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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Afars in Djibouti

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Djibouti Facts
Area:    23,200 sq. km.
Capital:    Djibouti
Total Population:    441,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Afars in Djibouti have several risk factors for rebellion, including a recent history of rebellion, territorial concentration and government instability. However, sustained efforts at negotiation and reform and transnational support for such efforts mitigate the risks that Afars will return to violence in a sustained manner. The condition of Afars in Djibouti is certainly better at present than a decade ago. However, despite some political reforms, ethnic Issa presently dominate executive decision-making, the civil service, and the ruling party, a situation that has bred resentment and political competition between the Somali Issas and the Afars. Because a certain number of Afar still wish to reunite with their brethren in the region, there is a level of uncertainty concerning the Afar. The signing in May 2001 of an agreement between the Djibouti government and the Afar organization FRUD regarding decentralisation and efforts to ease Afar insurgency in northern and south-western Djibouti temporarily eased tensions. However, the government has not, as of 2006, honored pledges for democratic decentralization, although a number of ethnic Afars serve in the national assembly and on the cabinet. Afars are more likely to engage in protest than armed rebellion in the near future, as the partial democratization of Djibouti has opened up political space and grievances regarding full implementation of the 2001 peace accords have not yet been addressed.


Analytic Summary

About two-thirds of the Republic of Djibouti's inhabitants live in the capital city, but most Afars are migrant nomads or reside in small towns or oases (GROUPCON = 3). The indigenous population is divided between the majority Somalis (predominantly of the Issa tribe, with minority Issaq and Gadaboursi representation) and the Afars (Danakils). Afars also live in neighboring Ethiopia and Eritrea. Although French and Arabic are the official state languages, all Djiboutians are Cushitic-speaking peoples, with the Afars generally speaking Afar and the Issa, Somali (LANG = 1).Both the Somali Issa and Afars are predominantly Muslim (BELIEF = 0); however, the Issa and Afar differ in ethnicity and social customs (CUSTOM = 1).

Djibouti gained independence in 1977. Since that time, there has been an uneasy balance between Djibouti’s Issa majority and the Afar minority. The Afars are a highly cohesive group and did not support the break-up of their traditional lands into three states (Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea). Between 1991-1994, the Afars in Djibouti were engaged in guerrilla activities and civil war (REB91 = 6; REB92-94 = 7) aimed at achieving autonomy from the government. In early 1994, the main Afar rebel group, the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD), split and the faction led by Ougoureh Kefle Ahmed began negotiations with the government. A formal peace agreement between the government and Ahmed's faction was signed in December 1995. This faction of FRUD has become a conventional political party allied with the government and its main party, the Rassemblement Populaire Pour le Progres (People's Rally for Progress) (RPP). However, sporadic fighting continued by the faction led by Ahmed Dini (FRUD-Dini) until a peace agreement was negotiated in December 2000 and ratified in May 2001 (REB99 = 4; REB00 = 1; REB01-04 = 0). Frustration with the slow pace of implementing the 2001 peace accord led to an outbreak of armed clashes in 2005 and rumors of the rebirth of an armed FRUD faction (REB05 = 4). The government quickly stamped out the incipient rebellion (REPVIOL05 = 5; REPVIOL06 = 3), and no violence was reported in 2006. Protest has also erupted in recent years. The largest incident came in 2005, when thousands protested the destruction of homes in Arhiba slum (predominantly Afar) as part of an urban renewal scheme (PROT05 = 3). Several Afar protesters were killed and Afar residents injured (REPGENCIV05 = 4; REPNVIOL05 = 5). The opposition Alliance Republicaine pour le Developpement, an Afar-based party, boycotted elections in 2005. In 2006, FRUD protested electoral fraud (PROT06 = 1).

The main grievances of Afars center on complete implementation of the 2001 peace accords, including decentralization in order to rule themselves (POLGR04-06 = 3) and implementation of economic remedial policies for Afar areas (ECGR04-06 = 2). Although peace has been restored to Djibouti, Afars still face economic disadvantages (ECDIS01-06 = 3) although their political situation has improved (POLDIS01-06 = 1). Afars have representation in both the national assembly (LEGISREP04-06 = 1) and guaranteed representation in the cabinet (GUARREP04-06 = 1; EXECREP04-06 = 1). The largely nomadic existence of many Afar makes economic gains difficult for them, but in the political sphere, the recent peace agreements have been linked to remedial policies meant to cure the ills of historical neglect. Although the Issa continue to maintain a predominance of political power, recent reforms include the election of a Somali president and an Afar prime minister, with all cabinet posts roughly divided between the two groups.



Alliance Republicaine pour le Developpement. 10/2002. “Statuts de l’Alliance Republicaine pour le Developpement.”, accessed 7/22/2008.

Harbeson, John W. 1995. "Post-Cold War Politics in the Horn of Africa: The Quest for Political Identity Intensified," in John W. Harbeson and Donald Rothchild, eds. Africa in World Politics: Post-Cold war Challenges, Colorado: Westview Press.

Keesing's Contemporary Archive, Keesing's Record of World Events. Various Records. 1990-2006.

Keller, Edmond. 1995. "Remaking the Ethiopian State." In I. William Zartman, ed., Collapsed States: The Disintegration and Restoration of Legitimate Authority. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

LexusNexis. Various news reports. 1990-2006

Olson, James Stuart. 1996. The Peoples of Africa: An Ethnohistorical Dictionary. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Minorities Rights Group. 1989. World Directory of Minorities, St. James International Reference. Chicago and London: St. James Press.

Polity IV. 2007. "Polity IV Country Report 2006: Djibouti.", accessed 7/22/2008

Shehim, Kassim, and James Searing. 1980. “Djibouti and the Question of Afar Nationalism.” African Affairs. 79:315. 209-226.

U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Djibouti. 2001-2006.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006