Djibouti - Encyclopedia Information
Official name Republic of Djibouti
Formation 1977 / 1977
Population 900,000 / 101 people per sq mile (39 people per sq km)
Total area 8494 sq. miles (22,000 sq. km)
Languages Somali, Afar, French*, Arabic*
Religions Muslim (mainly Sunni) 94%, Christian 6%
Ethnic mix Issa 60%, Afar 35%, Other 5%
Government Presidential system
Currency Djibouti franc = 100 centimes
Literacy rate 70%
Calorie consumption 2210 kilocalories
The Republic of Djibouti (formerly called French Somaliland) was the last of the African French colonies to gain its independence in 1977. The country experienced rising ethnic violence throughout the 1970s. The Afars (a tribe of northern Djibouti, culturally linked with Ethiopia) and the Issas (a tribe of southern Djibouti, culturally linked with Somalia) did try peaceful governance by forming the first inter-ethnic party in 1976. However Ali Aref Bourhan (b. 1934; an Afar who ruled the territory by allying with the French) lost his position when the people elected Hassan Gouled Aptidon (b. 1916; of the Issa tribe) for three six-year terms.
A 10-year civil war ensued. Although a tentative 1994 peace accord granted concessions to the Afars, ethnic conflict between the two tribes continued. Ismael Omar Guelleh (b.
1947), known for his pro-French stand, was elected to power in 2000 with his uncle Gouled’s support. He signed the final peace accord on May 12, 2001, officially ending the civil war between the government and the armed factions of the Afar rebels.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Djibouti is a volcanic desert with most of its land unfit for cultivation.
Mt. Moussa, the highest point in the country (6,768 feet), is located among the minor mountain ranges found toward the Ethiopian Highlands. The largest lake, Lake Abhe, lies on the Ethiopian border. The climate is hot and dry most of the year, with temperatures reaching 106°F in July. Rainfall is as little as five inches annually. The coastline is 500 miles long and is one of the most advantageous features of Djibouti’s geography.
Djibouti utilizes its strategic location at the mouth of the Red Sea, an important shipping nexus for goods entering and leaving the East African highlands. The economy is essentially service based. Djibouti mainly exports coffee and animal hides, but its service activities (the banking sector and port facilities—transporting, communicating, warehousing, international transshipment, and refueling) provide most of the country’s earnings. Its main imports are mostly food products, petroleum, and manufactured goods. Almost three-quarters of the labor force are engaged in subsistence agriculture, but most dwell in the city while periodically tending livestock in the rural areas. Since unemployment is rampant, along with a high population growth rate (including refugees and immigrants), Djibouti has to depend heavily on external aid (especially from France).
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
The two major ethnic groups of Djibouti—the Afars of the north and the Issas of the south—have battled fiercely in the late 20th century. Because these groups have traditionally lived as pastoral nomads and do not adhere to political boundaries, Djibouti has a huge problem of tens of thousands of refugees of both groups arriving from Somalia and Ethiopia.
The years of brutal civil war, extreme poverty, and the dire refugee situation have all taken their toll on celebrations in Djibouti.
The culture is a mix of French colonial and modern Arabic influences. The most consistently observed holidays are the Muslim holy days.
Having traditionally been pastoral nomads Djiboutians rely extensively on sheep and goats for their needs. The milk and meat is consumed, and the animal skins, mostly exported. Tomatoes and dates are the main agricultural products. Most other food items need to be imported, since Djibouti lacks adequate livestock and agricultural produce for its needs.
The food is influenced by French cooking; however, the food on the streets is typically North African. It consists of chicken, fried meat, fish, lentils, or flat bread. Barbecued or baked fish with a spicy sauce is quite common. Since, as with most Muslim countries, Djiboutis do not have free access to alcohol, qat is used widely. Qat is a leaf that is chewed and is a mild stimulant. It is one of the few things you can always find piled under wet cloths at marketplaces. Qat is mostly imported from Ethiopia, whose airlines punctually drop qat consignments in Eritrea.
The Muslim belief that pregnancy is a gift from God is widespread in Djibouti. Contraception, abortions, and pre-birth sex determination are all forbidden according to strict Islamic law. After giving birth the mother stays at home breast-feeding the newborn for a 40-day period called the afatanbah. She is assisted by female relatives and neighbors. Wearing garlic amulets and burning incense sticks are rituals intended to keep evil away from the newborn.
COMING OF AGE
Both males and females are regularly circumcised in Djibouti. It is said that only after circumcision does any child become an accepted member of the adult community. Also, marrying uncircumcised partners is seen as unclean. Whereas the age of circumcision is five years for males, females are excised and infibulated between seven and fourteen years of age. For males the process is performed by medical doctors (at home or in a hospital) with pomp and show.
For girls “circumcision” (female genital mutilation, FGM) is carried out on 95 percent of the female population, although a penal code provision outlawing FGM has been in force since 1994. Among the several organizations working on the issue are the Association for the Equilibrium and Promotion of the Family (ADEPF) and the Union Nationale des Femmes de Djibouti (UNFD, National Union of Women of Djibouti), which organize workshops to raise awareness about the health risks of FGM. Both groups receive occasional media coverage. The Ministry of Health allows clinics and health training centers to distribute information about FGM.
In Djibouti the marriage age for women is between 14 and 15, and for men, 18. Men may have up to four wives as the Islamic tradition allows. Men with more than one wife in the urban areas end up sustaining different households for different families, whereas in the countryside all the wives stay together and communally take care of the livestock and farm. To have multiple wives a man must have the financial wherewithal to support them.
When a person is fatally ill, it is considered insensitive for a physician to declare that he or she will die.
A special portion of the Koran called vasin is recited at the dying person’s bedside. A person called the sheikh (male or female) prepares the body after death. The appropriate Muslim prayers are said after the body has been cleaned, perfumed, and draped in white. The family of the deceased is responsible for digging the grave. The death anniversary is an important commemoration of the deceased person.