Interview: Nabil Mohamed Ahmed

What is your assessment of the quality of Djibouti’s tertiary education system in its current state?

NABIL MOHAMED AHMED: Since the establishment of the University of Djibouti in 2006, the government has taken steps to improve governance of and training in the education system. The establishment of the Ministry of Higher Education and Research (Ministère de l’Enseignement Supérieur & de la Recherche, MENSUR) underscored the need for a university system predicated on quality infrastructure and trained faculty. In 2022 more than 11,000 people studied at the University of Djibouti, including in the institution’s engineering department and the Institute of Health Sciences.

However, financing higher education remains a challenge, as the state provides most of the funding, and contributions from fee-paying students and non-state sources remain inadequate. Reforms are under way to develop proprietary revenue streams, particularly through continued training, and research and development. To balance the need for economic viability while improving access to higher education, measures such as capping registration fees at DJF25,000 ($141) and providing financial aid have been introduced.

How has international and regional academic collaboration improved Djibouti’s higher education?

NABIL: Djibouti’s higher education segment has long cultivated partnerships with universities in France, where the majority of doctoral courses take place, as well as Arabic- and English-speaking universities. Fostering close links with international universities – notably in Turkey, China and Russia – has enhanced the training of doctoral students. Partnership development at the subregional level and across Africa is underscored by the $7m Africa Centre of Excellence for Logistics and Transport (CEALT), one of two emerging centres of excellence hosted by the University of Djibouti. The centre strengthens the capacity of human resources in logistics via continued training, education and research.

To benefit from critical skills in areas such as engineering and medicine, partnerships with institutions such as Istanbul Technical University are being sought. Additionally, MENSUR is building two nano-satellites manufactured by 10 Djiboutian students in partnership with the University of Montpellier Space Centre in France. The launch of these two satellites are scheduled for June and December 2023, with the aim being to collect climate and hydrological data in support of the Regional Research Observatory on the Environment and Climate, located at the Research and Studies Centre of Djibouti, which is developing adaptation strategies to combat recurrent droughts and emerging diseases.

In what ways is Djibouti cultivating and developing its research and development capacity?

NABIL: To overcome budgetary constraints and meet the demands of the local job market, Djibouti’s research capacity-building approach entails long-term partnerships with local and international private sector players. Accordingly, a master’s degree in international transport and logistics strategies was created in partnership with the Paris-Sorbonne University in 2018. Furthermore, a project funded by the French Development Agency to establish a Centre of Excellence for Innovation and Technology (CEIT) is being implemented. CEIT will have a digital fabrication laboratory, an incubator, pre-incubation rooms, and a space for conferences and exhibitions. Moreover, in collaboration with international partners such as the World Bank, MENSUR is leveraging CEALT and CEIT’s operations to structure an interdisciplinary teaching and research approach that will underpin a future training and research programme.

Djibouti’s aim of using its strategic location to develop space technology culminated in January 2023. That month Djibouti signed a $1bn memorandum of understanding with the Hong Kong Aerospace Technology Group to build a civilian launch platform for satellites in the Obock region via a build-operate-transfer contract.