SOMALILAND, FRENCH French Somaliland (Cole frangaise des Somalis) lies at the entrance to the Red Sea. The sea frontier extends from Ras Dumeira on the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb, a little north of Perim Island, to Ras Gurmarle, a few miles south of the Gulf of Tajura. The protectorate is bounded N. by the Danakil country; S. by British Somaliland; W. by the Harrar province of Abyssinia. It extends inland at its greatest depth about 130 m.
The country consists chiefly of slightly elevated arid plains, largely waterless save along the southern frontier. The only good harbour along the coast is at Jibuti. The Gulf of Tajura is 28 m. across at its entrance and penetrates inland 36 m. At its western end an opening 870 yds. wide leads into the circular bay of GubbetKharab (Hell's Mouth), behind which rise a chaotic mass of volcanic rocks, destitute of vegetation and presenting a scene of weird desolation. A pass through the hills gives access to Bahr-Assal; the last of a chain of salt lakes beginning 60 m. inland in the depression in which the waters of the Hawash (see ABYSSINIA) lose themselves. It is conjectured that at some remote period the Hawash flowed into Tajura Bay and that the present condition of the country is the result of volcanic upheaval. Assal Lake, according to this theory, formed part of the sea bed. It is now 5 m. inland from GubbetKharab, is 5 m. long by 4 broad, and lies 490 ft. below sea level. About 1 60 ft. above the present level of the lake a white band marks distinctly a former level. The waters of Bahr-Assal are deeply impregnated with salt, which, in thick crusts, forms crescent-shaped round the banks dazzling white when reflected by the Sun. Two streams, one saline and at a temperature of 194 F., flow into the lake. The climate of the protectorate is very hot, but not unhealthy for Europeans if reasonable precautions be taken.
Inhabitants and Towns. The inhabitants are, on the north side of the Gulf of Tajura, chiefly Danakils (Afars, q.v.); on the southern shore Galla and Somali. There are a number of Arabs, Abyssinians, Indians, and about 2000 Europeans and Levantines. The chief town and seat of administration is Jibuti (q.v.), pop. about 15,000, which has taken the place of Obok (q.v.), on the opposite (northern) side of the Gulf of Tajura. Also situated on the gulf are the small towns of Tajura, Sagallo, Gobad and Ambabp.
Trade and Communications. The collection of salt from BahrAssal is an industry of some importance. In 1903 a beginning was made in the cultivation of cotton in the dry river beds, where water can always be obtained at a depth of 10 ft. On the coast turtle and mother-of-pearl fishing are carried on. But the value of the protectorate depends upon the carrying trade with Harrar and the supplying of victuals and coals to French warships. In 1897 the building of a railway from Jibuti towards Harrar was begun. By Christmas 1902 the railway, called the Imperial Ethiopian railway, was completed to Dire Dawa(or Adis Harrar) , 30 m. short of Harrar, and 1 88 by rail from Jibuti, of which but 64 m. are in French territory. By a law passed by the French chambers in 1902 a subvention of 20,000 a year for fifty years was granted to the company owning the railway (see further ABYSSINIA).
The exports are chiefly coffee, hides, ivory (all from Abyssinia), gum, mother-of-pearl and a little gold ; the imports cotton and other European stuffs, cereals, beverages, tobacco and arms and ammunition for the Abyssinians. The total volume of trade in 1902, the year of the completion of the railway, was 725,000, in 1905 it had risen to 1,208,000 imports 480.000, exports 728,000.
History. French interest in the Somali and Danakil coasts dates from the days of the Second Empire. Count Stanislas Russell, a naval officer, was sent on a mission to the Red Sea in 1857, and he reported strongly on the necessity of a French establishment in that region in view of the approaching completion of the Suez Canal. The only result of his enterprise was the abortive treaty for the cession to France of Zula (q.v.), now in the Italian colony of Eritrea. In 1856, however, M. Mpnge, vice-consul of France at Zaila, had bought Ambabo, and shortly afterwards Henri Lambert, French consul at Aden, bought the town and territory of Obok. Lambert (who was assassinated ,by Arabs, June 1859) had the support of his government, which viewed with alarm the establishment (1857) of the British on Perim Island, at the entrance to the Red Sea. The cession of Obok was ratified by a treaty (signed on the nth of March 1862) between the French government and various Danakil chiefs. It was not, however, until 1883 that, in consequence of events in Egypt and the Sudan (see Egypt: History), formal possession was taken of Obok by the French government. In 1884 Leonce Lagarde, subsequently French minister to Abyssinia, was sent to administer the infant colony. Between 1883 and 1887 treaties with Somali sultans gave France possession of the whole of the Gulf of Tajura. An agreement with Great Britain (February 1888) fixed the southern limits of the protectorate; protocols with Italy (January 1900 and July 1901) the northern limits. The frontier towards Abyssinia was fixed by a convention of March 1897 with the Negus Menelik. In this direction the protectorate extends inland some 56 m. In 1889 a Cossack chief, Captain Atchinoff, who had occupied Sagallo, was forcibly removed by the French authorities (see SAGALLO). The transference of the seat of government to Jibuti in May 1896 and the building of the railway to Harrar gave the protectorate a stability which it had previously lacked. Its importance to France is, nevertheless, chiefly strategic and political. It serves as a coaling station for men-of-war and as a highroad to Abyssinia.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)