Djibouti Today

Djibouti’s stability and neutrality, combined with its strategic position, have brought lots of benefits, especially in terms of foreign assistance, economic growth and employment – Djibouti is not dubbed 'the Dubai of the Horn' for nothing. In an effort to combat piracy off the Somali coast and counter terrorism in the region, the Americans have reinforced their military presence. As if this wasn’t enough, the Japanese set up a huge military base near the international airport in 2011. Germany and Spain also maintain a significant military presence. The total number of foreign soldiers on the Djiboutian territory is estimated at 7000, which contributes directly or indirectly to the country's income.

Djibouti City's strategic value as a port is today as important as ever. As a key trade hub to Asia, Europe and the rest of Africa, it provides the biggest source of income in a country devoid of natural resources. The port handles most of Ethiopia's imports and exports, which brings lots of fees and transit taxes. A second port is being built in Tadjoura and should be ready by 2020, and a second international road to Ethiopia – via Randa and the north – is also under construction.

Foreign investors from Asia and the Gulf are increasingly active in Djibouti, and there are building projects springing up all over the capital. There are also plans to upgrade the road system throughout the country. Last but not least, the 750km railway line, which links Addis Ababa and Djibouti City, was inaugurated in late 2016. Built by two Chinese companies, it will transport cargo and passengers between the two cities in less than 10 hours.

Arts & Crafts

Dance is arguably the highest form of culture in Djibouti, along with oral literature and poetry. Some dances celebrate major life events, such as birth, marriage or circumcision.

If you are looking for handicrafts, the traditional Afar and Somali knives and the very attractive Afar woven straw mats (known in Afar as fiddima) are among the finest products.

Environment

Djibouti’s 23,000 sq km can be divided into three geographic regions: the coastal plains which feature white, sandy beaches; the volcanic plateaus in the southern and central parts of the country; and the mountain ranges in the north, where the altitude reaches over 2000m above sea level. Essentially the country is a vast wasteland, with the exception of pockets of forest and dense vegetation to the north.

The country forms part of the Afar Triangle: a triangular depression that makes up part of the East African Rift Valley. This landscape is characterised by a series of volcanic plateaus, sunken plains and salt lakes.

Djibouti's arid land is among the least productive in Africa. Agricultural production is very limited. Livestock rearing is the most important type of farming. As demand for scarce grazing land mounts, the forests of the north are increasingly coming under threat, including the fragile Forêt du Day.

The Culture

Djiboutians are charming, respectful and very hospitable people. This has its origins in the traditionally nomadic culture of the two main ethnic groups, the Afars and Issas. Despite an increasing tendency towards a more sedentary lifestyle, most Djiboutians living in towns retain strong links with their nomadic past.

One of the most striking features in Djibouti is the overwhelming presence of chat (leaf chewed as a stimulant). The life of most Djiboutian males seems to revolve entirely around the consumption of this mild narcotic. Every day, chat consumers meet their circle of friends in the mabraz (chat den) to brouter (graze). Only 10% of women are thought to consume the plant regularly.

Of Djibouti’s estimated 920,000 inhabitants, about 35% are Afars and 60% are Issas. Both groups are Muslim. The rest of the population is divided between Arabs and Europeans. The south is predominantly Issa, while the north is mostly Afar. Ethnic tensions between Afars and Issas have always dogged Djibouti. These tensions came to a head in 1991, when Afar rebels launched a civil war in the north. A peace accord was brokered in 1994, but ethnic hostility has not completely waned.