Djibouti city, Djibouti: urban golden sand beach with pergola on the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea — Plateau Du Serpent, near Sheraton Hotel — photo by M. TorresSource:istock
German soldiers taking part in a manoeuvre to secure the frigates 'Karlsruhe' and 'Mecklenburg-Vorpommern' in Djibouti.Source:AFP
Earlier this month, China opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti, just a few kilometres from Camp Lemonnier, one of America’s largest foreign installations.
China’s agreement with Djibouti ensures its military presence in the country up until 2026, with a contingent of up to 10,000 soldiers, according to international current affairs magazine The Diplomat.
Beijing maintains the base was established to provide logistic support for its forces undertaking anti-piracy, peacekeeping and humanitarian operations off the coasts of Yemen and Somalia. But some analysts suggested China was flexing its military muscle. Others have claimed the base is part of the country’s efforts to establish a global naval force.
Djibouti’s position on the northwestern edge of the Indian Ocean has fuelled worries in India that it would become another of China’s ‘string of pearls’ of military alliances and assets ringing India, including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
Djibouti, lies on the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a gateway to the Suez Canal, which is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.Source:Getty Images
Djibouti, which is about the size of Wales, is strategically located at the southern entrance to the Red Sea on the route to the Suez Canal.Source:Getty Images
Since 2011, a Japanese Self Defence Force (SDF) contingent of 180 troops has occupied a 12 hectare site in Djibouti, next to Camp Lemonnier at the country’s international airport. From there, the SDF operates maritime patrol aircraft as part of an international force, including China, that hunts pirates in the seas of the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia.
It’s Japan’s only foreign military base and it’s now set for expansion as a counterweight to China’s increasing influence. The lease will cost Japan about A$1.2m per year, according to the Japanese government.
The Italians also have their own base, while troops from Germany and Spain are hosted by the French.
Djibouti also has significant commercial relevance at the junction of Africa, the Middle East and the Indian Ocean. It has subsequently developed an important maritime port and established the foundations for a burgeoning commercial hub. The country also provides a vital port for landlocked neighbour Ethiopia.
The tiny, barren nation sandwiched between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, hosts US, Japanese, Chinese and French bases.Source:Getty Images
Djibouti’s proximity to restive regions in Africa and the Middle East makes it significant for the location of bases for the military superpowers.Source:Getty Images
The US pays A$79m annually in rent for its base and the Chinese are expected to bring in A$126m for theirs, in addition to their ongoing infrastructure projects. For Djibouti, it’s a lucrative role to be landlord and look past the rivalries of the global powers.
The country has an ambitious “Djibouti 2035” plan to emulate Dubai, and the whole of the UAE.
“In the next 20 years we would like Djibouti to reach the level of Singapore or Dubai,” Youssouf Moussa Dawaleh, President of the Djibouti Chamber of Commerce, told a conference in 2014.
“We can get there if we work together.”
Like Dubai, Djibouti’s mostly barren landscapes are unsuitable for agriculture, so making use of the country’s strategic position at the mouth of the Gulf of Aden is critical to turn the country into a regional logistics hub.
Fourteen infrastructure projects, amounting to over $A19 billion, are focused on expanding Djibouti’s sea, air and land connections by 2035, the BBC reported.
The most important aspect for travellers will be the new airport, which will have the capacity to welcome 30 times the current number of visitors. It is scheduled to open in 2018 with runways big enough for modern commercial jets.
“About two million African customers travel to Dubai each year,” Dawit Gebre-Ab, with the Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority overseeing the city’s commercial infrastructure development, told France 24.
“We know what is on their shopping lists, and they could be coming here instead.”
But a myriad of economic problems exists behind the construction cranes and flashy hotels, with 42 per cent of local Djiboutians living in extreme poverty and 48 per cent of the labour force is unemployed, according to 2014 figures.