'Welcome to hell' - Graffiti outside the main bus station at Ali Sabieh, Djibouti. Ali Sabieh is a remote, outer province desert town on the corner of Somalia and Ethiopia. It has limited electricity, few fresh vegetables, high temperatures, and a history of banditry in the hills surrounding. It is also Djibouti's second largest city.
The stunning Ethio-Djibouti railway links Addis Ababa with the Red Sea at the port of Djibouti City. Long disused, whole sections have fallen into disrepair while others remain damaged from the Ogaden War between Ethiopia and Somalia in the late 1970s. According to the BBC, some sections of the track are over 100 years old, originally built by the French for Emperor Menelik in the early 1900s, and the sections that are still in operation average 'one derailment a week'.
Precariously balanced between Somalia and Eritrea, and strategically aligned with Ethiopia, Djibouti is potentially on the edge of geopolitical precipice. Adding to the regional mix are internal rebellions, guerilla movements, freedom fighters, and killers. Djibouti therefore departs thousands of Somali and other refugees in clandestine smuggling boats to Yemen. Those that remain in Djibouti - along with Ethiopians, Eritreans, and others - are required to live in the confines of Ali Addeh refugee camp - about 20 km from the Somali border.
Djiboutian and Ethiopian military intervention against al Shabaab in Somalia has left both countries with hostile neighbors, as tensions have risen with Ethiopia's break-away state, Eritrea. Eritrea, absorbed by Ethiopia through a UN resolution, fought a long and bloody war for autonomy before gaining independence in 1993. Ethiopia has accused Eritrea of funding al Shabaab in a proxy war in Somalia, leaving borders tense. Ethiopian tanks and Djiboutian air forces dotted the road to Somalia.