Safety and Security
Djibouti’s historically stable political climate tends to become more fluid following national elections. In 2011 following a Presidential election and in February 2013 following parliamentary elections, sporadic protesting marked by rock throwing and tire burning disrupted travel around the city. If you see a demonstration, do not try to walk or drive through it. Remember the importance of maintaining a low profile. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. You should avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution near any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations.
Djibouti’s international borders are porous. Terrorism poses a threat in east Africa and in particular, al-Shabaab (which merged with al-Qaeda in February 2012) poses a threat to U.S. citizens in Djibouti. After Djibouti announced it would join the AMISOM peacekeeping mission to Somalia, al Shabaab threatened to retaliate by launching attacks inside Djibouti. On July 11, 2010, al-Shabaab launched simultaneous suicide attacks at two popular venues in Kampala, Uganda where people had gathered to watch the World Cup. Dozens of people were killed and injured, including Americans. U.S. citizens traveling in east Africa should be aware of the potential for indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets in public places, including hotels, and tourist sites where Westerners are known to congregate. Kidnapping of Westerners for ransom is a growing concern in the region. Read our Worldwide Caution for more information on terrorism in Africa.
Tensions exist between neighboring Ethiopia and Eritrea due to their long-running border dispute. Relations were further aggravated in January 2012 when ethnic Afar gunmen attacked a Western tourist convoy travelling in Ethiopia's northeastern region that borders Djibouti. In March and May 2012, Ethiopia staged raids across the Eritrean border - bringing tensions to their highest point since the 1998-2000 war between the two countries.
Since April 2008, there has been tension on Djibouti’s border with Eritrea after the Eritrean military occupied disputed territory, killing several Djiboutian soldiers and wounding dozens more. Americans in Djibouti should not attempt to cross the land border with Eritrea nor travel north of the town of Obock. Civil unrest or armed conflict in neighboring countries could disrupt air travel to and from Djibouti or otherwise negatively affect its security. Travelers should exercise caution when traveling to any remote area of Djibouti, especially near the borders with Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia.
Pirates and other criminals have specifically targeted and kidnapped foreigners working in Somalia. In October 2011, a U.S. citizen aid worker living in Somalia was kidnapped, and in January 2012, another U.S. citizen was kidnapped while on work-related travel in Somalia. In both cases, as well as in recent kidnappings of other Westerners, the victims took precautionary measures by hiring local security personnel, but those hired to protect them appear to have played a key role in the abductions. A strong familiarity with Somalia and/or extensive prior travel to the region does not reduce travel risk. Any U.S. citizens travelling to Somalia, including Somaliland and Puntland, are advised to obtain Kidnap and Recovery Insurance, as well as Medical Evacuation Insurance, prior to travel and register with the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, which covers Somalia.
Seaborne travel near Djibouti is extremely dangerous. There have been hundreds of incidents of armed attacks and robberies at sea by pirate groups on ships transiting around the Horn of Africa. On February 21, 2011, pirates hijacked a yacht in the Gulf of Aden carrying four Americans, who were subsequently killed. Additionally, after the April 2009 hijacking of a U.S. cargo vessel and subsequent rescue of the vessel’s captain by U.S. forces, Somali pirates threatened to retaliate against U.S. citizens transiting the region. See our International Maritime Piracy Fact Sheet. Also, please see the Somalia Travel Warning and the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration Maritime Advisory
In the event that seaborne travel is unavoidable, vessels should convoy in groups and maintain good communications contact at all times. Marine channels 12, 13 and 16 VHF-FM are international call-up and emergency channels and are commonly monitored by ships at sea. 2182 MHz is the HF international call-up and emergency channel. In the Gulf of Aden, use of transit routes farther offshore appears to reduce, but does not eliminate, the risk of contact with assailants. Wherever possible, travel in trafficked sea-lanes. Avoid loitering in or transiting isolated or remote areas. In the event of an attack, activate the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon. Due to distances involved, there may be a considerable delay before assistance arrives. Vessels may also contact the Yemeni Coast Guard 24-hour Operations Center at 967-1-562-402. Operations Center staff members speak English.
The United States Maritime Administration (MARAD) has advised that elevated regional tensions have increased the risk of maritime attacks being conducted by extremist to vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, North Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, and the Bab el Mandeb regions.
MARAD recommends vessels at anchor, operating in restricted maneuvering environments, or at slow speeds should be especially vigilant, and report suspicious activity. U.S. flag vessels that observe suspicious activity in the area are advised to report such suspicious activity or any hostile or potentially hostile action to Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (COMUSNAVCENT) battlewatch captain at phone number 011-973-1785-3879. All suspicious activities and events are also to be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center at the following toll free telephone: 1-800-424-8802, direct telephone 202-267-2675, or TDD 202-267-4477. The complete advisory is available on the MARAD website at www.MARAD.DOT.gov.