Located on the Horn of Africa, the Republic of Djibouti shares borders with Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia. The country sits on the Bab el Mandeb Strait, which separates the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aden. Djibouti gained its independence from France on June 27, 1977, but keeps close ties with the European nation. More than 75% of its population lives in urban areas.
Population: According to the CIA Factbook, the estimated population for July 2012 will be 774,389. The entire country is almost as big as the state of Massachusetts.
Languages: Most Djiboutians are multilingual; Arabic and French are the official languages of Djibouti, but Somali is the most widely spoken language. Afar is spoken in the Afar areas.
Religion: 94% of the population is Muslim, while 6% is Christian.
History: Early history of Djibouti was recorded through poems and songs. The earliest natives traded hides and skins for perfumes and other goods with people in Egypt, India and China. Because of its proximity to the Arabian Peninsula,
the Somali and Afar tribes were the first on the continent to adopt Islam.
The French became increasingly interested in the area, then named French Somaliland, after the Suez Canal opened in 1869. Trade flourished, and a new Franco-Ethiopian railway further increased trade relations. France struggled to maintain control of the region; after reorganizing, the colony was almost completely self-governed in the late 1950s. In 1977, the colony became the Republic of Djibouti, and Hassan Gouled Aptidon was elected the first president. Djibouti still remains close to France, which provides economic aid and security.
Djibouti is the headquarters for the European Union’s “Atalanta” naval task force, which aids in the fight against piracy off the coast of Somalia.
Economy: With few natural resources and little industry, Djibouti relies heavily on banking, telecommunications and trade. Due to its ideal location and status as a free-trade zone, Djibouti is considered to be the trade hub in the Horn of Africa. It is quite reliant on imported consumer products. The Djibouti-Addis Abba railway is a crucial source of revenue for the country, especially since more than three-fifths of Djibouti’s workforce is unemployed.
Relationship with the United States: Djibouti has maintained a healthy relationship with the United States since its independence in 1977. The U.S. has been instrumental in providing humanitarian aid to the country, particularly in famine relief. In 2002, Djibouti agreed to host an American military presence of about 2,200 at Camp Lemonnier, a former French base. The USAID’s Food for Peace program has a warehouse for pre-positioned emergency food relief in Djibouti. It is the only one of its kind outside of the continental United States.