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BACKGROUND NOTES. 1988 Feb; 1-7.The Republic of Djibouti, an area of 9,000 square miles on the Horn of Africa, is bounded on 3 sides by Ethiopia and Somalia and on the 4th by the Gulf of Aden, where the capital city, Djibouti, with its good natural harbor, is located. The population of 387,000, growing at 5.1% a year, is divided between the majority Somalis (of the Issa, Ishaak and Gadaboursi tribes) and the Afars and Danakils. All are Cushite-speaking, although the official language is French. Almost all of the people are Muslim. The country became independent of France in 1977; it had been the French Territory of Afars and Issas from 1966-77 and French Somaliland from 1884 to 1966. During the Second World War, Djibouti was governed from Vichy until 1942, when the country joined the Free French, and a Djibouti battalion participated in the liberation of France. The country is governed by a president (Mr. Hassan Gouled Aptidon), a prime minister (Mr. Barkat Gourad Hammadou), and a 65-member parliament, elected by universal suffrage. There is only 1 permitted political party, the Rassemblement Populaire Pour le Progres (RPP), which is dominated by the Issas. There are no women in high government positions, but the status of women is somewhat higher than in most Islamic countries. Djibouti has a small army, navy, and air force, supplemented by 4000 French troops. The level of socioeconomic development is not good. The economy is stagnant, and the country is afflicted with recurring drought. Only 20% of the people are literate; infant mortality is 114/1000, and life expectancy is 50 years. Per capita income is $450. Malaria is prevalent; there is only 1 hospital; and drinking water is unsafe. There are no natural resources, no industry, and very little agriculture. Most of the country's gross domestic product of $339 million is derived from servicing the port's facilities for container shipment and transshipment and maintaining the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railroad. The unit of currency is the Djibouti franc, and the official exchange rate is 177 DF to US$1. Djibouti's imports amount to $230 million, most of which are consumed in the country and paid for by French economic assistance and $3 million a year from the US. Djibouti is a member of the UN, the Organization of African Unity, the Arab League, the Nonaligned Movement, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and the Intergovernmental Authority for Drought and Development (IGADD).