BUILDING THE CITY

In his book "Le lépreux", Monfreid wrote: When I arrived in Djibouti in 1913, the main
activity of the colony was trafficking. He went on explaining that while the French colonials engaged in a profitable business selling guns to neighboring tribes, some among the native population went on with their lucrative traffic in human beings, shipping African slaves from points of the northern shores of the Gulf of Tadjoura to Arabia. The British were adamantly opposed to both traffics so one could say that, in that sense, French colonization in the region has attained its goal of conteracting British influence.
When Europeans prgressively entered Harrar after 1885, traders of all types, such as Rimbaud, came into contact with the new ruler, Emperor Menelik, and proposed to sell him the arms and ammunitions he needed to secure his power in the region. Like his predecessor Emperor Johannes, Menelik had to fight on many fronts: against the British in 1868, Egypt in 1875, Italy in 1887, the Sudan 1889, and Italy again in 1895-96. It is estimated that Menelik was in need of 100.000 rifles and over 5 million cartridges to equip his 100,000-strong army. Keeping in mind that the cheapest rifle cost about 8 dollar, and a cartridge about 5 cents, one realizes the faboulous amount of money that the Djibouti-based gun trade generated. Guns were also shipped in large numbers to the Arabian tribes fighting among themselves as well as against the British.

One of the first diplomatic attempt to cement contacts between Europe and Menelik was made by a russian namned Leontieff.
This Russian had a young servant namned Ato Josef. This Ethiopian native was a beautiful specimen of his race and Leontieff decided to travel with him to Europe and introduce him to the crowned heads of the continent as the "negro king of Abyssinia". Everything went as planned and both returned to Africa after having been given valuable gifts by the various sovereigns they had met. When learning of this, the Ethiopian Emperor realized that this young Ethiopian who was familiar with the ways of the Europeans could be of use to him and he took him into his service.
The Emperor was keenly interested in the developments occurring in the French colony and Ato Josef was sent as his unofficial representant there.
Ato Josef was one of the first to settle in Djibouti after the capital of the French Somaliland was moved from Obock to the newly-created city in 1891.inhabitants and he would for the next twenty years contribute to maintain good relations between the French and Menelik.

The city had 1,200 inhabitants in 1893
The illustration on an 1894 postage stamp tells us this is when Place Menelik, still a landmark of Djibouti, was built. Place Menelik´s impressive colonial-style buildings were fronted with arcades and terraces in order to protect the European administrators and colonials from the harsh Djibouti sun. Fortunately, most of these buildings with their majestic façades have been preserved and can still be admired today.
Just beside the newest building, one of the oldest ones, the earlier GRANDS COMPTOIRS FRANCAIS, the general store of business exchange in the city, constituted the nexus of the city at a time when the harbour installations, particularly as related to its coaling activities, had not proven to be as profitable as first envisioned and the French government was losing interest in the colony. It is due to men such as Ato Josef, who gave Djibouti the backing it sorely needed at that time , that Menelik decided to select Djibouti over other contenders to become his Empire´s maritime outlet to the World. Ethiopia´s huge market was to progressively transform the small French colony from a mere coaling station to an important transshipping center. A railroad was to be built between Djibouti and Dire-Dawa, at the gate of recently conquered Harrar.

1894

An agreement is concluded between Menelik and France regarding the construction of a railway link between Djibouti and Harar. Mention was made of a possible future extension all the way to the White Nile.

1896

The boundaries of French Somaliland are officially delineated.
The city has problems with its own security.
In those days, there were conflicts involving tribes and white colonials all around the World: Jeronimo´s Apaches as well as the Modocs In Oregon fought federal US army; The Mahdi led his cavallry against the British in Karthoum... This may be why the white colonials had low interest in tribal issues, such as the Price of blod and may be the cause of several familly clashes where they got involved.
Governor Lagarde recommands that every man of the troup would be armed with two riffles and a thousand cartridges because of the constant shooting of snipers in the night, outside the city.

1897

Construction of the railroad begins in June. Many Italian workers were employed in this arduous task.

1898

The FACHODA crisis. Both British and French organized expeditions across the
continent, in order to claim for new colonial territories and to link their previous colonies. The British had an expedition from Egypt to South Africa, and the French had an expedition from the western territories to the eastern. The two nations crossed their ways in FACHODA, northern Sudan, in the summer of 1898. As both governments claimed for the same territory, negociations took place between Capitaine Marchand who led 8 officers and 120 men, and General Kitchener who had 5 gunboats, two egyptian and one scotish infantery companies. The French claim were not to be taken seriously and their expedition were considered not to be military or political, but only scientific. Marchand is standing on the right side of this drawing, represented with the expedition´s officers.
Governor LAGARDE must have been involved in those negociations in such a matter, that he left the Djiboutian scene after their failure.

1899

Governor Martineau try to cartelise business by creating a Commercial Advising Council but is conteracted by merchants themselves, who create an union the following year.

1900

The railroad reaches Ethiopian border. On several occasions, workers who had left the camp at night were found killed in surroundings bushes. Rebels attacked the workers camp twice, in 1899 and in june 1900 resulting to 30 deads. This created an estate of terror among the workers that spred into the city. As some barricated their houses and kept watch on the terraces, others fled to hide out at sea or in the boats that were laying on the shore. Brittish Governor offered to send a warship from Aden to secure the white population of Djibouti.

1902

The railroad reaches Dire-Dawa. The compagny, then financed by Ethiopia, cannot afford to bear the costs involved in prolonging the railroad across the difficult terrain to Harar.

1909

An agreement was reached between the two nations, a new French-Ethiopian Railway Compagny was created and the building could continue. 230 kilometers were built in the following five years.

1913

Death of Negus Menelik of Ethiopia. Menelik had been emperor since 1889.

1914

As war began, there was such a nationalist feeling among the white population of the city that almost everyone wanted to leave and fight on the frontlines of Europe. 
The colonial administration feared that there would soon be no one left to defend the city in case of an enemy army attack. A defense brigade for the city was created by a young Lt Depuis, who accused of deserting any colonial who wanted to leave Djibouti.
November 13th, The fall of Cheik-Saïd:
Turky had been independent in the war until October but joined the German forces in November. Off the coast of the Obock Territory, the French ruled the tiny peninsule of Cheik-Saïd since 1884. Between CHeik-Saïd and Obock, the island of Perim was under British rule and well fortified. The French had not found necessary to build any fortification in Cheik-Saïd, but the Turk had within time built several forts on the nearby mainland.
On Nov 13th, the British cruiser Duke-of-Edinburgh launched an attack on Turkish positions and took control of the fort of Turba. Indian infantery then launched a ground assault wich only took a few days but resulted in the overtaking of every hostile positions and into 600 dead among the Turkish forces.

1915

The railroad reaches Addis-Ababa. It took 19 years to build the 784 km of railway that climbs from sea-level to an altitude of 2600 meters.