A football mad country with major economic problems, this is Djibouti's story.
An East African country not known for its footballing exploits, but mostly for its economic and social issues ranging from high unemployment, lack of education, poverty, prostitution and high cost of living. The country that I’ll be talking about in which a reported 90% of its people play the beautiful sport is Djibouti.
The football federation in Djibouti (FDF) was established in 1979, two years after the country gained its independence from France in 1977. The FDF joined CAF in 1986 and FIFA, eight years later in 1994. The national side played its first ever match a couple of years after World War 2 in 1947 on the first of May against neighbors Ethiopia when the country was under the name of “French Somaliland”, which they lost 5-0.
Djibouti has never qualified to either the African Nations Cups or the World Cup ever since they began competing in official competitions in 1998. Their biggest ever win was against South Yemen (4-1) on February 26, 1988 and their only ever official international win was against Somalia in a World Cup qualifying match (1-0) on November 16, 2007.
The country has its own league with the top one known as the Djibouti Premier League, which was formed in 1987. It features ten clubs with Force Nationale de Police its most successful with seven titles, while AS Port are the reigning champions and have won it two years straight and six titles in total, along with AS Compagne Djibouti- Ethiopia (CDE) who have also won the same number of titles. The league has suffered interruptions over the years due to domestic tensions between the nation’s two ethnic groups, Issa and Afar, which led to a terrible Civil War that lasted about three years from 1991-1994. Due to these tensions and conflicts, the league wasn’t played in 1989, 1990, 1992 and 1993.
Djibouti’s football clubs generally perform very poorly in continental competitions, as well as its national side. Main reason for this is not only because of poor financial conditions in the country which led to the withdrawal of 2008 league champions, Socialite Immobiliere de Djibouti (SID) from the CECAFA Club Championship in the same year. The country has a huge shortage of quality sports infrastructure with only one recognized, international standard football stadium in the Stade du Vile located in the capital, Djibouti, which can seat around 10,000 spectators.
Of course, like most countries in the continent, Djibouti suffers from high unemployment with about 60% of the population reportedly unemployed in 2005, low wages and high cost of living (the cheapest meat costs more than half a day’s salary for a Djiboutian), and poverty which definitely affects the state of the sport in the country where it relies on financial support from the US and France as hosts of their military bases, which the two countries pay $25 million and €30 million a year respectively. The issues the country have been facing led to pro-democracy protests earlier this year that called for the end of the Guelleh family’s 34 year reign as rulers of Djibouti. These conditions are the main reasons why Djibouti were forced to withdraw from the Cup of Nations qualifiers in 2004 and 2008, and why they didn’t participate in the 2012 edition and why they won’t participate in the 2013 edition either.
The national side coached by Ahmed Abdelmonem of Egypt, performed poorly in the CECAFA Challenge Cup in Tanzania, losing all three of its matches with 25 year old Ahmed Hassan Daoud, leaving a mark after scoring a brace against Rwanda in a 5-2 loss, and have also suffered a recent drubbing by Namibia in the World Cup 2014 Qualifiers (they lost 8-0 on aggregate in the two legs). Its clubs don’t fare any better and losing by high score lines isn’t a rarity in continental tournaments. Djibouti have a few players who play abroad like 26 year old midfielder, Mohammed Liban Issa, who plays in South Africa for Dynamos Polokwane, but the majority of players ply their trade domestically. These factors are the reason why the country languishes in a lowly 198th place in the FIFA rankings, the lowest in Africa, with their highest being in 169th place back in December of 1994.
Djibouti has tried to improve the sport in the country with the help of FIFA, who launched a GOAL programme in 2006 to “add new infrastructure and training equipment to improve fitness levels and medical care for the benefit of coaches, technical instructors and referees.” FIFA also teamed up with UNICEF to use football as a way to help protect young Djiboutians against HIV/AIDS, which is a problem due to the growing rates of prostitution in the country. The FDF has also donated different kinds of football equipment to 17 national football squads and 60 clubs across the country. This has helped in the growth of women’s football, with more teams getting established all around the country and not just being confined in the capital of Djibouti City, which has been another problem that has been facing the sport in the country (only one team outside of the capital has won the Djibouti Premier League and that was AS Ali Sabieh Djibouti Telecom in 2009).
Djibouti has also helped its neighboring countries like Somalia in their footballing progress by hosting a high-level FIFA refereeing course earlier this year for Somali referees. The country has also hosted a few matches for Somalia’s national team due to the security concerns and issues Somalia is facing. FDF President Hussain Fadoul Dabar ran for Leodegar Tenga’s seat as Chairman of CECAFA this year, which Tenga (who’s also the President of Tanzania’s Football Federation) has held since 2008. Unfortunately, Fadoul was placed under house arrest just days before the election, due to disagreements with Djibouti’s sports minister, Jama Elmi Ukiye, which have been ongoing since May and Tenga won the election unopposed.
Despite Djibouti’s progress and initiatives to improve football in the country, the East African nation is still considered one of Africa’s weakest sides and still underperforms in continental competitions. I hope that the country continues its development and that we will see the national side in a top continental or international tournament and compete for honors in the near future.