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Geography of the Djibouti


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Area 8,958 square mile (23,000 square kilometer)

Population 457,130 (2003)

Capital Djibouti

Highest Point Musa Ali 6,653 foot (2,028 meter)

Lowest Point -550 foot (-168 meter)

GDP per capita $1,400

Primary Natural Resources negligible.

BORDERED BY Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia in Africa, the country of Djibouti (the former French Somaliland and then Afars and Issas) is the epitome of a geopolitical state. It is a state that has been created and defined by its geographic location. Similar to Gibraltar and Aden, Djibouti controls access and egress from a major waterway: the Suez Canal and Red Sea. From 1862, Djibouti was controlled by the French, especially the French Foreign Legion, until 1977. In 2002, the United States established a military base here. Were it not for its geopolitical value, there would be no economy beyond herding of goats and no political unit.

Small in area, with some features such as Lake Assal below sea level (550 foot or 168 meter), Djibouti is arid and occupied primarily by pastoralists and refugees from the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Its deep harbor and the fact that all traffic to and from the Suez Canal (and thus Mediterranean Europe) must pass its location has made the area important far beyond any local resources—of which there virtually are none to speak of.

The only natural resource, other than its location, is the salt deposit at Lake Assal. However, salt is more easily and cheaply obtained in many other areas. The closest local parallel to the geopolitical value of Djibouti would be Aden, which also controls access to the Bab el Mandeb, Red Sea and Suez Canal, but Aden was controlled by the British.

Djibouti also is located on a major fault (fracture) zone known as Afar (for Africa/Arabia), where major geologic plates are separating and rotating, making it an extremely active earthquake and volcanic area as well.

BIBLIOGRAPHY.

World Factbook (CIA, 2004); Robert S. Veran, Djibouti: Pawn of the Horn of Africa (Rowman and Littlefield, 1981); Frances L. Gordon, Lonely Planet: Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti (Lonely Planet, 2002); F.J. Ramsay and Wayne Edge, Africa: Global Studies (McGraw-Hill/Dushkin, 2003); USA International Business Publications, Djibouti Country Study Guide (2003).

ROBERT W. MCCOLL, PH.D.

GENERAL EDITOR

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