The Republic of Djibouti gained its independence on June 27, 1977. It
is the successor to French Somaliland (later called the French Territory
of the Afars and Issas), which was created in the first half of the 19th
century as a result of French interest in the Horn of Africa. However,
the history of Djibouti, recorded in poetry and songs of its nomadic peoples,
goes back thousands of years to a time when Djiboutians traded hides and
skins for the perfumes and spices of ancient Egypt, India, and China. Through
close contacts with the Arabian peninsula for more than 1,000 years, the
Somali and Afar tribes in this region became the first on the African continent
to adopt Islam.
It was Rochet d'Hericourt's exploration into Shoa (1839-42) that marked
the beginning of French interest in the African shores of the Red Sea.
Further exploration by Henri Lambert, French Consular Agent at Aden, and
Captain Fleuriot de Langle led to a treaty of friendship and assistance
between France and the sultans of Raheita, Tadjoura, and Gobaad, from whom
the French purchased the anchorage of Obock (1862).
Growing French interest in the area took place against a backdrop of
British activity in Egypt and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. In
1884-85, France expanded its protectorate to include the shores of the
Gulf of Tadjoura and the Somaliland. Boundaries of the protectorate, marked
out in 1897 by France and Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia, were affirmed
further by agreements with Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I in 1945 and
The administrative capital was moved from Obock to Djibouti in 1896.
Djibouti, which has a good natural harbor and ready access to the Ethiopian
highlands, attracted trade caravans crossing East Africa as well as Somali
settlers from the south. The Franco-Ethiopian railway, linking Djibouti
to the heart of Ethiopia, was begun in 1897 and reached Addis Ababa in
June 1917, further facilitating the increase of trade.
During the Italian invasion and occupation of Ethiopia in the 1930s
and during World War II, constant border skirmishes occurred between French
and Italian forces. The area was ruled by the Vichy (French) government
from the fall of France until December 1942, and fell under British blockade
during that period. Free French and the Allied forces recaptured Djibouti
at the end of 1942. A local battalion from Djibouti participated in the
liberation of France in 1944.
On July 22, 1957, the colony was reorganized to give the people considerable
self-government. On the same day, a decree applying the Overseas Reform
Act (Loi Cadre) of June 23, 1956, established a territorial assembly that
elected eight of its members to an executive council. Members of the executive
council were responsible for one or more of the territorial services and
carried the title of minister. The council advised the French-appointed
In a September 1958 constitutional referendum, French Somaliland opted
to join the French community as an overseas territory. This act entitled
the region to representation by one deputy and one senator in the French
Parliament, and one counselor in the French Union Assembly.
The first elections to the territorial assembly were held on November
23, 1958, under a system of proportional representation. In the next assembly
elections (1963), a new electoral law was enacted. Representation was abolished
in exchange for a system of straight plurality vote based on lists submitted
by political parties in seven designated districts. Ali Aref Bourhan, allegedly
of Turkish origin, was selected to be the president of the executive council.
French President Charles de Gaulle's August 1966 visit to Djibouti was
marked by 2 days of public demonstrations by Somalis demanding independence.
On September 21, 1966, Louis Saget, appointed governor general of the territory
after the demonstrations, announced the French Government's decision to
hold a referendum to determine whether the people would remain within the
French Republic or become independent. In March 1967, 60% chose to continue
the territory's association with France.
In July of that year, a directive from Paris formally changed the name
of the region to the French Territory of Afars and Issas. The directive
also reorganized the governmental structure of the territory, making the
senior French representative, formerly the governor general, a high commissioner.
In addition, the executive council was redesignated as the council of government,
with nine members.
In 1975, the French Government began to accommodate increasingly insistent
demands for independence. In June 1976, the territory's citizenship law,
which favored the Afar minority, was revised to reflect more closely the
weight of the Issa Somali. The electorate voted for independence in a May
1977 referendum, and the Republic of Djibouti was established on June 27,
1977. Hassan Gouled Aptidon became the countrys first president.
In 1981, Hassen Gouled Aptidon was elected President of Djibouti. He
was re-elected, unopposed, to a second 6-year term in April 1987 and to
a third 6-year term in May 1993 multiparty elections. The electorate approved
the current Constitution in September 1992. Many laws and decrees from
before independence remain in effect.
In early 1992, the government decided to permit multiple party politics
and agreed to the registration of four political parties. By the time of
the national assembly elections in December 1992, only three had qualified.
They are the Rassemblement Populaire Pour le Progres (People's Rally for
Progress) (RPP) which was the only legal party from 1981 until 1992; the
Parti du Renouveau Democratique (The Party for Democratic Renewal) (PRD),
and the Parti National Democratique (National Democratic Party) (PND).
Only the RPP and the PRD contested the national assembly elections, and
the PND withdrew, claiming that there were too many unanswered questions
on the conduct of the elections and too many opportunities for government
fraud. The RPP won all 65 seats in the national assembly, with a turnout
of less than 50% of the electorate.
In 1999, President Hassan Gouled Aptidons chief of staff, head of security,
and key adviser for over 20 years, Ismail Omar Guelleh was elected to the
presidency as the RPP candidate. He received 74% of the vote, the other
26% going to opposition candidate Moussa Ahmed Idriss, of the Unified Djiboutian
Opposition (ODU). For the first time since independence, no group boycotted
the election. Moussa Ahmed Idriss and the ODU later challenged the results
based on election "irregularities" and the assertion that "foreigners"
had voted in various districts of the capital; however, international and
locally based observers considered the election to be generally fair, and
cited only minor technical difficulties. Ismail Omar Guelleh took the oath
of office as the second President of the Republic of Djibouti on May 8,
1999, with the support of an alliance between the RPP and the government-recognized
section of the Afar-led FRUD.
Currently, political power is shared by a Somali president and an Afar
prime minister, with cabinet posts roughly divided. However, the Issas
presently dominate the government, civil service, and the ruling party,
a situation that has bred resentment and political competition between
the Somali Issas and the Afars.
In early November 1991, civil war erupted in Djibouti between the government
and a predominantly Afar rebel group, the Front for the Restoration of
Unity and Democracy (FRUD). The FRUD signed a peace accord with the government
in December 1994, ending the conflict. Two FRUD members were made cabinet
members, and in the presidential elections of 1999 the FRUD campaigned
in support of the RPP. In February 2000, another branch of FRUD signed
a peace accord with the government.
On May 12, 2001, President Ismail Omar Guelleh presided over the signing
of what is termed the final peace accord officially ending the decade-long
civil war between the government and the armed faction of the FRUD. The
peace accord successfully completed the peace process begun on February
7, 2000 in Paris. Ahmed Dini Ahmed represented the FRUD.