CAPITAL: DJIBOUTI CITY
LANGUAGE: AFAR, SOMALI, ARABIC & FRENCH
CURRENCY: DJIBOUTIAN FRANC
POPULATION SIZE: 1 MILLION
CALLING CODE: +253
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Its geostrategic location adjacent to the Bab el Mandeb strait, which is in an important corridor for international shipping, as well as its relative stability in a volatile and conflict-ridden region has drawn several global military powers to Djibouti. China, France, Italy, Japan and the United States have all set up military bases in Djibouti primarily intended to protect international shipping lines against piracy and to conduct counter-terrorism operations against terrorist groups based in the Horn of Africa and on the Arabian peninsula. While the presence of these foreign powers provide a certain level of security, tensions between its military guests and surrounding countries could draw Djibouti into regional conflict.
Additionally, there is a long-standing dispute about Djibouti’s border with Eritrea. The border is not clearly demarcated and the presence of militaries and unexploded landmines makes this a dangerous and fragile area. Non-essential travel to the region within 10 kilometers from Djibouti’s border with Eritrea should be avoided. The same applies to Djibouti’s border with Somaliland. Travelers to both areas are at increased risk of being attacked or kidnapped by terrorist groups or gangs.
Due to the presence of terrorist organizations in surrounding countries, there is a substantial risk of terrorism in Djibouti. Al-Shabaab has publicly declared Djibouti a potential target as a result of the country’s participation in the African Union peacekeeping mission. Terrorists could conduct attacks by means of suicide bombings, kidnappings and improvised explosive devices along roadsides and considers westerners or places known to be visited by western foreigners legitimate targets. Be vigilant at all times, but particularly when visiting government buildings, military facilities, places of worship, transportation hubs and public places such as restaurants, bars, malls, markets and hotels. Cases of banditry have ben reported, especially outside the capital.
Demonstrations about domestic political developments occur regularly. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can eventually turn violent. Authorities may use violence to disperse protesters. Large gatherings of people and public demonstrations should be avoided as much as possible. Crime levels are relatively low, yet petty crime such as pickpocketing, purse snatching, theft from or of vehicles does occur occasionally throughout Djibouti. Foreign nationals are prime targets. Do not wear or display valuable items and always drive with doors locked and windows closed.
Djibouti is one of the main destinations for refugees fleeing from civil unrest and armed conflict in surrounding countries. Refugees and asylum seekers from Somalia and Ethiopia have settled in the Ali Addeh Camp near Ali Sabieh and refugees from Yemen congregate in Markazi camp near Obock. The influx of refugees has resulted in increased crime levels and it is advised to avoid areas with a high density of refugees.
Djiboutian traffic is not particularly dangerous, but caution is required especially outside the capital. While the main roads in Djibouti City are of acceptable quality, the rest of the country’s road network is limitedly paved, poorly maintained and insufficiently lit. Driving standards can be low and pedestrians and livestock may unexpectedly enter the road. Public transportation is unregulated, unreliable and generally unsafe. Most vehicles are in poor condition, busses often overcrowded and there is subsequently a high risk of petty crime. The recently opened train connection between Addis Ababa has no reported safety incidents and can by exemption be considered a fairly safe mode of public transportation. If possible though, hiring a private vehicle is the safest option.
It strongly advised to avoid all sorts of travel after sunset, especially outside urban areas. Not only is there a risk of banditry, the police also regularly sets up roadblocks such as wire coils to check vehicle registration and insurance and these checkpoints can be hardly visible at night. When travelling outside Djibouti City, it is highly recommended to be accompanied by a local guide. Furthermore, one should travel in convoys of at least two 4x4 vehicles and always carry extra fuel, spare tires and sufficient provision. While most landmines have been cleared or marked, unmarked landmines are still present in the northern regions of Obock and Tadjoura along the border with Eritrea as well as the Ali Sabei-district in the south. One should therefore not leave paved roads.
While the waters close to Djibouti’s shore are relatively safe, going further onto open sea or close to Somali waters substantially increases the risk of piracy and armed robbery against all forms of shipping. Foreigners have been taken hostage for ransom by pirates. It is thus strongly advised to refrain from entering the Southern Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. Several reputable airlines are flying to Djibouti, including Air France, Turkish Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines. The safety of domestic air carriers cannot be guaranteed.
Medical facilities in Djibouti City are limited and nonexistent in the countryside. Private clinics are fairly expensive and evacuation is often necessary in case of a major medical emergency. Medicines are extremely expensive and regularly in short supply.
Insect-borne diseases, such as malaria, dengue, zika and chikungunya, are prevalent in Djibouti all year around and it is strongly advised to protect oneself against mosquito bites by taking anti-malaria medication, wearing body-covering clothing and using mosquito repellents during day and nighttime. Avoid contact with all animals to prevent the contamination of other animal-borne diseases, such as Ebola, rabies and avian influenza. Travelers are at risk of contracting various diseases through contaminated food and water, such as cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A and schistosomiasis. This risk increases when traveling to remote places with poor standards of hygiene and sanitation. HIV/AIDS is endemic in Djibouti and exposure to other people’s bodily fluids should be avoided.
Djibouti’s climate is extremely hot and from May until October day temperatures can exceed 45ºC. Intense rainfall after intense periods of droughts can lead to flash floods, especially in and around Djibouti City. These floods can severely damage buildings and roads and may cause an outbreak of water-borne diseases. It is recommended to avoid flood areas as much as possible. Djibouti is located in an active seismic zone and is thus occasionally hit by earthquakes and, although very rarely, volcanic eruptions.
Djibouti’s customs, laws and regulations are based on Islamic beliefs and practices. Especially in rural areas, a stricter interpretation of Islam is adhered to. It is forbidden and socially unacceptable to behave or engage in activities that run contrary to societal norms and values. Dress and behave modestly and appropriately. While khat is legal, the possession, use or trafficking of other kinds of drugs can be punished with imprisonment and heavy fines. The consumption of alcohol is not forbidden, yet public drunkenness can result in a two-year prison sentence. It is thus recommended to be cautious with the consumption of alcohol. Be extra aware of local traditions and customs during Ramadan and do not drink, eat or smoke in public between sunrise and sunset. It is illegal to take pictures of military personnel and facilities as well as airports and bridges. If caught, your equipment can be confiscated or you can be arrested.
In Djibouti, women usually occupy a subordinate position compared to men. Female travelers are advised to keep these unequal gender relations in mind when traveling to Djibouti. Be aware of and act in accordance with local customs about women’s clothing and appearance. Laws supposed to protect women against sexual assaults are not effectively uphold and perpetrators often go unpunished. Be extra alert when travelling by public transport and preferably avoid travelling alone.
While homosexuality and the LGTBIQ-community is not illegal, sexual or affectionate acts between individuals of the same sex is not tolerated in Djiboutian society. Because LGTBIQ-travelers can be prosecuted by authorities under laws prohibiting an ‘attack on good morals’, any public display of affection between individuals of the same sex is strongly discouraged.
» Be up-to-date with routine vaccinations and boosters
» Get additional recommended vaccinations
» Purchase a comprehensive health insurance that covers travel in Djibouti, overseas medical costs and medical evacuation
» Take a first aid kit
» Take all necessary preventive medication
» Keep a copy of important documents, such as passport, bank cards, health insurance card and medical overview online
» Prevent predictable behavior, alternate travel routes and times on a daily basis
» Always keep a high level of situational awareness
» Strictly comply to instructions given by local authorities
» Stay on well-used paths and roads
» Avoid places known to be often visited by Westerners and public buildings such as hospitals, government buildings, airports, military facilities, transport hubs, hotels and malls
» Avoid mass and politically motivated meetings
» Monitor local news outlets to stay up-to-date about political developments
» If you happen to be in an area affected by violence, leave as soon as possible. If safely leaving is not possible, find a safe spot, remain indoors and follow local advice.
» Always have an adequate stock of water, food, fuel, cash and medicines
» Only drink bottled or boiled water, only eat well-cooked food, peel your own vegetables and fruit, and avoid unpasteurized dairy products
» Be aware and respect local customs and traditions, dress modestly and behave discreetly
» Avoid the use of non-sterile medical equipment
» Avoid all contact with sick people and animals
» Do not swim in fresh water
» Wash your hands regularly with soap
» Avoid unprotected sexual intercourse
» Monitor local weather reports closely and take necessary preparations on time
» Consult a doctor immediately if you become ill after returning from Djibouti
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