Colonial Djibouti

As the British and Italians spread their influence across the Horn of Africa in the nineteenth century, particularly along the Somali coast, the French, already established in west Africa, eyed Djibouti as a prospective colony that could serve its interests by way of its ports at Obock and the city of Djibouti to enhance trade routes to India, Madagascar and Mauritius.

Before the British, who were already active in Egypt and Italians could extend their sphere of influence, the French signed treaties with the ruling sultans of Raheita, Tadjoura and Gobaad and purchased the anchorage of Obock in 1862 to provide coal for its steamships.

This purchase was seen to be of strategic value as up to that point France had been dependent on re-coaling its ships from the British port of Aden, a fuel supply that could easily be disrupted should further hostilities flare between the French and British. Over the next few years France extended its reach in the area including moving its administrative capital from Obock to Djibouti which was less exposed to attack and naming it French Somaliland with its borders being formalised by agreement with Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia in 1897.

The following year a French consortium under the auspices of the Imperial Ethiopian Company (CIE) Old Djiboutibegan building a narrow-gauge railway from the new capital Djibouti to Ethiopia. Unfortunately the company ran out of funds in 1906 leaving the partially completed railway coming to an abrupt halt in the middle of the Ethiopian desert.

However a remodelled company, the Franco-Ethiopian Railway Company (CFE), secured further funding by 1908 and the railway, which was originally planned to enhance trade from the Red Sea to Ethiopia was finally completed in 1917 when it reached Addis Ababa. For more in-depth information and analysis of old Djibouti check out our Djibouti history and independence pages, but in the meantime check out this video compilation of pictures and images of old colonial Djibouti from between the world wars giving a rare insight into the country whilst under French colonial rule and a fascinating glimpse of history.


Colonial Djibouti

Colonial Djibouti

Colonial Djibouti

Colonial Djibouti


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Colonial Djibouti

Colonial Djibouti

We just love this video of picture postcards of old Colonial Djibouti between the world wars, a bit of African history to savour!


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