south, became the new administrative capital. The Franco-Ethiopian railway, linking Djibouti to the heart of Ethiopia, began in 1897 and reached Addis Ababa in June 1917, increasing the volume of trade passing through the port.

World War II

After the Italian invasion and occupation of Ethiopia in the mid-1930s, constant border skirmishes occurred between French forces in French Somaliland and Italian forces in Italian East Africa. In June 1940, during the early stages of World War II, France fell and the colony was then ruled by the pro-Axis Vichy (French) government.

British and Commonwealth forces fought the neighboring Italians during the East African Campaign. In 1941, the Italians were defeated and the Vichy forces in French Somaliland were isolated. The Vichy French continued to hold out in the colony for over a year after the Italian collapse. In December 1942, after a 101-day long British blockade, Governor Pierre Nouailhetas surrendered French Somaliland. [Time Magazine, [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,790256,00.html Story of a Siege] ] Free French and Allied forces then occupied the French colony. [Time Magazine, [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,851401,00.html Mighty Invasion] ] Before the war ended, the colony fell under the Provisional Government of the French Republic.

A local battalion from French Somaliland participated in the Liberation of Paris in 1944.


On July 22 1957, the colony was reorganized by the French Fourth Republic to give the people of French Somaliland 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.

On October 5 1958, the French Fifth Republic was formed. 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.

French Territory of the Afars and Issas

In July of that year, a directive from Paris formally changed the name of the region to the French Territory of the 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.


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. A 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, led by Ahmed Dini Ahmed, an Afar nationalist and former Gouled political ally. The peace accord successfully completed the peace process begun on February 7, 2000 in Paris. Ahmed Dini Ahmed represented the FRUD.Fact|date=August 2008

In the presidential election held April 8, 2005 Ismail Omar Guelleh was re-elected to a second 6-year term at the head of a multi-party coalition that included the FRUD and other major parties. A loose coalition of opposition parties again boycotted the election. Currently, political power is shared by a Somali president and an Afar prime minister, with an Afar career diplomat as Foreign Minister and other cabinet posts roughly divided. However, Issas are predominate in the government, civil service, and the ruling party. That, together with a shortage of non-government employment, has bred resentment and continued political competition between the Issa Somalis and the Afars. In March 2006, Djibouti held its first regional elections and began implementing a decentralization plan. The broad pro-government coalition, including FRUD candidates, again ran unopposed when the government refused to meet opposition preconditions for participation. A nationwide voter registration campaign is now underway in advance of the scheduled 2008 parliamentary elections.

External links

* [http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5482.htm Background Note: Djibouti]
* [http://www.historyofnations.net/africa/djibouti.html History of Djbouti]


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