A key entryway to the Horn of Africa, Djibouti’s strategic location at the confluence of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean – combined with its historical links to Europe, the Arabian Peninsula, East Africa and Asia – make it a crossroads for international culture and trade. Having long enjoyed relative security and stability, Djibouti has gained a reputation as a safe haven in the region. It has become an investment destination and a growing economic centre for East African trade along a key global trade corridor.


Djibouti is relatively small, covering an area of 23,180 sq km, according to the World Bank, making it roughly the same size as Belize. Nonetheless, its 370 km of coastline gives it access to the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, as well as the Bab Al Mandab Strait that joins them. Inland lie eight mountain ranges with peaks reaching over 1000 metres in elevation. The highest of these, the Mousa Ali volcano along Djibouti’s border with Ethiopia and Eritrea, rises 2028 metres above sea level and is part of the Great Rift Valley that stretches from Lebanon to Mozambique. The country also shares a land frontier with Somalia.

Away from the mountains are the flats of the Gran Bara Desert. Much of Djibouti’s interior, meanwhile, is grass and shrub land, with the Gulf of Tadjoura, a 64-km-long inlet with Djibouti City on its southern shore, cutting through the middle of the country. At its western end, the gulf leads into Lake Ghoubet, and Lake Assal, Africa’s lowest point at 155 metres below sea level, is separated from it by only a short isthmus. The country also shares Lake Abhe with Ethiopia.


On a similar latitude to Senegal, southern India and Venezuela, Djibouti is generally a hot country, experiencing average July highs of around 41°C. The hot season is May to September, when the khamsin, a wind from inland deserts, blows across the country.

The rainy season is January to March, although the coastal regions receive an average rainfall of around 130 mm annually, while the more mountainous parts see roughly 380 mm. The climate across most of the country is arid, with the rest of it defined as semiarid. Humidity levels tend to be high along the coast, although they are generally much lower inland.

Djibouti can experience significant temperature variations during the year, depending on the season and altitude. Temperatures in December in the highlands can reach into the low double digits. However, most of the country sees average daily temperatures in the 20-30°C range even in winter, with the coolest city being Airolaf in the north-western Tadjoura region. At 1535 metres above sea level, the region is significantly cooler and more temperate than other parts of the country. This region is also home to Djibouti’s only significant arboreal coverage, Day Forest National Park.

Climate change has affected the annual level of rainfall, and the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development predicts that temperatures will increase and water resources will become scarcer. Flash floods resulting from inconsistent rainfall are also a risk.

Natural Resources

Although the World Bank considers Djibouti to be a resource-scarce nation, as water sources remain an issue and the population is highly vulnerable to climate change due to aridity, it does have natural mineral deposits, among them clay, salt and cement. There have also been concerted efforts in recent years to expand petroleum exploration, including a memorandum of understanding signed with Egypt in February 2022 to share Egypt’s expertise in the industry with Djibouti.

Djibouti’s location gives it the potential to harness geothermal, solar and wind energy. It relies on domestic thermal power and imports from Ethiopia to meets its electricity needs. The country is also making plans to maximise its significant solar and wind potential, with the first wind turbine assembled by Siemens Gamesa at Lake Ghoubet in August 2021. Dubai-based AMEA Power signed agreements with the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources in July 2022 to develop a 30-MW solar photovoltaic project. President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh told the World Energy Forum in 2012 that Djibouti aimed to generate 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025 (see Energy chapter).

Although the arid climate poses certain natural limitations on the agriculture sector, the coastline gives the country access to significant maritime resources, including coral reefs and fish stocks. Sustainably securing and developing these resources continues to be the focus of government fisheries and tourism projects.


Djibouti’s population was around 1m as of 2021. The average life expectancy at birth in 2020 was 63 years, as per World Bank, while the literacy rate was 59% for those surveyed between the ages of 15 and 49 (see Health & Education chapter). Women in particular have come to play an increasingly important role in the country’s development thanks to efforts by international organisations such as the UN Development Programme and World Bank, and women currently account for 26.2% of the National Assembly, the country’s parliamentary body.

Djibouti City is by far the country’s largest urban centre, home to around 57% of the total population in 2021, according to the National Institute of Statistics of Djibouti. The next three-largest cities by population are Tadjoura, with 135,100 residents; Dikhil, with 111,500; and Ali Sabieh, with 99,900. Somalis are the largest population group, most of whom belong to the Issa clan, with the second most significant group being the Afar, who traditionally live to the north of the Gulf of Tadjoura. There is also a significant refugee population as a result of conflicts in neighbouring countries. Djibouti’s young, rapidly growing population is concentrated in urban areas.

Language & Religion

While the country’s official languages are French and Arabic, most people speak either Somali or Afar as their native tongue. Many Djiboutians are multilingual, with French the main language of instruction and political affairs, and Somali more widely spoken in everyday life. Afar is mainly spoken to the north and west of the Gulf of Tadjoura, while a significant Yemeni Arabic-speaking community exists in the capital, along with established European communities speaking French, Italian or Greek.

The US State Department’s “2020 International Religious Freedom Report” noted that 94% of the country’s population identified as Sunni Muslim. The remaining 6% consisted of Shia Muslims, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Ethiopian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox and members of other faiths. Although the constitution declares Islam to be the sole state religion, it also guarantees religious freedom and equality for other groups.

Early History

Inhabited since Neolithic times, Djibouti was part of the land known to the Ancient Egyptians as Punt, an area that also included Northern Somalia, Eritrea and the Red Sea coast of Somalia. Islam arrived in the region in 825 thanks to its close contacts with the Arabian Peninsula on the other side of the Bab Al Mandab Strait. What is now Djibouti was part of the Sultanate of Ifat from 1285 to 1415 before becoming part of the Adal Sultanate from 1415 to 1577.

A period of Ottoman rule ensued, with the region become part of the empire’s Egyptian administrative region. In the 19th century growing European influence in the region culminated in France purchasing the territory of Obock on the north shore of the Gulf of Tadjoura in 1862. From there, France expanded to the south side of the gulf, leading to the establishment of the French colony of Somaliland in 1888. The port of Djibouti developed rapidly, first as a coaling station and then as a railhead for trains coming from Ethiopia and the centre of the African continent.

Following the Second World War, French Somaliland became a French overseas territory, and then the French Territory of the Afars and Issas in 1967. Djibouti became an independent nation on June 27, 1977.


By adopting a neutral stance in international affairs, the new nation managed to establish peaceful, friendly relations with its larger neighbours, Somalia and Ethiopia. During the initial years following its independence, when Hassan Gouled Aptidon was in office as president, Djibouti faced major domestic challenges. One of these issues was internal migration, a problem that led to an explosion in the capital’s population and a subsequent shortage of jobs, services and infrastructure as the city struggled to keep up with the rapid influx of new people.

In 1992 a new constitution established a limited multiparty system. Gouled withdrew from politics in 1999 and was replaced by Guelleh as president, who remains in office to this day. The 2003 legislative elections saw a coalition called the Union for Presidential Majority – a group including the Afar Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy, which had fought the government during the civil war in the 1990s – win the country’s first free multiparty elections since independence in 1977. Guelleh won a fifth term in office in April 2021, and he has said that he will respect the country’s constitution by not running again in 2026 when he has surpassed the age limit to hold the office.