With strong ties to France, its former colonial power, as well as good relations with its African neighbours, Djibouti is well placed both politically and geographically to serve as a regional trade leader. After gaining independence, Djibouti’s territorial integrity and external defence were guaranteed under the 1977 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with France. This was most recently updated in 2011, with the Defence Cooperation Treaty maintaining French military bases in the country.
CRUCIAL TIES: Djibouti has also enjoyed close ties with France’s fellow EU members. In 2009, for example, the port became the operational base for the UK-headquartered EUNAVFOR Atalanta, the EU’s anti-piracy naval operation. Djibouti has also been used as a base of operations for EU support of the African Union Mission in Somalia and the EU Maritime Capacity Building Mission to Somalia. In addition, the EU works with Djibouti on the National Indicative Programme, which operates in line with Djibouti Vision 2035, while the European Development Fund supports a variety of programmes. Italy has a military base in Djibouti as well, providing logistical support to Italian contingents operating on anti-piracy and other missions in the region.
Djibouti also has a close relationship with the US, which has deepened considerably as the countries have pursued joint military initiatives. Following the attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York, Djibouti agreed to host the US Africa Command’s Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa military base. In 2014 the US signed a long-term agreement with Djibouti for the use of Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti City to host the command’s operations. Djibouti also receives financial and development aid from the US.
LOCATION MATTERS: Djibouti’s strategic significance has not been lost on other world powers. The country became the location for the first Chinese overseas military base in 2016, with naval facilities there expanding in 2018. The naval facility is adjacent to a new Chinese-funded commercial port, while China has also invested in infrastructure projects, such as the new railway link with Addis Ababa, water pipeline works, power stations and many other important facilities. This raft of investments from Beijing has shown that the Chinese government views Djibouti as an important stop on its Belt and Road Initiative. Recent years have also brought increasingly favourable relations with other major world economies. Japan, for example, has maintained a naval facility in Djibouti since 2011, and in October 2017 Indian President Ram Nath Kovind visited the country, marking the first-ever visit of an Indian head of state.
INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATIONS: Djibouti joined the UN within months of gaining independence, and has since greatly widened its portfolio of memberships in international organisations. These now include the African Union, the Arab League, the African Development Bank, the International Criminal Court, the World Trade Organisation, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation, La Francophonie, and the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which is headquartered in Djibouti City.
STRIKING A BALANCE: Djibouti’s growing number of foreign military bases – the country has recently made overtures to Turkey – clearly demonstrates the importance of its location for both global and regional trade and security initiatives. The government has been skilful in its negotiations, and has in many cases successfully leveraged its geographic and diplomatic advantages to attract more foreign investment into the country. At the same time, Djibouti must continue pursuing its policy of striking careful diplomatic balance as it opens its doors to a wide variety of foreign powers, some of which have been – or continue to be – at odds with each other.
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