Geography Now! Djibouti


Look, I get it. The puns kind of write themselves for this one. But seriously! You’ll be mesmerized and want to explore all over once you get a good look at… Djibouti. (muffled chuckle) (Geography Now opening jingle) It’s time to learn geography, NOW! Hey everyone, I’m your host, Barby. Welcome to the place that hopes to become the “Dubai” of East Africa. Now those are some strong claims to make. Let’s see what’s going on… in Djibouti. (muffled chuckle) (jingle) (political geography) Although small, Djibouti is what you would call a “geo-strategic country”, in which the entire domain is wrapped around one of the most economically significant regions on the planet and capitalizes off of it. Djibouti is located on the horn of Africa, bordered by Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Right across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula. Djibouti is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, right at the mouth where the Indian Ocean and Red Sea meet at the Bab-el-Manden Strait. This is what puts Djibouti in such an advantageous geoeconomic position. The country is divided into 6 regions and the straight-forwardly-named capital “Djibouti City” rests on the coast on the southern eastern tip of the gulf. Djibouti City, nicknamed “The City of 7 Masks” in itself hosts about 70% of the entire country’s population. I mean, if you look at a satellite image at night, it kinda looks like this: The entire country surrounds the Gulf of Tadjoura, which plays probably the most important lifeline role in the country’s makeup. Djibouti lays claim to the uninhabitated/disputed Doumeira and Kalida Islands, with Eritrea. And the Ka A-Dabali Islands off the coast of the Obac region. As well as the Iles Moucha and Maskali Islands right at the entrance of the Tadjoura Gulf. And also, small islands inland, like the Ile du Diable, or “Demon island”. It’s called that way because it’s always foggy there and it’s said that the people who go there never quite exactly come back the same. Now here’s the thing for Djibouti: It’s all about location, location, location! Now the landscape may be a little harsh and desolate, but if you can build a base here, you have access to an intercontinental network and gateway that opens up a world of opportunity and security. Djibouti hosts a wide range of military contingents from other countries off their land, such as France, Japan, and the only permanent US base in Africa as well. In return, this creates an income stream for the national treasury and allows a somewhat steady economic grow for Djibouti. The country as a whole acts as a major transit hub for refueling and transporting goods coming into the area, especially for Ethiopia, as they can’t really use Eritrea much because…. yeah. In a nutshell, the entire country used to be under French rule as French Somaliland and then later as the territories of French Afar and Issa until they finally got their independence in 1977. The funny thing is, unlike Somalia and Eritrea, Djibouti has a much higher political stability and general wellfare index, as they try to stay neutral or uninvolved in international conflicts. Unless encroached upon. This means that unlike OTHER areas, Djibouti has had some time to actually work on development projects, like building a railway to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, or 2 new airports. Not everyone will agree, but some Djiboutians believe that with all the escalating new international investment, they’re hoping to become the “Dubai” of the Horn of Africa. And who knows if they will? I mean, they already got on the world radar without oil. Can you what would happen if they discovered oil reserves? I me- No! No! Back off! (Gun shots) Back off! That was actually kind of fun. Okay, landscape time. (jingle) So, once again, Djibouti may be small… (chuckles) But it definitely doesn’t lack in its quirks and land makeup. The country is precariously positioned right near the tripoint border between the Somali, Arabian, and African plates that further split down into into the East African Rift. This puts.. Djibouti in a hot seat… AHH! …of geothermal locations. Mount Ardoukoba, being an active volcano that last erupted in 1978. Generally the land is dry and arid, with some, but not a lot of vegetation. Because of fresh water scarcity, the agriculture sector is kind of limited and restricted with only a few crops like tomatos and date palms that can be grown. As only about 4% of the land is arable. There are only 2 permanent aquatic bodies of water in the country. Lake Abbé on the border with Ethiopia, and Lake Assal, also known as the lowest point in Africa. However, these 2 are salt lakes. Assal being the 2nd saltiest lake in the world after Don Juan Lake in Antarctica. And henceforth, cannot be used for irrigation. But you know how they do it in Africa. Ahh… okay… What do we do now? Let’s start selling salt! YEAH! (hands clap) (music note) If you visit Djibouti, definitely check this place out. Lake Abbé, one of the strangest places on Earth, has an almost lunar landscape with a limestone chimney forest that looks like needles going up 50 meters, protuding from the ground. As the entire area is surrounded by bubbling hot springs. The country only experiences 2 distinct seasons: the “damp, windy” season, between October and April, and the “burning wind” season between June and August, the hottest part of the year in which temperatures can get past 50 degrees celsius. Rain is strange, because it doesn’t really follow any specific season. It can kind just come and go whenever it pleases throughout the year. It’s kinda like playing the lottery. Who will get rain today? Oh. ALRIGHT! I WON! (shakily laughing) Overall, Djibouti may be a little low on the resource side, but incredibly high on the service side of the economy. Now let’s see how that works out. (jingle) Djibouti is kinda like that quiet little kid in class that doesn’t really start any problems, but is working on a project that will probably win the science fair and gain the attention of every major college. The country has a little over 800,000 people. And is domianted by the 2 main ethnic groups: The Issa, at around 60%, and the Afar, at around 35%. The remainder of the country is made up of small groups of Arabs, French, Ethiopians, and even Italian people. Also keep in mind, the military base personel, although not citizens, do make a noticable presence in everyday society in Djibouti as well. The Issa people, which can be found more in the southern regions of the country, are also sometimes just referred to as Somalians, as they are a subclan of the Somali people. And speak their own dialect of the Somali languge. The Afar people, although slightly more distinct, have a very similar culture and language that resembles the Issa people. These 2 groups pretty much get along, and especially since the majority of them share the same religion, Islam. About 93% of the country is Muslim, adherring to the Suni branch of shafi’i school of jurisprudence legal tradition. The remainder of the country is predominantly Christian. You can even find some churches in Djibouti City. Most are Ethiopian Orthodox. The country is generally tolerant of any religion, but still restricts proselatizing towards muslims. The official languages of the country are French and Arabic. However, French is sometimes used more as Djibouti was once a French territory, and they didn’t even get their idependence until 1977 because you know how France is. Okay, seriously, bro. Every other European country is doing it, just give it up. No! These are my territories! I’m not letting go! Culture wise, Djiboutians are known for being quite peaceful but VERY talkative. They will have no problem spending hours bargaining with a vender, or just sitting you down for a casual 5 hour chat. Although still classified as a “developing country” with a high unemployment rate at over 50%, the country has been steadily taking measures to alleviate the problem by instituting a wide range of domestic policies. About a fifth of the national budget goes to education alone. And in the past few years, the GDP rate has increased every year and today sits at a steady and comfortable 6.5%. Buildings are popping up fast, and the new and improved Djibouti-Addis Ababa railway is currently being constructed between them and Ethiopia, costing over 4 billion dollars in foreign investment. Because of all the interaction with all the military base personel, Djiboutians are generally more in the loop when it comes to international affairs. This is also why Djibouti typically holds a very neutral stance when it comes to international drama. Although, Eritrea knows how to kinda push their buttons. Which brings us to: (jingle) Once again, Djibouti may be small, but everyone seems to be staring at it. (snort) No, seriously, though. The position of the country is so advantageous that people from all over the world have kept Djibouti on the radar. Jesus, it’s like I’m not even trying, it just comes out! First of all: Djibouti hosts military bases for the US, France, and Japan, and is currently in the process of building another base for China. Therefore, by default, these countries kinda have a tight sense of diplomacy with Djibouti and offer a source of aid and revenue. The funny thing is, Russian Kosacks turned to this land way before any westerrn power back at the end of the 19th century, and they even built an unofficial colony that was eventually driven out, partially by the French, and partially ended by royal order. To this day, however, Russia still holds close ties and even some of the streets are named after Russian locations. Somalia is kinda like the embarassing bigger brother that they kinda feel obligated to love, but would rather not get involved with his controversial escapades. Their best friend, however, would have to be Ethiopia. Ethiopia works very well with Djibouti, and almost all of their international imports and exports go directly through the port of Djibouti in Djibouti City. Djibouti provides them with sea access, and in return, Ethiopia gives them food and electricity. It’s a beautiful symbiotic relationship. In conclusion, Djibouti, on the surface, seems quite dry and desolute, but once you see how they operate their country, you’ll kinda start to understand why everyone wants a piece of Djibouti. AHH!! Stay tuned, Dominica – yes, that’s how you pronouce it – is coming up next! (upbeat music)

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