The Republic of Djibouti is a small country on the NE coast of Africa. The capital is also Djibouti. Djibouti occupies a strategic position around the Gulf of Tadjoura, where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden. Behind the coastal plain lie the Mabla Mountains, rising to Moussa Ali at 2,028m [6,654ft]. Djibouti contains the lowest point on the African continent, Lake Assal, at 155m [509ft] below sea level. Nearly 90% of the land is semi-desert, and shortage of pasture and water make farming difficult.
Djibouti has one of the world's hottest and driest climates with summer temperatures regularly exceeding 42°C [100°F]. Average annual rainfall is only 130mm [5in]. In the wooded Mabla Mountains, the average annual rainfall reaches 500mm [20in].
Islam arrived in the 9th century. The subsequent conversion of the Afars led to conflict with Christian Ethiopians who lived in the interior. By the 19th century, Somalian Issas moved north and occupied much of the Afars' traditional grazing land. France gained influence in 1862, with its interest centred around Djibouti, the French commercial rival to the port of Aden. French Somaliland was established in 1888.
A referendum in 1967 saw 60% of the electorate vote to retain links with France, although most Issas favoured independence. The country was renamed the French Territory of the Afars and Issas.
In 1977 the Republic of Djibouti gained full independence, and Hassan Gouled Aptidon of the Popular Rally for Progress (RPP) was elected president. He declared a one-party state in 1981. Protests against the Issas-dominated regime forced the adoption of a multi-party constitution in 1992. The Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD), supported primarily by Afars, boycotted 1993 elections, and Aptidon was re-elected for a fourth six-year term. FRUD rebels continued an armed campaign for political representation. In 1996, government and FRUD forces signed a peace agreement, recognizing FRUD as a political party.
In 1999, Ismael Omar Gelleh succeeded Aptidon as president in the country's first multi-party presidential elections. He pursues closer links with France, which still has a strong military presence in Djibouti, and with the US. The only US military base in sub-Saharan Africa is stationed here. In 2005 elections Gelleh was the only candidate.
Djibouti is a poor nation, heavily reliant on food imports and revenue from the capital city. A free-trade zone, it has no major resources and manufacturing is on a very small scale. The only important activity is livestock raising, and 50% of the population are pastoral nomads.
Its location at the mouth of the Red Sea is of great economic importance as it serves as a vital trans-shipment point.
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