Before there were only the French. After 9/11 the US opened an outpost in Djibouti, followed by Japan, Italy, China, Turkey ... On paper, all in Africa to fight the jihadists. But not only. And the competition generates dangerous tensions
- Marco Cochi
Tuesday, 27 February 2018
An American marine walks outside Camp Lemonier in Djibouti. REUTERS / Antony Njuguna
The latest tensions in the Red Sea area, triggered by Khartoum's decision to temporarily hand over the island of Suakin to Turkey, to which Egypt has reacted by sending soldiers to the Eritrean eastern border with Sudan, show how it is becoming increasingly central the competition for military bases in Africa.
In the last two decades, numerous foreign countries have decided to establish their military bases on the continent, which until the dawn of the second millennium were a prerogative of France and the UN peacekeeping missions .
Then, after the al Qaeda kamikaze hijackers attacked New York and Washington on 11 September 2001, the US Department of Defenseidentified in Djibouti the ideal place to set up the first US base to coordinate counter-terrorism operations in Africa and the Middle East.
The Pentagon decided to establish its own African military outpost at Camp Lemonnier , the former base of the thirteenth demi-brigade legère of the French Foreign Legion, which over the years has been transformed into a decisive platform in the fight against the Somali jihadists of al-Shabaab and the emanations of al Qaeda in the Sahel and in the Arabian Peninsula.
The only American base in the African continent in a short time has grown in size and importance, reaching 4,500 people, of which two thousand in force to the special anti-terrorist units and 150 in the rapid intervention unit for the protection of embassies. A structure created after the attack on 11 September 2012 at the American diplomatic headquarters in Benghazi, where Ambassador Usain Libya, Christopher Stevens died.
Several factors have contributed to further increase the strategic function of the base, among which the civil war in Syria and Yemen must be listed, the threat of the Islamic State, the permanent conflict in Somalia, the resurgence of piracy in the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean .
Not to mention, that it is precisely from Camp Lemmonier, that every year thousands of Predator and Reaper drones take off in secret missions against targets in the Horn of Africa and in the Middle East.
After the Americans came the Japanese, who in Djibouti built the first military base abroad after the end of the Second World War, interested in having a presence on one of the busiest trade routes in the world.
In 2013, Italy also inaugurated an operational support base in the small state of the Horn of Africa, located less than ten kilometers from the border with Somaliland and able to accommodate up to three hundred men.
The Chinese naval base in Djibouti
The last nation to have started a military base in the former French possession is China, which from the first of August 2017 officially uses it to supply ships that take part in humanitarian and peacekeeping missions in Yemen and Somalia. The opening of the first Beijing military base abroad has been viewed with suspicion by some rival states of China, primarily India, worried about an excessive expansion of the interests of the superpower in Asia and Africa.
In addition, the military settlement is located a few kilometers from Camp Lemonnier, offering the Chinese the opportunity to closely observe the American military activities on the theaters of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. A factor that has very irritated Washington, long a strategic competition with the Asian giant in the South China Sea.
But it is not only Djibouti that hosts new foreign military bases. A year ago, the United Arab Emirates also reached an agreement to build a second base in the Horn of Africa . The new detachment will rise in the port of Berbera, Somaliland, after in 2015 Abu Dhabi had already installed an inter-force structure in the Eritrean port of Assab, strategically positioned on the Strait of Bab al-Mandab.
The Turkish military mega-base in Somalia
Moreover, after two years of work and forty million dollars of investment, in September 2017 Turkey inaugurated the largest military base in a foreign country near the Mogadishu airport. While at the end of November, Sudan declared itself ready to host a Russian military base along its 420 miles of coastline in the Red Sea, the offer was however declined by Russia most interested in military placement in Egypt.
India has been launched in eleven years a monitoring station in northern Madagascar to control ship traffic in the Indian Ocean and protect its trade routes. In addition, the New Delhi Navy is constantly engaged in the Seychelles islands to counter the piracy phenomenon.
Finally, it should be noted that France with its missions in Mali, Gabon, Senegal, Cista d'Ivoire and its detachments in the overseas departments of Reunion and Mayotte, remains the main foreign military power in Africa.
On the whole, it is clear that instability and insecurity are favoring the expansion of the presence of medium and superpower armed forces in Africa, mainly focused on the fight against violent Islamic extremists in West, North and East Africa. But at the same time, pragmatically aimed at pursuing their geopolitical and economic interests .