During the years surrounding their independences, African countries have been for a long time symbol for underdevelopment and backwardness. Challenges were so huge and overwhelming that future had no real tangible meaning. Well, at least this was a “common sense” we’ve been instilled in. But we, Africans, didn’t see it that way. As soon as the continent decided to take ownership of its own destiny and got conscious of its greatness and capacities, Africa has become the world’s fastest growing continent. “The hopeless continent” once titled in 2000 on the cover page of a leading international magazine is now ancient history.
Djibouti is witnessing the exact same path. This is a country that was almost unknown to the world twenty years ago. When it took its independence on June 1977, nothing was there. The former colonizer left Djibouti with 2 indigenous teachers and a single doctor. The Cold War was intense in the region, and the country had no viable resources. No one could bet on the viability of this tiny territory. International observers even gave it 6 months to simply disappear. Three major characteristics have led Djibouti, not only to survive, but also to develop steadily. Thanks to its leadership, Djibouti adopted a vigorous diplomatic neutrality policy, which granted the nation to be known worldwide as a stable country in the middle of war-torn region. The second aspect that Djibouti was endowed with is a geostrategic location in the Bab El Mandeb straits, one of the busiest shipping lanes. The third pillar pertains to the historical liberal financial and economic sector. Stability, location and the liberal economy were the three main ingredients that led the port to develop and modernize as well as trade to flourish.
Djibouti’s contribution to Dubai success model
Djibouti’s growing strategic importance to the regional & global economy has guided Dubai to initiate some major developments in port-related infrastructures. This was a win-win partnership for many reasons. Djibouti needed to attract FDIs and develop ports and free zones strategies so it can meet the country’s historic role of trade hub. Dubai needed to “export” its savoir-faire and penetrate the promising African continent. This unique partnership has served both goals. Djibouti port was Dubai Ports World’s (DPW) first management contract outside the Arabian Peninsula jus as much as the Djibouti Free Zone was also the first free zone managed by Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (JAFZA) outside UAE. Before Djibouti, JAFZA’s international activity was limited to some consulting services. Djibouti has been the success model on which Dubai based itself to conquer Africa. Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Seychelles, Mozambique and Senegal soon followed. Another example of how Djibouti played a critical role in Dubai’s international visibility was when the Port of Djibouti had been the “first port, both within DPW terminal portfolio and on the African continent, to achieve the independently-audited International Standard Association’s ISO 28000 certification”.
Djibouti’s role in global security
For a country like Djibouti, stability is essential. Without it, the other two characteristics forming the trio would be useless. The Djiboutian President, Ismail Omar Guelleh, is convinced that a durable peace in the Horn of Africa is a must without which full regional economic integration would not be possible. Djibouti has a role to play in this regard and as home to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the country was part of all peace processes regarding the region’s many conflicts, like Sudan, Somalia and nowadays South Sudan civil clash.
But beyond the region never-ending conflicts, it’s at the global security level that Djibouti is contributing the most. Ranging from the Somali disorder, to border disputes, regional rivalries, piracy, Islamism, Yemen’s recent war with its refugees’ flow to it, Djibouti is undoubtedly a key reliable partner to the international community.
French, American, Japanese, Italian, German, EU NavFor Task Force are all present in the country. Sometimes, such presence is delicately managed by the Djiboutian government, frictions occurring from time to time. Not long time ago describing the US presence, the Commander of the French Forces reported: “..no one is contesting our presence before, while, and after. The others are just passing by, being time-limited. In Djibouti, GIs’ status is different compared to ours. They are on foreign operation theater”.
China’s economic involvement
China has rapidly become Djibouti’s first economic partner. 9 billion US dollars worth of projects are being planned by China in Djibouti. The Djibouti Multipurpose Port (DMP) under construction will be, once completed in 2018, Africa’s deepest port with a sea-depth of 30m.
Africa has long been criticized when China entered the continent not so long ago. But let’s face it, infrastructure projects in the African continent have been a key element in the “Africa Rise” and will ensure the implementation of the 2063 Agenda. Is this something to fear?
The criticism Djibouti faces is more vicious because it has questioned its reputation. Before China, Djibouti was “a key ally” and a “reliable partner”. It became an “unreliable partner” when China got in the game. Africa and Djibouti don’t necessarily need to choose between “two giants”; Cold War is over long time ago. I just recall what the Djiboutian Minister of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said on that matter: “no developing country should ignore the great opportunities implied by engagement with Asia’s emerging powers ».
But Djibouti, in my opinion, and expanding on the Djiboutian MFA remarks, could be the junction point, where east and west meet and keep up in good neighborly and demystified relations.
Djibouti is sovereign and is not the property of someone.
By this way, Djibouti would not only add its contribution to a less tense world, but justify entirely what it has been known since ancient times: “Land of Exchange and Encounter”.
where Western powers and China could cooperate in global security matters,
Djibouti has played this role previously, Sudan, GWOT, piracy, Somalia, Yemen, etc.