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Djibouti History, Language and Culture

History of Djibouti

Inhabited at least since the Neolithic age, Djibouti is one of the cradles of human civilisation and is a likely contender to have been part of the region known to the Ancient Egyptians as Punt as long ago as 2500BC.

Somali and Afar ethnic groups in the area were early adopters of Islam and for much of the medieval period the land we now know as Djibouti changed hands between a variety of Muslim sultanates and the more powerful Ethiopian emperors.

Once the French established a permanent administration in the city of Djibouti in the early 1890s they created French Somaliland in the surrounding region, affording it 'overseas territory' status in 1945. That lasted until 1967 when it was blessed with the catchy moniker, the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas (TFAI).

Tensions between the Afars, the Issas and the French led to sporadic outbreaks of violence during the late 1960s and early 1970s until in 1977, the French agreed to withdraw and the country achieved independence with Hassan Gouled Aptidon as president.

A sizeable French military presence in the country guaranteed the Gouled regime, which was threatened by organised opposition – both inside the country and abroad – and by the instability of its larger neighbours, Somalia and Ethiopia and, later on, Eritrea.

In 1991, Afar tribesmen launched a major assault on the regime, under the rubric of Le Front pour la Restauration de l'Unité et la Démocratie (FRUD). After two years of fighting, the rebellion was quashed with French support and, in May 1993, Gouled was re-elected as president.

After a major split within FRUD, part of the movement formed an alliance with the government and the ruling Rassemblement Populaire pour le Progrès (RPP).

Gouled resigned in the spring of 1999 after 22 years in office. Gouled's nephew and former security chief, Ismail Omar Guelleh, replaced him and comfortably won the April 1999 poll.

Apart from a failed coup in December 2000 – orchestrated by a disaffected former police chief – Djibouti has since enjoyed a welcome spell of domestic calm.

In April 2005, Guelleh won a second-term in a one-man presidential election, a feat he repeated in 2011 and 2016 with 80 per cent and 86 per cent of the respective votes cast.

Did you know?

• An incredible 88 per cent Djibouti's largest forest, the Day Forest, has been lost in the last 200 years – more than 20 per cent in the last 50 years.

• Somali love songs in the Balwo style are popular in Djibouti.

• The Djibouti francolin bird is critically endangered and is only known in two locations.

Djibouti Culture

Religion in Djibouti

Predominantly Muslim (94%) with Roman Catholic, Protestant and Greek Orthodox minorities.

Social Conventions in Djibouti

Casual wear is widely acceptable, but visitors are reminded that Djibouti is a Muslim country and certain codes of behaviour should be observed.

Language in Djibouti

The official languages are Arabic and French. Afar and Somali are spoken locally. English is spoken by hoteliers, taxi drivers and traders.