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The Republic of Djibouti is situated in the Horn of Africa, in the northeastern part of the continent. The country is bounded by Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia, and it is across the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden from Yemen. A small country, Djibouti has a total land area of only 8,958 square miles.

Although the Djibouti region has been inhabited at least since the Neolithic Era, its current borders were created by France in the late 1800s, and achieved independence in 1977, after a century of being a protectorate and colony of France. Prior to the arrival of the French, Djibouti had no identity as a state or national unit. Léonce Lagarde was the French colonial governor of French Somaliland, as it was known between 1883 and 1967, after which it became the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas.

The two dominant ethnic groups in Djibouti (the Issa-Somali and the Afar) have opposed one another on occasion, but a minimally shared identity and national consciousness have emerged since Djibouti achieved independence, largely due to social and cultural similarities, related languages, and an adherence to Islam. Although there has been political turbulence and even armed rebellions, Djibouti has not experienced a prolonged civil war, as have so many other African countries.

In its first year of independence, Djibouti joined the African Union, the Arab League, and the United Nations.

Politics in Djibouti has been dominated by relationships between the Issa-Somali and the Afar. Prior to the region's colonization, they were nomadic traders and, although they were politically organized, they had no interest in developing a nation. The Afar had chiefdoms and sultanates and, when the French arrived, they inhabited about seventy-five percent of the land. The Issa was organized by clan loyalty and an alliance with the ruler of Zeila, a trading center on the Somali coast. During French colonization, the number of Issa in the region grew steadily through immigration from Somalia. Two other groups, the Gadabursi and the Isaak Somali, also immigrated to the region from Somalia during the 1900s. Prior to independence, the French alternately promoted the Issa and the Afar, a divisive policy that contributed to conflicts after the colonial period.

Djibouti was created as a colony of France, which imposed a centralist structure on the local pastoral societies. More than two-thirds of the territory belonged to the Afar traditionally, while a southern section was controlled by the Issa, who were nomadic herders. Although closely related linguistically, the Afar and the Somali groups, especially the Issa, have long been rivals for power and access to resources. In 1991, an armed rebellion was waged by a largely Afar movement that succeeded in taking over a large part of the country. After the 1992 elections, a military crackdown and an accommodative policy persuaded the rebels to join with the government.

As a nation, Djibouti gets its national identity from its location and the economic significance of its port, and its current government is an uneasy compromise between Issa and the Afar.

In order to keep the government together, both formal and informal rules for the division of power have been developed. The president is an Issa and the prime minister is from the Afar group. One seat each in the Cabinet of Ministers is held for the Arabs, Isaak, and Gadabursi, while the Afar hold one seat more than the Issa. The head of the supreme court is always and Issa. The president is the head of state, while the prime minister is the head of the government.

Internationally, the country has close relations with Ethiopia, Somalia, France, and the United States of America. Its relations with neighboring Eritrea are tense, because of disputed claims over the Ras Doumeira peninsula.

Djibouti is a poor country, its greatest asset being its port and services center. The country has no natural resources, and there is not much agriculture, and its livestock economy is declining, although most people maintain herds and plant crops for subsistence. Unemployment and poverty are common, particularly in the rural areas. Although the government owns most of the land, urban land can be privately owned, while rural pasture areas are held in common.

The educational system in Djibouti is heavily influenced by the French. The government makes education a priority, allocating more than 20% of its annual budget to education. The University of Djibouti was established in 2000. Catholic and French schools use French as the language of instruction, while the Koranic schools use Arabic. However, the nomadic people and some other tribal classes are not well integrated into the country's education system.

Ninety-five percent of the population of Djibouti practice Islam. There is also a small population of Catholic and Orthodox Christians.



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