Djibouti - Oppression in Africa’s Smallest Country
Djibouti is a small though little-known country lying between Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Wars and massacres have gone on there for hundreds of years, and the Muslim population have been condemned to conflict from the colonialist period right up to the present day.
Islam came to what is now Djibouti in the seventh and eighth centuries. Until the beginning of the sixteenth century, Muslims were the sole power in the region, which then came under the sphere of influence of Portugal, a major commercial and political power at that time. When Egypt came under Ottoman rule, the Horn of Africa where Djibouti lies also became part of the Ottoman Empire.
The bloody history of Djibouti actually began when the Suez Canal was opened to international maritime traffic and European states began competing to colonize Asian and African countries and dominate them economically, politically, militarily and religiously. As the major powers in the nineteenth century, Great Britain and France engaged in a great race to colonize and expand. Britain entered Aden in 1839 and Somalia in 1869, and was thus able to establish control of the Red Sea trade route. Djibouti acquired considerable importance at this time with its strategic position from the point of view of the Suez Canal. In order to compensate for Britain's advantageous position, France built a wharf on the Djibouti coast. By 1884 it had dominated the whole area by means of agreements and treaties.
The years that followed were dark times for the people of Djibouti. There was a wide difference of opinion on the future of the country among the Muslim population. The Isas of Somali descent felt it should join with the Republic of Somalia. The second major ethnic community, the Afars, supported dependence on France. Between these two views and French encouragement, the fighting grew fiercer. Although the Muslims who supported unification with Somalia were numerically greater, a referendum in the country on March 16, 1967 decided that it should remain a French dependency. However, there was intense conflict after the referendum as a result of French pressure and electoral fraud. French troops then occupied the country, on the pretext of intervening in the bloody incidents between the two ethnic groups in the country; the majority of the natives were killed and hundreds of thousands were exiled. The Ishas were weakened during the operation, and the Afars took over the running of the country.
Djibouti became independent in 1977, with 97 percent of the population voting in favor. It has since become a nation of military coups. Between 1977 and 1991, 2,000 Muslims were subjected to inhumane and humiliating treatment. Amnesty International reports describe terrible forms of torture and degradation inflicted on people in Djibouti. Some 7,000 people were arrested for no reason and tortured by forces of the state.43
Some 3,500 French troops are still based in Djibouti, which remains under French economic and military domination.44 Djibouti has no national army of its own and has bowed its head to the French military presence. France has been responsible for internal security for many years since the nominal establishment of independence. There are also many French advisors and officials in the administration. The government is at the edge of bankruptcy, kept on its feet only by the support of European states.
In addition to this longstanding colonial rule, Djibouti now faces very real poverty. Droughts have led to the losses of large numbers of livestock, and many people have perished from malnutrition.