From The Hippo’s Ears: Djibouti

Facts you may not have know about Djibouti:

Djibouti (Jabuuti/جيبوتي), officially the Republic of Djibouti, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Somalia in the south, Ethiopia in the south and west, Eritrea in the north, and the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in the east. Across the Gulf of Aden lies Yemen, which does not share a land border with Djibouti.

Djibouti is a Unitary dominant-party presidential republic, but an authoritarian dictatorship. The country gained independence from France in 1977.

1.  When you first meet someone, how do you greet them?

Greetings are an important formality in Djibouti and should not be overlooked. Hello in Arabic is marhaban, and in French it is bonjour. How are you in Arabic is wa an ta ka yef al haal, and in French it is comment allez-vous?

2. What languages are spoken in the country?

Djibouti is a multilingual nation. The majority of local residents speak Somali and Afar as first languages. There are two official languages in Djibouti: Arabic and French. Colloquially, around 60,000 local residents speak the Ta’izzi-Adeni Arabic dialect, also known as Djibouti Arabic. French serves as a statutory national language.

3. Do you use a twelve hour clock, or a twenty-four hour clock?

We use a 24-hour system.

4. What side of the road do people drive on? What do we need to know about driving in the country?

We drive on the right side of road.

5. How important is punctuality?

Time is flexible in Djibouti. People don’t always arrive on time for meetings – this is part of the culture.

6. Which types of music are popular? Who are some of the most popular musicians?

Somalis have a rich musical heritage centered on traditional Somali folklore. Most Somali songs are pentatonic. That is, they only use five pitches per octave in contrast to a heptatonic (seven note) scale such as the major scale. At first listen, Somali music might be mistaken for the sounds of nearby regions such as Ethiopia, Sudan or the Arabian Peninsula, but it is ultimately recognizable by its own unique tunes and styles. Somali songs are usually the product of collaboration between lyricists (midho), songwriters (laxan) and singers (codka or “voice”). Balwo is a Somali musical style centered on love themes that is popular in Djibouti.

Traditional Afar music resembles the folk music of other parts of the Horn of Africa such as Ethiopia; it also contains elements of Arabic music. The history of Djibouti is recorded in the poetry and songs of its nomadic people, and goes back thousands of years to a time when the peoples of Djibouti traded hides and skins for the perfumes and spices of ancient Egypt, India and China. Afar oral literature is also quite musical. It comes in many varieties, including songs for weddings, war, praise and boasting.

Djiboutian traditional instruments include the tanbura, bowl lyre, and oud.

For a taste of Djibouti music, listen to Mohamed Ali Fourchette.

7. Are there any Traditional Dances?

The Afar people have a dance called jenile, which is intrinsically tied to the ancient Cushitic religion and today is practised during ceremonies attended by Sufi people, a sect of Islam. During the dance, there is a person at the centre of a circle who is also called the jenile and who chants while the other dancers encircles him or her and ask questions. The dancers clap and chant faster and faster until the jenile has answered them all.

Watch traditional Afar dancing here.

8.  What traditional Festivals are celebrated in the country?

Independence Day

Djibouti’s Independence is celebrated on June 27 each year. The date commemorates the country’s liberation from France and highlights the best of their local traditions. Expect lively and colorful themed parades (which changes every year), as well as speeches from important dignitaries. There is plenty of dancing, singing and general merriment in addition to a military parade which showcases the different equipment the national army has at its disposal. The parade is conducted by troops from Germany, France and the USA, all led by an amusing marching band. A presidential address marks the commencement of the day’s activities.


This 30-day fast in July is marked by devotional practices where women sing praise songs and read poems in their native tongue. The breaking of the fast begins with a sunset prayer after which people don’t consume anything but affur food. Ramadan ends with the Feast of the Sacrifice, which is also celebrated with prayer, rituals, and abundant food.


Fest’Horn is a special celebration of music in mid-December. This regional event was created to bring global attention to music from the Horn of Africa, and is marked by performances from artists in different genres.

9. What is the weather like?

Djibouti’s climate is significantly warmer and has significantly less seasonal variation than the world average. The mean daily maximum temperatures range from 32 to 41 °C (90 to 106 °F), except at high elevations. In Djibouti City, for instance, average afternoon highs range from 28 to 34 °C (82 to 93 °F) in April. Djibouti has either a hot semi-arid climate (BSh) or a hot desert climate (BWh), although temperatures are much moderated at the highest elevations. Djibouti’s climate ranges from Arid in the northeastern coastal regions to Semi-arid in the central, northern, western and southern parts of the country. The hinterland is significantly less humid than the coastal regions.

10. What are some interesting facts about the President?

President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh has been in office since 1999. He is often referred to in the region by his initials, IOG. Guelleh was first elected as President in 1999 as the handpicked successor to his uncle, Hassan Gouled Aptidon, who had ruled Djibouti since independence in 1977. Guelleh was re-elected in 2005, 2011 and again in 2016; the 2011 election was largely boycotted by the opposition amid complaints over widespread irregularities. Guelleh has been characterized as a dictator, and his rule has been criticized by some human rights groups.

He was awarded with the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian award on 25 January 2019 for his role in the safe evacuation of Indian citizens from Yemen.

11. What are the country’s major industries?

Djibouti’s economy is largely concentrated in the service sector. Commercial activities revolve around the country’s free trade policies and strategic location as a Red Sea transit point. Due to limited rainfall, vegetables and fruits are the principal production crops, and other food items require importation.

As of 2013, the container terminal at the Port of Djibouti handles the bulk of the nation’s trade. About 70% of the seaport’s activity consists of imports to and exports from neighboring Ethiopia, which depends on the harbor as its main maritime outlet. As of 2018, 95% of Ethiopian transit cargo was handled by the Port of Djibouti. The port also serves as an international refueling center and transshipment hub.

Djibouti’s main exports include trucks, vans, transmission and conveyor belts, animals, machinery for soil preparation, cars, and milk.

12. What are some of the things visitors can look forward to experiencing?

Major tourist attractions include visiting Lac ‘Assal (a crater lake in central-western Djibouti), Moucha Island (a small coral island off the coast of Djibouti), and Day Forest National Park/Forêt du Day National Park in the Gouda Mountains.

13. What is a popular local drink?

Due to Islamic influence, drinking alcohol is not common in Djibouti, and it is not widely available. Water, and cola from overseas, are common.

14. What is a popular local dish?

Popular dishes include sambuussa/samosa (crispy, fried pastries that are usually made out of meat, onions, and vegetables); fah-fah (stew made with goat meat, vegetables, and chilies); banana fritters; laxoox (flatbread made of teff flour and sweetened water, and cooked until golden on the bottom); and mukbaza (a kind of folded bread, that after being cooked, is cut into pieces and blended with honey and banana, or dates).

15. What do you pay, on average, for the following?

Djuvbouti uses the Djiboutian franc (DJF). (1 USD = approximately 178 DJF).

3-course meal at a mid-range restaurant: 4,000 DJF
Cappuccino: 411 DJF
Water (350 ml): 178 DJF
Milk (1 l): 325 DJF
Loaf of white bread: 400 DJF
Apples (1 kg): 750 DJF

16. Any general safety tips?

  • Petty crime is not uncommon in Djibouti. Don’t walk around town alone late at night. Keep valuables, particularly cameras and passports, out of sight.
  • Travel to the border with Eritrea is advised against, due to disputed territory between the two countries. Unmarked landmines are present in the border region with Eritrea.
  • Take great care if you travel to remote areas of the country notably the border with Somaliland, the north-west of Somalia and on roads north of Tadjoura where there are military roadblocks. You should respect the advice given by those operating the roadblocks and, if required, seek formal military approval for a journey.
  • Avoid travelling outside city centers after dark; vehicles often have no lights and livestock may be on the roads. Driving standards are generally poor and on the main Djibouti-Ethiopia road there are a very high number of large trucks. Many drivers use the (legal) narcotic khat and this contributes to speeding and unsafe driving. Roads are generally narrow, poorly lit and poorly maintained. Police set up wire coils as roadblocks on some of the major roads, which are not clearly visible at night. Stay on paved roads.
  • The threat of piracy related activity and armed robbery in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean remains significant.
  • Check whether you have consular support before traveling to Djibouti.

17. In conclusion, famous (and sometimes infamous) people from the country include:

  • Nima Djama, a Somali singer and political activist.
  • Hussein Ahmed Salah, former long-distance runner, best known for winning a bronze medal in the marathon at the 1988 Summer Olympics.
  • Abdourahman Waberi, novelist, essayist, poet, academic, and short-story writer.
  • Ahmed Daher, international footballer who plays as a striker. He played in three qualifying matches for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.


For information as to how Relocation Africa can help you with your Mobility, Immigration, Research, Remuneration, and Expat Tax needs, email, or call us on +27 21 763 4240.

Sources: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8]. Image sources: [1], [2], [3].