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French overseas territory: 1946-1977

After World War II French Somaliland, like all other French colonies, is given the status of overseas territory within the French Union. And, again like all others, it has the option in 1958 to sever links with France or to remain within what is henceforth known as the French Community.

The colony votes in 1958 to stay with France and does so again in a referendum in 1967 (after which it is known as the French Territory of Afars and Issas, from the two main tribal groups). However in 1977 it becomes fully independent as the republic of Djibouti.

Independence: from1977

Tiny Djibouti (its population at the time of independence is only about 350,000 people) avoids very successfully the most obvious threat to its existence - that of being dominated by one or other of its large neighbours, Somalia and Ethiopia. It does so by following a rigorous policy of neutrality and by refusing to give refuge to any of the armed guerrilla groups attempting to undermine either regime.

Internally the most likely threat is rivalry between the non-Somali Afars and the Somali Issas, but within a few years of independence a successful power-sharing formula has been devised. Political appointments are made in proportion to the country's ethnic balance.

This calm balance depends on Djibouti being a single-party state, with the jobs shared out among an exclusive political elite. Hassan Aptidon, an Issa, is the main beneficiary of this oligarchic system, being elected president on independence in 1977 and then re-elected for successive terms ever since.

However, from 1991 this cosy arrangement is violently upset by the formation of an Afar rebel group, FRUD or the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy. FRUD launches a civil war in 1991, but in 1994 a peace treaty is agreed. FRUD forces are to be integrated in the army. In 1995 seven FRUD leaders join Aptidon's cabinet. But a minority FRUD faction, rejecting the treaty, is still fighting at the end of the decade.