The Republic of Djibouti (République de Djibouti in French, جمهورية جيبوتي in Arabic, Gabuutih Ummuuno in Afar, or Jamhuuriyadda Jabuuti in Somali) is a country located in the Horn of Africa, bordered by Eritrea in the north, Ethiopia in the west and south, and Somalia in the southeast. The remainder of the border is formed by the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden at the east. It was known as the French Territory of the Afars and Issas (Territoire français des Afars et des Issas) before independence, and as French Somaliland, or the French Somali Coats (Côte française des Somalis) before that. Djibouti occupies a total area of just 8,958 square miles (23,200 square kilometers) and is a multi-ethnic nation with a population of over 846,687 inhabitants. The capital and largest city is Djibouti City. Arabic and French constitute the country’s two official languages. About 94% of residents adhere to Islam, a religion that has been predominant in the region for more than 1,000 years. The Somali Issa and Afar make up the two largest ethnic groups. Both speak Afroasiatic languages, which serve as recognized national languages.
Djibouti is strategically located near some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, controlling access to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. It serves as a key refueling and transshipment center, and is the principal maritime port for imports from and exports to neighboring Ethiopia. A burgeoning commercial hub, the nation is the site of various foreign military bases, including Camp Lemonnier. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) regional body also has its headquarters in Djibouti City.
The Djibouti area has been inhabited since at least the Neolithic. According to linguists, the first Afroasiatic-speaking populations arrived in the region during this period from the family’s proposed urheimat (“original homeland”) in the Nile Valley, or the Near East. Other scholars propose that the Afroasiatic family developed in situ in the Horn, with its speakers subsequently dispersing from there.
Pottery predating the mid-second millennium has been found at Asa Koma, an inland lake area on the Gobaad Plain. The site’s ware is characterized by punctate and incision geometric designs, which bear a similarity to the Sabir culture phase 1 ceramics from Ma’layba in Southern Arabia. Long-horned humpless cattle bones have likewise been discovered at Asa Koma, suggesting that domesticated cattle was present by around 3,500 years ago. Rock art of what appear to be antelopes and a giraffe are also found at Dorra and Balho.
Additionally, between Djibouti City and Loyada are a number of anthropomorphic and phallic stelae. The structures are associated with graves of rectangular shape flanked by vertical slabs, as also found in central Ethiopia. The Djibouti-Loyada stelae are of uncertain age, and some of them are adorned with a T-shaped symbol.
Together with northern Somalia, Eritrea and the Red Sea coast of Sudan, Djibouti is considered the most likely location of the territory known to the Ancient Egyptians as Punt (or Ta Netjeru, meaning “God’s Land”). The first mention of the Land of Punt dates to the twenty-fifth century BC. The Puntites were a nation of people who had close relations with Ancient Egypt during the reign of the fifth dynasty Pharaoh Sahure and the eighteenth dynasty Queen Hatshepsut. According to the temple murals at Deir el-Bahari, the Land of Punt was ruled at that time by King Parahu and Queen Ati.
Through close contacts with the adjacent Arabian Peninsula for more than 1,000 years, the Somali and Afar ethnic groups in the region became among the first populations on the continent to embrace Islam.
The Ifat Sultanate was a medieval kingdom in the Horn of Africa. Founded in 1285 by the Walashma dynasty, it was centered in Zeila. Ifat established bases in Djibouti and northern Somalia, and from there expanded southward to the Ahmar Mountains. Its Sultan Umar Walashma (or his son Ali, according to another source) is recorded as having conquered the Sultanate of Shewa in 1285. Taddesse Tamrat explains Sultan Umar’s military expedition as an effort to consolidate the Muslim territories in the Horn, in much the same way as Emperor Yekuno Amlak was attempting to unite the Christian territories in the highlands during the same period. These two states inevitably came into conflict over Shewa and territories further south. A lengthy war ensued, but the Muslim sultanates of the time were not strongly unified. Ifat was finally defeated by Emperor Amda Seyon I of Ethiopia in 1332, and withdrew from Shewa.
From 1862 until 1894, the land to the north of the Gulf of Tadjoura was called Obock and was ruled by Somali and Afar Sultans, local authorities with whom France signed various treaties between 1883 and 1887 to first gain a foothold in the region. The first stamps used in the region were French colonial general issues from 1883 with French Colonies stamps overprinted with OBOOCK first issued on February 1, 1892. Obock lost all importance to Djibouti after the community there was founded in 1888 and Léonce Lagarde established a permanent French administration there in 1894. Obock issues were used in Djibouti until supplies were exhausted. The first Djibouti stamp issues appeared later in 1894.
The region was named French Somaliland which lasted from 1896 until 1967. In 1902 stamps of Djibouti were replaced with stamps for the French Somali Coast marked Cote Francaise des Somalis. The protectorate developed slowly and in 1915 still had only one post office. It adhered strongly to Vichy France in World War II and was blockaded by British imperial forces until it surrendered in December 1942. Stamps continued to be issued until 1967 but sometimes contained the inscription DJIBOUTI as well as the protectorate’s full name — notably in the case of the Free French issue of 1943.
The French maintained a link through their territory to Ethiopia by rail, thus giving Ethiopia its only direct link to the coast. The Free French kept alive their civil air rights by running an airmail service between Djibouti and Madagascar in 1943-44.
In 1958, on the eve of neighboring Somalia’s independence in 1960, a referendum was held in Djibouti to decide whether to join the Somali Republic or to remain with France. The referendum turned out in favor of a continued association with France, partly due to a combined yes vote by the sizable Afar ethnic group and resident Europeans. There were also allegations of widespread vote rigging. The majority of those who had voted no were Somalis who were strongly in favor of joining a united Somalia as had been proposed by Mahmoud Harbi, Vice President of the Government Council. Harbi was killed in a plane crash two years later.
In 1967, a second plebiscite was held to determine the fate of the territory. Initial results supported a continued but looser relationship with France. Voting was also divided along ethnic lines, with the resident Somalis generally voting for independence, with the goal of eventual union with Somalia, and the Afars largely opting to remain associated with France. The referendum was again marred by reports of vote rigging on the part of the French authorities.Shortly after the referendum was held, the former French Somaliland) was renamed to the French Territory of the Afars and Issas in July 1967. The first stamps under the new name were issued on August 21, 1967,
In 1977, a third referendum took place. A landslide 98.8% of the electorate supported disengagement from France, officially marking the territory’s independence as the Republic of Djibouti on June 27, 1977, and the first stamps of the new republic were issued on that date. Hassan Gouled Aptidon, a Somali politician who had campaigned for a yes vote in the referendum of 1958, eventually wound up as the nation’s first president (1977–1999).
During its first year, Djibouti joined the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union), the Arab League and United Nations. In 1986, the nascent republic was also among the founding members of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development regional development organization.
In the early 1990’s, tensions over government representation led to armed conflict between Djibouti’s ruling People’s Rally for Progress (PRP) party and the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD) opposition group. The impasse ended in a power-sharing agreement in 2000.
I have several stamps from French Somali Coast and a few from Afars and Issas but only one with the DJIBOUTI inscription, obtained through a worldwide mixture. Scott #505 was released on October 22, 1979, part of a set of three issued to mark the “Pre-Olympic Year” prior to the Summer Olympics in Moscow, USSR, held in 1980. This 200 franc denomination, perforated 13×12½ and printed using lithography, portrays the sport of football which we Americans call soccer.