Djibouti, officially the Republic of Djibouti, is a strategically located country in the Horn of Africa near the Red Sea. For a country of its size, it packs in unbelievably weird landscapes such as salt lakes, deep ravines, extinct volcanoes, majestic canyons, sunken plains, and basaltic plateaus. Here are some interesting facts about Djibouti.
Facts about Djibouti
1. Djibouti is the eighth-smallest country in Africa.
Occupying a total area of 23,200 km² (9,000 sq mi), Djibouti is Africa’s eighth-smallest country. Comparatively, it is marginally larger than the US state of New Jersey.
2. Djibouti shares a land border with three countries.
Djibouti is bordered by Eritrea (125 km/78 mi) in the north, Ethiopia (342 km/213 mi) in the west and south, and Somalia (61 km/38 mi) in the southeast.
3. Djibouti has a total coastline length of 314 km (195 mi).
Djibouti’s 314 km (195 mi) coastline lies on the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in the east of the country.
4. Djibouti is home to Africa’s lowest point on land below sea level.
One of the fascinating facts about Djibouti is that it is home to Lake Assal, which at -155 m (-509 ft) below sea level, is the lowest point on land in Africa and the third-lowest point on Earth after the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea.
Lake Assal is Djibouti’s version of the Dead Sea and its water is totally saturated with salt, so there’s not much chance of a swim. This crater lake is encircled by dark, dormant volcanoes, and its shores are carpeted with spheres of angular gypsum and halite.
5. 90% of land in Djibouti is covered in desert.
90% of Djibouti is desert, 9%percent is pasture land, and less than one percent is forest.
6. The tallest mountain in Djibouti is Moussa Ali.
Situated on the tripoint border of Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, the stratovolcano (a volcano composed of alternating layers of lava and ash) Moussa Ali rises to an elevation of 2,021 m (6,631 ft).
7. Djibouti is the least populated country on the African mainland.
With a population of a little over one million, Djibouti is the least populous African mainland country and the fifth-least populated country in Africa.
8. Djibouti has no permanent rivers or streams.
As a result of Djibouti’s hot, mostly dry climate, no permanent above-ground streams or rivers flow through the country
9. Djibouti was once part of the ancient Kingdom of Aksum.
Aksum was the name of a city and a kingdom which is essentially present-day northern Ethiopia (Tigray Province), Eritrea, and Djibouti. The kingdom existed between the early 2nd century and the 10th century, and its polity was centered in Aksum city. According to legend, Aksum is believed to be the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant.
At its apogee in the 3rd–6th centuries, the Aksum empire was reckoned to be one of the world’s foremost powers. It encompassed both sides of the southern Red Sea controlling all seaborne commerce between Ancient India and the Roman Empire. However, from the 7th century, increased competition from Muslim Arab traders saw Aksum begin to decline.
10. Before European colonization, Djibouti was home to several kingdoms
From the ninth century until European colonization, Djibouti at one point in time was part of the Kingdom of Adal, the Ifat Sultanate, and the Ottoman Empire.
11. The two largest ethnic groups in Djibouti are the Somalis and the Afar.
Most people in Djibouti belong to one of two main ethnic groups: the Issa Somalis and the Afars (also known as the Danakils). While the Afars and Somalis are culturally and linguistically related, they have traditionally been rivals for political and economic power.
The Somalis, who make up around 60% of Djibouti’s population, are concentrated in the capital and the southeastern quarter of the country. More than half the Somalis belong to the Issa clan, one of the six major Somali clans. The remainder of the Somalis are predominantly members of the Gadabuursi and Isaaq clans that migrated to Djibouti from northern Somalia during the 20th century.
The Afars, who make up around 30% of Djibouti’s population, are concentrated in northern and southwestern parts of the country, including the regions of Obock, Tadjourah, and western Dikhil. Afars are also present in the regions of Ethiopia and Eritrea that adjoin Djibouti, an area sometimes referred to as the “Afar triangle.”
The remaining of Djibouti’s population consists largely of Arabs of Yemeni background. European expatriates (mostly French) reside in the country, as do fluctuating numbers of refugees from Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia.
12. Djibouti was colonized by France.
Due to its strategic and commercial importance on the Red Sea coast, Djibouti was contested by many powers. In this process of the “Scramble for Africa”, the Horn of Africa was partitioned among Britain, Italy, and France.
France decided to establish its colonial foothold in 1862 along what is now the northeastern coast of Djibouti. This tentative venture became in 1884–85 the protectorates of Obock and Tadjoura, which were merged to form French Somaliland after the ruling Somalis and Afar sultans each signed a treaty with the French.
Following World War II, French Somaliland became an Overseas Territory of France but gradually gained more autonomy in local affairs. In 1967, French Somaliland was renamed the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas.
13. Djibouti achieved independence in 1977 after a third referendum.
As early as the late 1940s, several anti-colonial demonstrations were led by the Issa Somalis, who were in favor of creating “Greater Somalia”, encompassing all the regions of the Horn of Africa in which Somalis were the dominant ethnic group. Meanwhile, the Afars were in favor of continued French rule.
Two independence referendums were held in Djibouti in 1958 and 1967, which rejected independence. In these referendums, the vote closely followed ethnic lines; most Issa-Somalis voted for independence, and Afars and Arabs voted against it. However, both referendums were marred by reports of vote-rigging on the part of the French authorities.
After the 1967 plebiscite, the country’s name was changed from French Somaliland to the French Territory of the Afars and Issas. In 1976, the territory’s citizenship law (which had favored the Afar minority), was revised to admit more Issa-Somalis.
In the third referendum in May 1977, buttressed by the now-enlarged Issa majority, Djiboutians voted decisively for independence. On 27 June 1977, the country finally won its sovereignty from France and officially became the Republic of Djibouti.
14. Islam is the official religion of Djibouti.
Islam is Djibouti’s state religion, and nearly all of the country’s population is Sunni Muslim. The Islam practiced in Djibouti is markedly less conservative than in some other Islamic nations. Although alcohol is frowned upon by Islam, alcohol consumption is openly tolerated in Djibouti.
15. Arabic and French are the official languages of Djibouti.
French is used in print, in the media, in higher education, in the judicial system, and in public services. Arabic is also taught as the first language in primary and secondary schools and carries religious importance.
16. The most widely spoken languages in Djibouti are Somali and Afar.
Although French and Arabic are the official languages, the mother tongue of the vast majority of Djiboutians is Somali and Afar, both of which belong to the larger Afroasiatic Cushitic language family.
17. The only permanent US military base in Africa is in Djibouti.
One of the lesser-known Djibouti facts is that it is home to the only permanent US military base on the African continent. The country’s location on the Bab el-Mandeb Strait gives it great geostrategic and economic importance as this narrow strait gives access to the Suez Canal and is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.
Also, being a small country in a fractious region marked by ethnic conflicts and bloody border wars, Djibouti has closely collaborated with foreign powers for preserving its security.
Since 2002, the US military has leased Camp Lemonnier, a former French Foreign Legion base adjacent to Djibouti International Airport. Presently, Camp Lemonnier houses about 2,200 US military and civilian personnel.
18. The capital of Djibouti is Djibouti.
Djibouti is the eponymous capital and largest city of Djibouti. With the exception of city-states like Singapore, few world cities dominate their nation as Djibouti does. It is home to nearly two-thirds of the country’s population.
19. The currency of Djibouti is the Djiboutian franc (DJF).
Since 1949, the Djiboutian franc (DJF) has been pegged against the US dollar (USD).
20. Djibouti suffered a civil war from 1991-1994.
Djibouti has always been hounded by ethnic tensions between Afars and Issas. After Djibouti’s independence in 1977, Issas dominated the nation’s civil service, military, and political scene.
Feeling marginalized by the uneven sharing power in the country, tensions once again began to flare between the Issas and Afars, culminating in an Afar attack on military barracks in Tadjourah in January 1991.
In November 1991, roughly 3,000 Afar fighters representing the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD) launched the Djiboutian Civil War by capturing most of northern Djibouti. The FRUD continued its battle against government forces until late 1994 when most of the organization’s leaders brokered a peace accord.
This led to the disarmament and integration of some of the FRUD fighters into Djibouti’s military and the legal recognition of FRUD as a political party. Despite the peace accord, ethnic hostility between the Afars and Issas hasn’t completely subsided.
21. Football is the most popular sport in Djibouti.
Football is undoubtedly the most popular sport in Djibouti. However, the Djibouti national football team has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup or even the Africa Cup of Nations.
22. Djibouti has won only one Olympic medal.
Djibouti first competed at the Summer Olympics in 1984. The country’s first and only Olympic medal came at the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul when Hussein Ahmed Salah won bronze in the men’s marathon. Djibouti has never competed in the Winter Olympics.
23. There are currently no UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Djibouti.
However, this might change in the future as there are ten sites on UNESCO’s tentative list.
24. Djibouti has had only two presidents since its independence in 1977.
One of the things to know about Djibouti is that only two men have ever served as the country’s leader since it became independent in 1977. Hassan Gouled Aptidon was the first President of Djibouti from 1977 to 1999. Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, the current president of Djibouti, has been in office since 1999.
25. In Djibouti, photographing infrastructure (such as ports, public buildings, airports, military facilities, and bridges) is prohibited.
One of the weirdest laws in Djibouti is that taking photographs of infrastructure (such as ports, public buildings, airports, military facilities, and bridges) is strictly prohibited. Failure to comply could lead to your photographic equipment being confiscated, and you can even be arrested!
26. The national dish of Djibouti is Skoudehkaris.
Skoudehkaris is Djibouti’s national dish, an aromatic one-pot lamb and rice dish enriched with the delicious flavors of cilantro, cumin, cloves, cayenne pepper, cardamom, and tomatoes. Occasionally, the lamb can be substituted by chicken, fish, or beef.
27. The Djibouti francolin, a critically endangered bird can only be found in Djibouti.
The endemic Djibouti Francolin, one of over forty species of francolins belonging to the pheasant family, can only be found in the juniper forest in the mountains of Djibouti. It is recognizable by its grayish-brown color with white stripes and streaks.
The francolin’s numbers have fallen by around 70 % in forty years, mainly due to unprecedented weather conditions Its current population is estimated to be between 200 and 500 adult individuals.
28. Even though much of Djibouti’s population is poor, a significant percentage of household income is spent on the drug khat.
Illegal in many Western nations, Khat is a shrub typically grown in Ethiopia and Kenya. In Djibouti, chewing khat, which gives the chewer a mild amphetamine-like high is a practice deeply ingrained in society. Although it is mostly chewed by adult males, women and teenagers also use khat.
But like alcohol and drugs in the West, khat is addictive and has taken a social and economic toll on the nation. Various organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and UNICEF estimate that at least 20-30% of household income in Djibouti goes to the narcotic plant, a staggering amount considering many Djiboutians live in poverty.
Chronic khat chewing also causes health issues like cardiovascular and gastrointestinal diseases, tooth decay, sleep deprivation, and psychological effects.
In 1978, Djibouti’s first president Hassan Gouled Aptidon tried to ban the narcotic, but his decision ignited riots on the streets and nearly led to the overthrow of the government. Since then the government has largely taken a laissez-faire stance toward the drug, which is legal in the country.
29. Djibouti is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Few places in the world are as threatened by climate change as the small country of Djibouti. A 2021 report by the World Bank estimates that warming in Djibouti will increase between 0.6°C and 2.4°C by 2050 and up to 5.4°C by 2100. As one of the hottest places on the planet already, this is a bleak forecast.
Water scarcity is a major ongoing concern in Djibouti. Nearly all drinking water comes from aging wells that tap groundwater aquifers. However, higher temperatures and scarce rainfall has dried out many wells throughout the country. In coastal areas, rising sea levels have contaminated other water sources with salt.
Djibouti is expected to experience an increase in the occurrence and intensity of heavy rainfall events, increasing risks of floods as well as increases in the intensity and frequency of dry periods and water scarcity.
Vulnerability to climate change in the country is amplified by deficiencies in water resources management, land use planning, social-environmental and financial protection schemes, and environmental degradation and contamination.