The special relationship between Ethiopia and Djibouti

The tiny coastal nation of Djibouti has long been of great strategic and commercial significance to neighboring Ethiopia, especially so since Ethiopia lost Eritrea in the 1990s and with it access to the sea.

A DW photo essay has explored the mutually beneficial relationship between the two countries that has led to Djibouti housing a large diaspora of Ethiopian immigrants, many of whom left their native country in search of ‘sira’, the Amharic word for work.

Now landlocked, Ethiopia imports almost all its goods through Djibouti’s expanding network of ports. Ethiopian ships regularly glide across the Gulf of Tadjoura, bringing valuable cargos for loading on to Ethiopia-bound trucks. [image: Mikhail Goldovski]

The Addis Ababa-Djibouti City railway built during the early 20th century transported goods from the coast to the Ethiopian capital. But since the beginning of the new millenium Ethiopia has relied on legions of lorry drivers to keep it supplied. A new Chinese-built railway due to open soon will re-establish the Ethiopia-Djibouti rail link. [image: Carmen]

Djibouti’s close proximity to Ethiopia has resulted in a large Ethiopian diaspora estimated at 50,000. “Many people came here during the Derg’s communist rule,” says Ashenaf Harege who works at an Ethiopian community centre in Djibouti City. The centre is a focal point for Ethiopians to celebrate holidays and festivals, and meet to discuss Ethiopia and learn about what’s happening back home. It serves Ethiopian food and drinks (the government exempts it from tax). “I came because the salary is better here,” says Haile Gebremedhin, who works for a transport company. “It’s good living here, especially compared to other places in the region. Obviously there are problems, but the people are good.” [image: Gates Foundation]

Djibouti is predominantly Muslim with the call to prayer a regular daily refrain. But every Sunday morning Ethiopian Orthodox Christians gather for Mass at Saint Gabriel’s Church next to the community center. Both institutions were built on land donated by the Djiboutian government. “In other countries people hold religion against you, but here they don’t mind,” Gebremedhin says. [image: opalpeterliu]

Many Ethiopians living in Djibouti are torn between either permanently settling in Djibouti or relocating back to Ethiopia. [image: Rod Waddington]

Across the Gulf of Tadjoura in the towns of Obock and Tadjoura, the Ethiopian language Amharic is widely spoken. Almost all Ethiopians came to Djibouti for the same reason: ‘sira,’ the Amharic word for work. “In Djibouti, a cleaning job can earn you as much as a professor in Addis Ababa,” says Hussein in Tadjoura. “But I miss Ethiopia’s perfect weather. Here it’s too hot.” [image: Olivier ROUX]

See DW’s original photographic essay here.

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