Reaching the Nations

Djibouti

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 23,200 square km.  Located in East Africa, Djibouti is a small country on the coast of the Gulf of Aden that borders Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea.  Plains occupy most the terrain with hills and mountains in central areas near the coast.  The climate consists of hot, dry desert with inadequate fresh water supplies to sustain human activity.  Other environmental issues include little arable land, desertification, and human threats to endangered species.  Earthquakes, droughts, and flash flooding are natural hazards.  Djibouti is divided into six administrative districts.

Population: 740,528 (July 2010)       

Annual Growth Rate: 2.181% (2010)    

Fertility Rate: 2.79 children born per woman (2010)   

Life Expectancy: 58.31 male, 63.22 female (2010)

Peoples

Somali: 60%

Afar: 35%

Other: 5%

Afars were among the first to settle Djibouti and at one time controlled more than two-thirds of the nation.  Afars today reside in the north whereas Somalis populate the south.  Issa-Somalis are the largest Somali clan.  Conflict between Issa-Somalis and Afars has continued for many years.  Somalis continue to immigrate as refugees from neighboring Somalia.  There has also been conflict between new-coming immigrant groups and native Djiboutians.[1]

Languages: Somali (40%), Afar (13.5%), Arabic dialects (10%), French (1.5%), other (35%). French and Arabic are official languages, but Somali and Afar are most widely spoken as first and second languages.  

Literacy: 67.9% (2003)

History

Djibouti's maritime position and location bridging Africa and the Arabian Peninsula have significantly shaped its history.  Trade routes between Africa and Asia often traveled through Djibouti.  Islam spread to the region shortly after its advent in the seventh century.  The French took interest in the geopolitical importance of the area and established French Somaliland.  Prior to independence in 1977, Djibouti was known as the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas.  The first president, Hassan Gouled Aptidon, ruled for more than two decades under an authoritarian one-party government.  Civil war between Issa-Somali-led government and the Afars occurred in the 1990s and ended in 2001.  Democratic elections first occurred in 1999 and again in 2005.  The United States and France maintain strong political ties. 

Culture 

Traditional cuisine is based on animal products originating from herds maintained by nomadic pastoralists.  Grains are widely consumed and in cities European foods are available.  Many men cultivate and chew Qat - an evergreen shrub found in some areas of East Africa and the Middle East which has mild narcotic properties.  Alcohol and cigarette consumption rates are low.  Polygamy is legal and still practiced.

Economy

GDP per capita: $2,800 (2009) [6.03% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.520

Corruption Index: 2.8

The economy depends on its geostrategic location, services provided to trade and travel, and international aid from France.  Many trade goods transit through Djibouti.  70% of port activity consists of imports and exports bound for Ethiopia.  Djibouti adopted a free trade zone status and is a center of trade for the Horn of Africa.  Djibouti controls some shipping lanes in the Red Sea.  The only United States military base in sub-Sahara Africa is located in Djibouti and is vital to counter-terrorism operations.  Natural resources are scarce and unemployment is high (60% in urban areas and 83% in rural areas).  Services and industry produce 82% and 15% of the GDP, respectively.  Most people residing outside the capital city are pastoralists and live nomadic lives with their livestock.  Agricultural products include fruit, vegetables, and animal products.  Nearly 80% of exports are destined to Somalia, especially the de facto state of Somaliland in northern Somalia.  Other primary trade partners include Saudi Arabia, India, China, and the United States.  Djibouti suffers from major corruption issues, particularly human trafficking linked to the sex trade and domestic servants for the region. 

Faiths

Muslim: 99%

Christian: 1%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  7,000

Latter-Day Saints  less than 100

Religion

The population is almost entirely Muslim.  Citizens are automatically assumed to adhere to Islam unless they specifically state otherwise.[2]  There is a strong sense of community among Christians.

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution protects religious freedom which is usually upheld by the government.  Islam is the state religion.  The government does not impose penalties or restrictions on Muslims not active in their faith or on non-Muslims.  Only non-Muslim foreigners may be civilly married whereas others must be married in a Muslim religious ceremony.  Foreign missionaries may perform humanitarian work and sell religious literature.  Although there are no laws banning proselytism, it is strongly discouraged and most non-Muslim groups do not engage in open missionary work.  There are reports of minor religious intolerance toward non-Muslims, but overall Muslims and other religious groups tend to live harmoniously.  Conversion from Islam to other religions is discouraged.[3]

Largest Cities

Urban: 87%

Djibouti, `Ali Sabieh, Tadjoura, Obock, Dikhil, `Arta, Holhol, Dorra, Gâlâfi, Loyada.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregation.

One of the 10 largest cities has a congregation.  Over 80% of the national population lives in the 10 largest cities.  The city of Djibouti accounts for 64% of the population.

LDS History

The Africa Area and later the Africa Southeast Area administered Djibouti.  The Kenya Nairobi Mission included Djibouti until it was reassigned to the Uganda Kampala Mission in 2009.  A group for members in United States military has operated for at least a couple decades.  Another small group functioned in the late 2000s for an American family and a returned missionary. 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: less than 50 (2009)

Members in the United States military account for a large portion of Church membership.  Only a few if any native or African members reside in the country. 

Congregational Growth

Branches: 1

In 2010, the Church organized its first independent branch named the Djibouti Military Branch. 

Activity and Retention

Most members are likely active in the Church. 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Arabic, English, French,

All LDS scriptures are available in Arabic and French.  A wide range of ecclesiastic materials are available in Arabic and French.  Church materials in Somali consist of Gospel Principles and The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony.  Translations of the sacrament prayers, Gospel Fundamentals, and The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony are available in Afar.

Meetinghouses

Church meetings for the military branch are likely held in a servicemen chapel on Camp Lemonnier.  Small groups may meet in the privacy of members' homes. 

Health and Safety

Life expectancy is 60 years for both males and females.  HIV/AIDS infected 3.1% of the adult population in 2007.  Methods of infection include illicit sexual relations, drug use, HIV-positive mothers, and contaminated needles.

Humanitarian and Development Work

Members in North Carolina participated in a US military led humanitarian effort in 2007.  Members assembled 100 hygiene kits and donated clothes and schools and medical supplies.[4]

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

Unlike most of its neighbors, Djibouti demonstrates considerably more tolerance towards non-Muslims and enjoys many aspects of freedom of religion.  Open proselytism is socially discouraged, indicating that future LDS missionaries assigned to serve in Djibouti would most likely work through member referrals and contacts gained through humanitarian work. 

Cultural Issues

The chewing of qat is a cultural habit which stands against LDS church teachings.  Those practicing polygamy who desire to be baptized must end polygamous marriages in divorce and be interviewed by a member of the mission or area presidency.

National Outreach

The concentration of the majority of the population in the capital requires fewer mission outreach centers once formal missionary work begins.  Initial mission efforts will most likely be limited to the capital for many years.  The Church will likely face major challenges reaching those living as nomads or residing in small villages due to cultural restrictions, limited mission resources for a country with less than one million inhabitants, and possible safety issues in conflict zones. Distance from mission headquarters in Kampala, Uganda reduces the frequency of visits by the mission president and church leaders. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Member activity and convert retention rates are similar  to that of other locations with a high concentration of LDS United States military personnel. 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Future proselytism prospects are complicated by ongoing conflict between the Afars and Issa-Somalis.  Non-Africans constitute the majority of Church membership, leading to significant challenges fellowshipping and introducing the Church to natives. 

Language Issues

At least 65% of the population has some Church materials translated into their native language.  Low literacy rates are a major problem.  

Leadership

Church leadership appears to be almost entirely comprised of US military personnel.  The Church may struggle to develop local leadership among Somalis and Afars due to low receptivity, the small number of native members, and infrequent mission leadership visits from the Uganda Kampala Mission.

Temple

Djibouti is assigned to the Johannesburg South Africa Temple district.  As most members are in the US military, many likely attended the temple the Frankfurt Germany like their counterparts in the Middle East.  Inordinate distances and traveling costs limit temple attendance.

Comparative Growth

In 2010, Djibouti and Sudan were the only predominately Muslim sub-Saharan African countries with an independent congregation.  Furthermore, both these nations had their first independent branches organized within six months of each other.  Djibouti shares more commonalities with the Middle East than Africa in terms of Church membership as most members are on temporary assignment with the United States military.

Many Christian groups do not report membership numbers and church statistics for Djibouti due to strong Islamic influences and the small number of Christian followers.  Christian groups appear most successful attracting converts among Ethiopian Christians  and other immigrant groups.   

Future Prospects

Opportunities for mission outreach in Djibouti appear favorable due to relative tolerance of non-Muslims and foreign missionaries working on humanitarian assignment, but may be limited by low receptivity and cultural pressures against conversion.  However, the largely homogenous Muslim population may become less accommodating toward Christian groups in the future in view of the heavy restrictions that Christians face in large, influential nations such as Yemen and Somalia.  The lack of native Djiboutian Latter-day Saints to assist in mission efforts in a culture where open proselytism is frowned upon will likely continue to delay any organized mission outreach efforts in the medium term.  


[1]  "Djibouti," Countries and their Cultures, retrieved 5 June 2010.  http://www.everyculture.com/Cr-Ga/Djibouti.html

[2]  "Djibouti," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127229.htm

[3]  "Djibouti," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127229.htm

[4]  "Helping needy in Djibouti," LDS Church News, 17 February 2007.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/50154/Helping-needy-in-Djibouti.html