Djibouti, which is one-tenth the size of England with a population of just one million, is one of Africa's smallest countries.

But the nation, which holds a presidential election on Friday, has used its strategic position along one of the world's busiest trade routes to its economic and political advantage.

Djibouti is situated at the mouth of the Bab al-Mandab strait, between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, giving it a unique geographical location between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

Its stability in an often volatile region has drawn foreign military powers to establish bases in the country.

France has its biggest military base on the continent in Djibouti, counting some 1,500 troops, while China, Japan and Italy also have soldiers in the country.

Djibouti is also home to the only permanent American military base in Africa, with some 4,000 soldiers supporting anti-terrorist operations on the continent, notably in Somalia.

Djibouti AFP / Tupac POINTU

Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh, 73, has been in power since 1999 and is only the second leader of the country since independence in 1977.

In Friday's election he is seeking a fifth term in office -- his last, given a 2010 constitutional amendment that enshrined an age limit of 75 for presidential candidates.

The amendment also removed presidential term limits, which allowed him to remain in office at the time.

In 2020 Guelleh faced an unusual wave of opposition protests -- which were brutally suppressed -- after the arrest of an air force pilot who had denounced clan-based discrimination and corruption.

Djibouti has styled itself as a trade hub, launching a massive free trade zone in 2018
Djibouti has styled itself as a trade hub, launching a massive free trade zone in 2018 AFP / Yasuyoshi CHIBA

Djibouti is the main maritime outlet for landlocked Ethiopia, and has styled itself as a trade hub, launching a massive free trade zone in 2018.

In 2020, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Djibouti's economy contracted for the first time in 20 years with growth of minus one percent, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

However it is expected to rebound in 2021 with seven percent growth.

The GDP per capita is about $3,500, higher than much of sub-Saharan Africa, but some 20 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank.

Situated at the junction of three tectonic plates, and blessed with year-round sunshine, Djibouti has the potential to develop solar, geothermal and wind energy.

The country is currently working on its first geothermal energy plant in Lake Assal -- a saline crater lake at some 150 metres (500 feet) below sea level.

In March 2021 the arid nation also launched its first desalination plant, expected to provide potable water to 250,000 people, a quarter of the country's population.

The majority of the population lives in the capital Djibouti City. The country has a surface area of 23,200 square kilometres (9,000 square miles) and is 90 percent desert.

Less than 1,000 square kilometres are arable, and there is less than 130 millimetres of rainfall annually.

Like much of the region, Djibouti has faced worsening climate extremes. In 2019 rare floods hit the country after massive downpours.

Some areas received the equivalent of two years of normal rainfall in only a day, and at least nine people died in floods in the capital.