In 1977 the French territory of Afars and the Issas became independent as Djibouti, with Hassan Gouled Aptidon its first President. Aptidon – an important player in the independence struggle - proceeded to rule the country until 1999. In 1981 he turned Djibouti into a One-Party State declaring The People’s Rally for Progress the sole legal party.
Civil war broke out in 1991, and as a response (fitting with the general global movement towards multi-party politics) Aptidon called a referendum on multi-party politics in 1992. Four parties were permitted to stand in the December 1992 parliamentary elections, however the RRP succeeded in winning all 65 seats in the National Assembly. Aptidon was also re-elected in 1993 for a fourth term with 60 percent of the vote.
The Djiboutian civil war can be characterized as a conflict fought between the ruling RRP party (predominantly Issa in ethnicity) and the predominantly ethnic Afar rebel group – the Front for the Restoration of Democracy. The FRUD reacted violently against the perceived lack of Afar presence in the government, despite representing a sizeable percentage of the country’s population. The war was effectively ended with a moderate (majority) faction signing a peace deal in 1994. Two Afar FRUD members were made cabinet ministers.
Aptidon resigned from the Presidency in 1999 at the age of 83 and was succeeded by Ismail Omar Guelleh who presided over the signing of a peace agreement with the now marginalised armed wing of the FRUD. Currently, political power is shared by a Somali president and an Afar prime minister, with an Afar career diplomat as Foreign Minister and other cabinet posts roughly divided. However, Issas are predominate in the government, civil service, and the ruling party. That, together with a shortage of non-government employment, has bred resentment and continued political competition between the Issa Somalis and the Afars.
In 2001, the Djiboutian government leased the former French Foreign Legion base Camp Lemonier to the United States Central Command for operations related to Combined Joint Task force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA). In 2009, Central Command transitioned responsibilities in Africa to AFRICOM. The location of Camp Lemonier is linked to the country’s strategic geographic position at the mouth of the Red Sea. It serves as an important location for goods entering and leaving the east African highlands. The present leadership maintains close ties to France, which also has a significant military presence in the country.
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