In Djibouti, two peoples dominate. In the south there is the Somali clan issa and in the north live aphas, a people also found in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Issa speaks Somali and the Afars speak Afaric, which is a Cushitic language akin to Somali. Tensions exist between ice and aphas.
Both groups have traditionally been nomads and depended on livestock care, but now most of the population lives in cities. The nomadic population is still moving fairly freely across the borders of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.
- COUNTRYAAH.COM: Key populations estimated size and data of Djibouti, including population density of how many people per square mile. Also included are facts for population and language.
Djibouti has three more Somali clans: gadabursi, issaq and darod. In addition, the country has a few thousand residents of European descent, especially French. The majority of them work in the defense, government and business sectors. There is also a group of influential Arabs, mainly Yemenites, who are active in trade and shipping.
The rivalry between Issa and Afar has for a long time created tension. During the French colonial empire (see Older history), France was considered to favor the Afars, but after independence in 1977, Issa, which is a slightly larger group of people, came to dominate politics completely.
For Djiboutian authorities, the issue of population size is sensitive, partly because of the fragile balance between Issa and Afar, and partly because of uncertainty about the number of refugees in the country. The data on the proportion of the different population groups in the population varies between different sources.
The many wars in the region have created large refugee and migration flows from countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Yemen. Between 2003 and 2008, Djibouti expelled 115,000 undocumented immigrants, and in 2011 the UN refugee agency UNHCR stated that there were more than 14,000 refugees in the country. Since then, the number of people fleeing has risen again, not least because of civil war in Yemen. In 2019, the UNHCR estimated that there were 29,200 refugees in Djibouti. The refugees came from Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Yemen.
Official languages are French and Arabic, but most residents speak Somali or African.
FACTS – POPULATION AND LANGUAGE
issa 50-60%, afar 35-40%, other 5-15%
Number of residents
956 985 (2017)
Number of residents per square kilometer
Percentage of residents in the cities
77.6 percent (2017)
23.0 per 1000 residents (2016)
8.4 per 1000 residents (2016)
1.5 percent (2017)
2.8 number of births per woman (2016)
Percentage of women
49.8 percent (2017)
62 years (2016)
Life expectancy for women
64 years (2016)
Life expectancy for men
61 years (2016)
French and Arabic are official languages, but most speak Somali or African
Eritrea is being penalized for border conflict
The UN Security Council faces sanctions against Eritrea for refusing to contribute to a solution to the border dispute with Djibouti.
Still tense with Eritrea
The UN Security Council says that Eritrea has not withdrawn its soldiers from the disputed Ras Doumeira where border disputes broke out with Djibouti in June 2008. However, Eritrea denies that the country has troops remaining in the area.