This strategically-located small region became important in 1869 with the opening of the Suez Canal. The French maintained their sphere of influence, called French Somaliland, through agreements with Ethiopia. After the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in the 1930s, tensions flared between the French and the Italians. With the outbreak of World War II, the territorial government initially sided with Vichy France, but shortly thereafter went with the Free French and the Allies. Though it became part of the French Overseas community in 1958, nationalist fervor was growing and in 1977, the republic was born.