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Assessment for Afars in Djibouti

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Afars in Djibouti, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 27 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
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

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 signature in May 2001 of an historical agreement between the Djibouti government and the Afar organization FRUD regarding decentralisation and efforts to ease Afar insurgency in northern and south-western Djibouti might improve this tensed situation.

Analytic Summary

About two-thirds of the Republic of Djibouti's inhabitants live in the capital city, but over 50 percent of the total Afar population are migrant nomads or reside in small towns or oases (GROUPCON = 2). 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 (NUMSEGX=2). Although French and Arabic are the official state languages, all Djiboutians are Cushitic-speaking peoples (with the Afars generally speaking Afar; the Issa, Somali (CULDIFX2 = 2)).Both the Somali Issa and Afars are predominantly Muslim (CULDIFX4 = 0); however, the Issa and Afar differ in ethnicity and social customs (CULDIFX1 = 2; CULDIFX5 = 2).

Gaining its independence in 1977 (formerly French Somaliland), there has always been an uneasy balance between Djibouti's Issa majority and 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 signed in December 2000 (REB99 = 4; REB00 = 1, but REB01-03 = 0).

Although peace has been restored to Djibouti, Afars still face economic disadvantages (ECDIS00 = 3 and ECDIS01-03 = 2) although their political situation has improved (POLDIS0 = 1 and POLDIS01-03 = 0). 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.


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