French Somaliland


In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. French Somaliland is Number 109 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. British Somaliland and Sokotra is Number 97 in the series; Italian Somaliland is Number 128. French Somaliland (present-day Djibouti) is located on the eastern coast of Africa, bordered at that time by the Italian colony of Eritrea, Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia), and British Somaliland (part of present-day Somalia). The book contains sections on physical and political geography, political history, social and political conditions, and economic conditions. Included is a brief discussion of the population of the colony, which was comprised of two main groups, the Danakil (also known as the Afar), and the Issa Somalis. The section on political history summarizes the process by which France came to control the territory, beginning with the cession of the port of Obok by local chiefs in 1856 and ending with the conclusion of treaties of protection with the sultans of Tajura and Gobad and the chiefs of the Issa Somalis in 1884–85. The study notes that the economic value of French Somaliland derived almost entirely from its position as a transportation hub. It was the terminus of the railroad from the port of Djibouti to Ethiopia and a “convenient coaling station and port of call for vessels trading with the East, particularly with the French Asiatic possessions, and with Eastern Africa and Madagascar.” French Somaliland was renamed the Territory of the Afars and the Issas in 1967 and became independent as the Republic of Djibouti in 1977.

Last updated: February 18, 2015