Stories of the Year: Djibouti

2013 in review in the Horn of Africa

By / December 2013

Djibouti is not a country that appears often in news headlines outside of its borders. But in 2013 the country experienced significant political developments, military engagements, economic changes, and athletic success. From inside Djibouti, a boot-shaped nation in the African Horn, here are some of the year’s biggest stories:

1. The Vote
The most significant story of the year in Djibouti was the parliamentary election that took place in March. Opposition parties were allowed to openly campaign and for the first time in history, they won a handful of seats in parliament. A few days of minor post-election violence and complaints of vote-tampering plagued the election and triggered political discontentment among many voters. As the nation moves toward a presidential election in coming years, the parliamentary election has set a precedence of more political freedom as well as more political disagreement.

2. Moola
In April 2013 Djibouti produced a new coin and released it into circulation. Valued at 250 francs, the bimetallic coin features the rare francolin bird found in Djibouti’s Forêt du Day.

3. All Aboard
After years of inactivity, the train line between Djibouti and Ethiopia reopened in late summer 2013. The long-term goal is to again connect Addis Ababa to Djibouti City via railway. This would facilitate faster transport of goods, reduced travel time for passengers, and figure into a larger east-to-west African rail project.

4. Wet Season
Djibouti receives, on average, a meager 6.4 inches of rain a year. But in March 2013 heavy rains pounded Djibouti, causing severe floods. Seven Djiboutian soldiers were killed during rescue and aid operations.

5. Drone Controversy
The US has a significant military presence in Djibouti at Camp Lemonier. For a few years, drones took off from the International Airport of Djibouti. They shared both air space and tarmac space with commercial jets. But in 2013, the US was forced to relocate the drones after a string of crashes raised concerns that passenger planes were being put at unnecessary risk.

6. Mourning the Dead
Jama Mahud Hayd, the longtime governor of Djibouti’s central bank, died. The funeral feast lasted almost a week and provided food for hundreds of people who gathered beneath massive white tents in the Hara Mus neighborhood.

7. Olympic Dreams
It was a bumper year for Djiboutian runners. It has been 25 years since Olympic marathoner Ahmed Salah brought home the bronze (the nation’s first and only Olympic medal) from the Seoul summer games. But in 2013, Ayanleh Souleiman raced as a front-runner in the 1500m at the World Athletic Championships in Moscow. He remains a medal favorite for the 2016 Olympics. Meanwhile, several female Djiboutian runners were featured in a Runner’s World and Saucony-sponsored documentary.

8. Terrorism
Djibouti deployed nearly 1,000 soldiers to Somalia with AMISOM. In November 2013, four of these soldiers were killed in an al-Shabaab attack on a restaurant.

9. Refugees Gain Citizenship
Traditionally, refugees born in Djibouti have not received identity cards. This means they are neither Somali nor Djiboutian but people without a nation, children with no homeland. However, in April of this year, in partnership with the United Nations, Djibouti started to give refugee children Djiboutian birth certificates.

10. The Long Walk
Paul Salopek crossed into Djibouti on his National Geographic-sponsored walk, known as Out of Eden, in which he intends to walk from Ethiopia all the way to Chile.


Rachel Pieh Jones is an EthnoTraveler contributor. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and Running Times. She blogs at