Djibouti, Republic of

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Djibouti, Republic of


a country in northeastern Africa, bounded by Ethiopia, the Somali Democratic Republic, and the Indian Ocean. Area, 22,000 sq km. Population, 220,000 (1976, UN estimate). The capital is Djibouti.

Constitution and government. Djibouti is a republic. The head of state is the president, who is also commander in chief of the armed forces. The president, who has executive power, appoints the prime minister and, on the prime minister’s recommendation, other members of the government. Legislative power is vested in the National Assembly, consisting of 65 deputies.

Natural features. Djibouti has a slightly indented coastline with only one large inlet, the Gulf of Tadjoura. The terrain is mountainous. Mountain massifs alternate with low lava plateaus dotted by the cones of extinct volcanoes. Along the Ethiopian border the country’s highest peak, Moussa Ali, rises to 2,022 m. Through the center of the country runs a latitudinal fault occupied by the Gulf of Tadjoura and the Lake Assal depression, lying 153 m below sea level. Mineral resources include deposits of gypsum, mica, salt, and sulfur.

The climate is tropical and arid, with average monthly temperatures of 27°-32°C and a maximum of up to 40°C. The annual precipitation ranges from 100 mm to 400 mm. There are no permanent rivers. The land supports semidesert grass and scrub vegetation. In the northern mountains grow sparse woodlands, and doum and date palms are found in the oases. The fauna consists of larger mammals, including antelopes, hyenas, and jackals. There are numerous reptiles and insects.

Population. The eastern regions are populated by Issas (Somali) and the western regions by Afars (Danakil). There are also Arabs and Europeans, chiefly French, Italians, and Greeks. The official language is Arabic. The majority of the inhabitants are Sunni Muslims, although the Afars also adhere to their traditional beliefs. The official calendar is the Gregorian. Nomads make up about half of the population. In 1969 there were about 17,200 manual and office workers. The average population density is ten persons per sq km (1976). The most densely settled areas are in the southeast (10–50 persons per sq km), and the most sparsely inhabited region is the northwest (one person per sq km). The largest cities are Djibouti, with about 130,000 inhabitants in 1976, and Tadjoura. .

Historical survey. Until the mid-19th century the history of the country was closely related to that of the rest of the Somali Peninsula. In 1862 a representative of the French government concluded a treaty providing for the “purchase” of the port of Obock with a chief of the nomadic Afars, who roamed along the Gulf of Tadjoura. Thereafter, French troops were garrisoned in the port. In 1896 the entire region was proclaimed a French colony (French Somaliland), with Djibouti as its capital. The local population’s resistance to the colonialists, which had begun in the late 19th century, intensified during World War I, when anti-French uprisings broke out among various tribes in 1917–18. In 1946, French Somaliland was granted the status of overseas territory.

In 1958 and 1966, during visits by President De Gaulle, mass demonstrations calling for independence were held in Djibouti. However, as a result of a referendum held in March 1967 under the supervision of the colonial authorities, the country was declared an autonomous territory within the French Republic. In June 1967 it was renamed the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas. The basic functions of government, matters of foreign policy, defense, finance, and justice, remained under the jurisdiction of the French high commissioner.

Demonstrations demanding independence did not cease after 1967. An opposition organization, the Popular African League for Independence, was founded in 1975. It proclaimed as its goal the struggle for the country’s political sovereignty. In 1976, France agreed to grant independence to the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas in 1977. A referendum held on May 8, 1977, showed that 98.7 percent of the voters supported independence, and Djibouti was proclaimed an independent republic on June 27,1977. Hassan Gouled Aptidon, chairman of the Popular African League for Independence (renamed the Popular Assembly for Progress in March 1979), became the country’s president. In its domestic policy the government of the Republic of Djibouti aimed to overcome the country’s backwardness and to unite its political forces. Foreign policy supported the principles of nona-lignment and peaceful coexistence, the maintenance of close ties with France (with which country a number of new agreements were concluded), and the establishment of friendly relations with Arab countries. The Republic of Djibouti is a member of the United Nations, the Organization of African Unity, and the Arab League. The USSR recognized the Republic of Djibouti on the date it became independent, and diplomatic relations between the two countries were established in April 1978.


Economy. Djibouti is an agrarian country. Less than 1 percent of its territory is cultivated, and some 11 percent is under pasture. The main occupation is nomadic and seminomadic livestock raising. In 1976 the livestock population numbered 678,000 sheep and goats, 18,000 cattle, and 25,000 camels. Crop farming is poorly developed. The main crops are fruits, vegetables, cereals, coffee, and date palms. Other economic activities include fishing and crabbing, the harvesting of mother-of-pearl and pearls, and the gathering of sponges and corals. Industry is represented by small food-processing enterprises, leather, textile, and tanning factories, an ice-making plant, and shipyards. Salt is extracted from seawater. The country’s thermal electric power plants generated 46 million kW-hrs in 1973.

There are 98 km of railroads and 1,300 km of motor-vehicle roads, including 450 km of asphalt road. The automotive fleet (1970) includes 7,200 automobiles and 1,100 trucks. The large port of Djibouti handles transit cargo and provides ship maintenance. Cargo turnover was 636,000 tons in 1976, with about 75 percent of its cargo coming from Ethiopia. Transit trade and the handling of Ethiopian railroad freight account for about 20 percent of the country’s income. In 1974 exports (including the transit of Ethiopian coffee beans), chiefly skins and hides, totaled 3.7 billion Djibouti francs, and imports, mostly foodstuffs, raw materials, machinery, and equipment (including transit cargo), amounted to 21.7 billion Djibouti francs. The country’s main trading partners are France, Ethiopia, Italy, and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. There is a duty-free zone. The monetary unit is the Djibouti franc, equal to 0.026 French francs on Jan. 1,1975.


Education. In 1962, 96 percent of the population was illiterate. The educational system is modeled on the French system. At the age of six children are enrolled in a six-year primary school. The seven-year secondary school is divided into two cycles of four and three years each. In 1971, 7,000 children were enrolled in primary schools, 1,400 of them in private (missionary) schools. Another 1,900 students were enrolled in secondary general or technical schools, most of them in the first cycle.


Trofimov, V. A. “Frantsuzskii Bereg Somali—posledniaia koloniia Frantsii na afrikanskom kontinente.” In Afrikanskii sbornik, vol. 2. Moscow, 1964.
Trofimov, V. A. Politika Frantsii v Azii i Afrike. Moscow, 1965. Chapter 6.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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