The tiny Djibouti on the horn of Africa has a population of less than a million, but military strategists and security politicians around the world top the list. Djibouti has had military bases in countries including the United States, France, China and Japan for many years, and Saudi Arabia and India may soon join them.
The reason for this: geopolitics. Djibouti is located in one of the most important areas of the World Trade Organization – at the entrance to the Red Sea, directly across the Bob Al-Mandab Strait. If you want to travel from Asia to Europe via the Suez Canal or vice versa, you should go here. More than ten percent of world trade is shipped to Djibouti. Economic powers want to protect these items with their military presence – for example from Somali pirates.
Military sites for a location benefit?
In addition: Djibouti is seen as an anchor of stability in a crisis-ridden region. In Somalia, al-Shabab, a terrorist organization, has been fighting the government and carrying out ongoing attacks on civilians. In Ethiopia, Prime Minister Abijah’s government is embroiled in conflict with the splinter Tigris People’s Liberation Front (DPLF), as well as neighboring Eritrea. On the Arabian Peninsula, on the other side of the Strait, Yemen, where large parts of the Arab world are involved, has been embroiled in years of civil war.
Djibouti is a lynchpin for the international community – whether it is the basis for US special forces’ counter-terrorism missions or the evacuation of civilians from crisis areas, as it has largely escaped domestic unrest. Annette Weber, Africa’s horn expert at the Scientific and Political Foundation, says the country’s becoming a regional hub over the past twenty years is the result of a conscious strategy. “It didn’t happen, it was planned and carried out by Djibouti,” Weber said.
Although there is always a certain risk in detaining foreign soldiers, since there is an army from many countries, no one really dares to attack the country. “Of course it provides security, and ultimately can be a location benefit for the local economy,” Weber says.
High national debt, great poverty
It was Ismail Omar Khulle who turned Djibouti into a destination for international military bases. He has been president of the country for more than two decades. On April 9, he will run again for the fifth time. The opposition often boycotts elections; Only one other candidate will be on the ballot. Observers expect another election victory for the dictator.
Ismail Omar Khulle (73), 73, has ruled Djibouti since 1999
Hassan Kannenje, director of the Horn Institute, a Nairobi-based regional think tank, said Quell’s curriculum had not yet brought any resources to Djibouti. “If you look at the condition of the land, above all you see that the people are still very poor. Djibouti is one of the poorest countries in the region.” There are no signs of improvement in the economic situation compared to neighboring countries.
In contrast, national debt has risen sharply in recent years, currently accounting for 70 percent of GDP. The government has invested money borrowed mainly from Chinese banks in comprehensive infrastructure projects, including a railway line between Addis Ababa and the capital Djibouti, the port and a special economic zone in Ethiopia.
The dream of the industrial nation
Jean-Pierre Kabeston, Professor of International Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University, is studying China’s growing influence in Djibouti. He says: In fact, Kulle was able to make the most of Djibouti’s geopolitical environment. The port generates regular revenue to the state budget and is a major source of foreign exchange, paying rent for military bases of more than 100 million euros annually.
Djibouti’s Free Trade Zone opens in July 2018 – funded by China
But there is currently a big question mark behind the efforts to turn the country into an industrial destination with Chinese loans. “I doubt Djibouti could be a transport hub for Ethiopia and the region. The population is very small and it will take a long time to train enough people to work in industrial companies,” said Kabeston D.W.
Politics as a family affair
According to Hassan Kannanji, the existence of other major powers in China and the country poses another problem: “Military bases serve as a particular safeguard for the ruling elite because the powers that be are interested in stabilizing the status quo in the country.” . “Through their relations with the major powers, the rulers can earn income to maintain their support networks and thus secure their power in the country.”
If President Guello is re-elected on April 9, he could soon break a record: the longest presidency since Djibouti’s independence. Despite 22 years in office, the record is still held by his direct predecessor, Hassan Coult Aptidon – Culley’s uncle. There are all indications that Djibouti politics will continue to be a family affair.