The tiny country of Djibouti is strategically situated between the western edge of the Gulf of Aden and the entrance to the Red Sea.
The Afars, descendants of 3rd century settlers, and the Issas from Somalia, are the country’s two main ethnic groups.
Founded in 1285, the Ifat Sultanate was a prominent medieval kingdom with established bases in both northern Somalia and Djibouti. Ifat ruled the region until Emperor Amda Seyon I of Ethiopia defeated them in 1332.
In the mid-1800s, the French purchased a part of northeast Africa, naming it French Somaliland. In 1967, the area was renamed the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas, with Djibouti remaining its capital.
In 1945 Djibouti was transformed into a French overseas territory, but local ethnic fighting, land disputes with Ethiopia and Somalia and cries for “Freedom” continued.
After three referendums and widespread vote rigging, France finally recognized Djibouti’s independence in 1977, and Hassan Gouled Aptidon was named the nation’s first president.
In 1999, Aptidon resigned at the age of 83, and Ismail Omar Guelleh succeeded his five-term presidency.
Guelleh was re-elected a second term in 2005, and a third in 2011.
As a significant regional port, Djibouti’s modern economy revolves (almost totally) around the shipping and refueling industries, as the country has limited natural resources and is (through little fault of its own) economically underdeveloped.
Plagued by a multitude of difficulties, including thousands of refugees from the Ethiopian civil wars, large tracts of unusable desert land, and a 50% unemployment rate, Djibouti struggles on, relying on sheer determination and foreign assistance.
n February 25 and 26, in Washington, DC, senior officials of the United States and the Republic of Djibouti Governments met to launch the inaugural U.S.-Djibouti Binational Forum, a key outcome of the historic May 5, 2014, White House meeting between U.S. President Obama and Djiboutian President Guelleh. Deputy Secretary Blinken welcomed the Djiboutian delegation and opened the Binational Forum. The senior-level delegations addressed a range
Of important issues including security cooperation, economic development, energy exploration, and education.
The ministerial-level meetings, led by Secretary of State John Kerry and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, H.E. Mahamoud Ali Youssouf, indicate the strong commitment by both nations to continue a strategic dialogue on key priorities. The two countries work closely on countering violent extremism and terrorism in the East Africa region. The Republic of Djibouti hosts the only enduring U.S. military presence in Africa at Camp Lemonnier near Djibouti City. The delegations announced a new state partnership between the U.S. National Guard and the Djiboutian Armed Forces. Under the program, the Kentucky National Guard will partner with the Djiboutian Armed Forces to strengthen cooperation between the two militaries. The official launch of the program will take place in Djibouti later this year. In his first bilateral meeting at the Pentagon as Secretary of Defense, Secretary Ash Carter lauded Djibouti’s decision to deploy additional forces to Somalia, emphasizing the importance of continued bilateral and regional cooperation in operations to defeat al-Shabaab.
To strengthen economic partnership, the delegations pledged to work together to implement recent legislation – “Djibouti First” – that seeks to give preference to Djiboutian companies to win goods and services contracts at Camp Lemonnier. The Forum concluded with the two sides agreeing to regular meetings throughout the coming year to prepare for the second Binational Forum in 2016, which will be hosted by the Government of Djibouti in Djibouti. USAID Assistant to the Administrator Eric Postel chaired an economic roundtable, where the Djiboutian delegation and U.S. Government agencies highlighted areas of focus for economic development in Djibouti, such as energy development, education, and workforce development.
The Forum included high level officials from several government agencies, including on the U.S. side: the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the National Security Council. The Djiboutian delegation included the following high level officials:
H.E. Mahamoud Ali Youssouf, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation;
H.E. Hassan D. Houffaneh, the Minister of Defense;
H.E. Ilyas M. Dawaleh, Minister of Economy and Finance;
H.E. Roble Olhaye, the Djiboutian Ambassador to the United States;
Mr. Aboubaker Hadi, the President of Djibouti Ports and Free Zone Authority;
Mr. Youssouf M. Dawaleh, the President of the Djiboutian Chamber of Commerce;
Secretary General Haroun Omar Aden of the Ministry of Education and Professional Training;
Secretary General Hibo Osman Ahmed of the Chamber of Commerce;
Mr. Yacin Douale, Director of Bilateral Relations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation;
Mr. Mohamed-kadar A. Guedi, Director of Taxation, Ministry of Budget; and
Lt. Colonel Fouad Waiss of the Djiboutian Armed Forces.