A Cossack from Djibouti: How a con man from the Volga region founded a colony in Africa

In a story that reads like something from a 19th-century novel, a con man from the Volga region in Russia succeeded in establishing a colony in the African nation of Djibouti.

Ivan Ivanovich Sheikhov, better known as “The Cossack of Djibouti,” was born in the 1850s in the Volga region of Russia. A swindler, thief and liar, Sheikhov was well known in the area for his shady dealings. But in 1887, Sheikhov had a new idea — he would travel to Africa and set up a colony of Russian settlers.

Sheikhov traveled to Djibouti, then a French protectorate, and with his charm and charisma managed to convince the French authorities to grant him a piece of land. He then declared himself the “Chief of the Cossack Colony” and began to attract settlers from his home region.

The settlement, known as Sheikhovka, grew quickly and soon had a population of around 500 people. Sheikhov established a school, a post office and a small trading post. He also built a church and a mosque in the town, in a sign of the religious tolerance that was practiced there.

Despite his criminal past, Sheikhov proved to be an effective leader. He was well-liked by the local population, and his colony prospered.

Unfortunately, Sheikhov's success was short-lived. In 1908, the French authorities revoked Sheikhov's lease on the land and evicted him and his followers. Sheikhov returned to Russia, where he died in 1915.

But the legacy of Sheikhov and his Cossack colony lives on in Djibouti. The town of Sheikhovka remains, a testament to the audacity of a con man from the Volga region who managed to found a colony in Africa.