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Africa 2006,

Around the 3rd Century B.C. Arabs migrated to what is today Djibouti. Their descendants, the Afars or Danakil people, were joined a century later by the Issas who migrated from southern Ethiopia. Both the Afar and the Issa were nomadic livestock herders who spoke related Cushitic languages and adopted the Muslim faith. Portuguese and Turkish slave traders in the region were eventually followed by the French, British and Italians who competed for control of the sea route through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. The French prevailed. From 1888, they developed the port of Djibouti on the southern side of the Gulf of Aden and in 1917 connected it by means of a 480 mile (780 km) railway to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. In 1958 the Afar voted to remain a self-governing part of France in a referendum boycotted by most of the Issas. The same happened in 1967 when the French Territory of the Afars and Issas was granted responsible self-government and renamed French Somaliland. The quest for national unity was, however, stimulated by the territorial claims made on the territory by the independent Somali Republic to the south. In a third referendum in March 1977, the electorate voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence. A senior Issa politician, Hassan Gouled Aptidon, became executive president of the Republic of Djibouti, a single party state. In September 1992 the voters adopted a multiparty constitution and in April 1999 Aptidon finally stepped aside opening the door for Ismail Omar Guelleh to be elected president. He was reelected in April 2005, unopposed.