I've flown in from South Sudan. Djibouti City is, unsurprisingly, reminiscent of Moroni in the Comoros. It's either a charming mélange of fading Arabic architecture, with French language facias and colourful African peoples, or a hotchpotch of crumbling ramshackle buildings, depending on your mood. Half of the population of Djibouti live here.
A Melange of Architecture in Djibouti City
It’s an interesting morning’s wander, the odd goat ambling alongside. Guide, Akram assures me it’s very safe. Brightly attired, fully covered women sit on plastic armchairs in the streets, clutching big shopping bags full of cash. They’re the local moneychangers.
Djibouti is a melange of different architectural styles that represent various periods in its history. A few of the building fronts have been renovated and date back to the nineteenth century. The Place of 27 June in the city centre is also distinguished by its Moorish-inspired arches. The old section is filled with bazaars and souks nestled along narrow streets. There are also wide streets, restaurants, large plazas and plenty of cafes. Many of the boulevards are lined with trees. This is both a centre for commerce and entertainment, and a residential area.
There’s a small bustling vegetable market, a bigger clothes market, (Akram says the middle class shop here), a banking district and a compound that is part building site, where the rich live in super-sized mansions, mingling in with key embassies - Saudi, Qatar, the USA and France. The contrast with the surrounding poverty, sprawls of one-room tin huts, woven wood shelters and dust is profound. Nearby, a modern, almost upmarket mall, where we stop and drink milkshakes. Akram is a big fan.
To accommodate the growing middle class, many new apartments and housing developments are being constructed in and especially on the outskirts of the the city.
Known as the Pearl of the Gulf of Tadjoura due to its location, Djibouti is strategically positioned near the world's busiest shipping lanes and acts as a refuelling and transhipment centre So, the port is huge and expanding, with free trade zones. Out in the gulf, boats representing the big navies of the world patrol the strategic mouth to the Red Sea. So we’re also, I’m assured, safe from pirates too.
Fish to Die For
The final stop, the National Restaurant (fake Persian Islamic architecture), which serves the best meal I’ve eaten this trip. Huge portions of beautifully spiced and grilled fish (Yemeni style) with ground banana and date and the freshest charcoal baked flatbread.
Next, we are heading out into the desert.