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(AFP) Macron on trip to woo Djibouti amid China's African expansion

Posted by: Semere Asmelash

Date: Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Macron on trip to woo Djibouti amid China's African expansion

AFP  |  Djibouti 

Last Updated at March 12, 2019 21:51 IST
mediaFrench President Emmanuel Macron is greeted by Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh upon his arrival in Djibouti, 11 March 2019.

Both Paris and Beijing, as well as Japan and the United States, have military bases in East Africa's smallest country due to its strategic location along a key shipping lane leading to the Suez Canal.

Macron described Djibouti, the last colony to gain independence from France, as a "historical partner and strategic ally", and "the point of entry" to the Horn of Africa region.

Its geographic importance forms the foundation of Djibouti's hopes of becoming a major trading hub.

Two years ago, it inaugurated its newest and biggest port -- part of an infrastructure expansion, partly funded by China, that includes three other ports and a railroad to the capital of landlocked Ethiopia.

President Ismail Omar Guelleh's administration hopes to turn Djibouti into a "new Dubai" competing for business with overcrowded African ports such as Mombasa in Kenya.

Sandwiched between Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea, tiny Djibouti is a crucial part of Beijing's "Belt and Road" global infrastructure initiative along what has been dubbed the "Maritime Silk Road".

It allows China to reach Africa and Europe via the Indian Ocean.

The project has seen Beijing lend developing countries in Asia and Africa huge amounts of money to develop infrastructure and ease trade.

But the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has sounded the alarm over an increase of Djibouti's public debt from 50 percent of GDP in 2014 to 85 percent in 2017.

The US-based China Africa Research Initiative in 2017 estimated Djibouti's debt to China at some USD 1.3 billion.

"I would not want international investments to weaken the sovereignty of our partners," Macron said Tuesday, in a reference to China's growing African presence.

"French companies are able to offer a respectful partnership," the president added.

Guelleh, who visited Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2017, when he described himself as "a great friend of China," told Macron: "There are opportunities for French companies, particularly in the field of infrastructure.

"Our country is open, I have not lost hope that France can boost its investments in Djibouti." 

Later Tuesday, Macron is to visit the remote Ethiopian town of Lalibela with its renowned 13th-century church complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The president is expected to announce support for a new protective system to replace the metal-and-tarpaulin structures which loom over the erosion-threatened monuments today, much to residents' chagrin.

He is set to conclude his visit with a state dinner in Addis Ababa as the country mourns the crash of a Boeing 737 just two days earlier that killed all 157 on board.

On Wednesday, he will meet leaders of the African Union before making the first-ever trip to Kenya by a French president.

On Thursday, he will attend the One Planet Summit in Nairobi on reversing climate change.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Tue, March 12 2019. 21:51 IST
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Macron on trip to woo Djibouti amid China's African expansion ...


France is a 'respectful' partner, Macron boasts during Djibouti visit

By Daniel FinnanIssued on 12-03-2019 Modified 12-03-2019 to 16:29

French President Emmanuel Macron has kicked off his tour of the Horn of Africa with a visit to Djibouti, home to one of France’s most important military bases on foreign soil. Macron spoke about how France was a “respectful” partner, in the face of increasing Chinese influence in the region.

“I wouldn’t want international investments to weaken the sovereignty of our partners,” said Macron during a joint press conference with Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh.

Macron said several French companies were exploring possible deals in Djibouti related to the country’s port operations and in the area of renewable energy.

The French president also pointed out that France wants to develop partnerships that make local employment a priority and do not lead to excessive debt.

“Our country is open, I haven’t lost hope that France can strengthen its investments in Djibouti,” said Guelleh.

Macron said he would like to see investment that is transparent and respects the sovereignty of the country in question. He did not specifically single out China, but alluded to a lack of clarity on the financial conditions of certain international investments.

China has extended its influence in the Horn of Africa in recent years and in 2017 opened its first ever military base on foreign soil in Djibouti.

Macron said it was important to start his Horn of Africa tour in Djibouti and highlighted the importance of military cooperation and the fight against terrorism.

He talked about Djibouti’s contribution to the Amisom mission in Somalia as well as the fight against piracy.

“The ongoing evolution in the region is an astounding opportunity – for sustainable stability, virtuous integration,” said Macron, referring to the election of Abiy Ahmed as prime minister in Ethiopia, where he travelled after Djibouti.

Guelleh thanked Macron for French support at the UN Security Council over a border dispute with Eritrea and the detention of Djiboutian prisoners of war.

Human rights and democracy

There was no mention of human rights or the state of democracy in Djibouti during the press conference with the two leaders.

The US State Department in a 2017 described human rights issues including, “excessive force, including torture, harsh prison conditions, arbitrary arrests and prolonged pre-trial detention”.

Guelleh, who has been in power since 1999, won a fourth five-year term in 2016 securing 87 percent of the vote, although the opposition criticised the integrity of the vote.

“I just hope that the poor record of Djibouti in human rights and democracy will at least be on the agenda,” exiled opposition politician Daher Ahmed Farah told RFI, speaking about Macron’s trip to Djibouti.

“The opposition exists in Djibouti, but it’s stifled – there’s no space for opposition, civil society, trade union activities,” said Farah, head of the Movement for Democratic Renewal and Development party.

“There is in Djibouti, as many people know, a dictatorship – you have one party rule, the same since independence,” said Farah. “It’s hard to think they have much in common,” said Farah, referring to Macron and Guelleh.

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