Djibouti (S4.03)

S04E03 Djibouti Audio

In this episode of 80 Days: An Exploration Podcast, we’ll be talking about Djibouti, a small nation located on the Northeast Coast of the Horn of Africa. Bordered by Eritrea to the North, Ethiopia to the West and Somalia to the south, Djibouti lies on the west side of the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, the narrowest point of Gulf of Aden.


Around 30km across the strait lies Yemen. This chokepoint into the Red Sea, which overlooks the approaches to the Suez Canal, has long made Djibouti a desirable location for naval bases. Dominated by two main groups – the Afar and Issa Somali people, Djibouti today is balanced between these two factions, having endured a protracted civil war in the wake of winning its independence from France in 1977. Occupying a total area of around 23,000 km2 (9,000 sq mi), Djibouti is the third smallest country in continental Africa, and today has a population of around 880,000, the vast majority of whom live in the captial city of Djibouti City. Nearly 94% of the population is Muslim while the remaining 6% are Christian, and official languages are French and Arabic. Djibouti today attracts plenty of foreign investment, and aims to become “Africa’s Dubai.”

This episode, just like all of our recent ones, is supported by our Patreon backers. If you want to help out the show, you can help out by joining us over on to give us whatever you can in terms of financial support and avail of all the lovely awards and extras that entitles you to. If you’re unable to support us financially, you can always leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts from.


Your hosts, as always, are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly in Hong Kong, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 in the UK, and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach in Ireland . (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle @thatthomasfella)

Some further reading:

  • Peter Tyson, writing for PBS Nova, attempts to tackle the “Where Is Punt” question here.
  • Brittanica has loads of additional info on Adal and the Adal Sultanate, discussed by Joe in this episode.
  • You can find additional info on the Ifat Sultanate which succeeded it at
  • The New World Encyclopedia has a wonderful, long form post on the Scramble for Africa, which Djibouti was caught up in.
  • For more info on our old friend Ferdinand de Lesseps and his ill-fated other canal project, you can listen to our season one episode on Panama.
  • We also touch on old friend Vasco Da Gama in this episode. The Christmas special minisode referenced is here.
  • The disastrous Cossack invasion of Sagallo in what was then French Somaliland is profiled in an excellent blog by, which Luke quotes from in this episode.
  • Bruno Macaes profiles modern Djibouti in a recent article for Politico, entitled “The most valuable military real estate in the world.”
  • The LSE has a long-form article on Somali regiments during WW1.
  • The Guardian also profiles the “forgotten Muslim heroes who fought for Britain in the trenches” in WW1.
  • You can read the New York Time report on Djibouti’s declaration of independence in 1977 in the paper’s archives here.
  • To learn more about the Djiboutian Civil War, which broke out in 1991, see New World Encyclopedia’s lengthy article on the conflict here.
  • The plans to turn modern Djibouti into “Africa’s Dubai” are detailed by The Culture Trip here.
  • The SCMP journalist James Jeffrey details his experiences with the new Chinese-backed railway revitalisation project here.



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