Djibouti - History

The Cushite people inhabited Djibouti long before the Arab traders and Ottoman Turks were attracted to the region by its strategic position. From very early times, the area including the present republic of Djibouti was grazing land for a number nomadic tribes. The principal tribes were the Afars and the Issas; the former were aligned with Ethiopia and the latter with the Somalias. This is still the case today insofar as these two groups are concerned.

The French came into the area in 1862, having acquired the right to settle there from the Afar Sultans of Obock in exchange for money and other goods. Not to be outdone, the Sultan of Tadoura made a similar agreement with the French in 1884. The construction of the town and port of Djibouti began in 1888. According to the terms of a treaty signed between France and Ethiopia in 1897, Djibouti was to be "the official outlet for Ethiopian commerce" and, in consequence of this, a railway was later built. In 1949 the first anti-colonial demonstration was held in the territory and from 1951, there was a deputy from Djibouti in Paris. The first territorial assembly was established in 1957.

IMAGES:People protest, 1939Hostility to French rule on the part of Issas and Somalis was made plain in a referendum in 1958 in which 25% voted "no". The French, supporting the Afars, put them in charge of the local council, headed by Ali Aref. Following arrests and wholesale expulsion of the Somali population, another referendum in 1967 produced a vote of 60.4% in favour of unity with France. Riots followed the election and the United Nations urged France to grant the territory independence. The French, however, stood firm in their refusal to do so and in maintaining Ali Aref in power.

At the beginning of the 1970s, the situation shifted significantly. Hassan Gouled, head of the predominantly Somali African Popular Union, joined with the predominantly Afar League for the Future and for Order, headed by Ahmed Dini, to become the African People's League for Independence. This was the first inter-ethnic party in the colony. The 1970s, a period of turbulence and unrest in what was still a French colony, culminated in the resignation of Ali Aref in 1976 followed by the return of many who had been expelled and the revision of the electoral register. In the election held in 1977, Hassan Gouled and his party easily won and an inter-ethnic government was formed. Gouled became Head of State and Ahmed Dini the Prime Minister.

Despite a promising start, this government did not survive and new one was formed in September 1978, again headed by Hassan Gouled. This new government adopted an austerity budget and undertook extensive reorganization. For the first time, the development of the northern Afar region, heretofore ignored, became a priority. Economically the government sustained itself and its programmes because of continued heavy support from France as well as aid from fellow members of the Arab League, particularly Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and Libya.

In the first elections since independence in June 1981, Hassan Gouled was re-elected; it must be said that he was the only candidate. On 21 May 1982, 65 unopposed candidates were elected to the legislature. Multi-party elections for the legislative assembly were not held until 18 December 1992 and they were won by the ruling party. A third party, the Front for the Renewal of Democracy (FRUD) called for a boycott of all elections.

The presidential election on 7 May 1993 was once again won by Hassan Gouled. His government had been engaged in a guerilla war with FRUD in which clear victory belonged to neither side. Prisoners held by both the government and FRUD were released on 1 December 1993 and in June 1994, the secretary of FRUD said that his movement was in favour of ending the war and reaffirmed its belief in "the democratic and institutional framework of the Republic".


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