Africa is at a crucial crossroads, and the direction it takes in the next few years will have a major impact – for good or for ill – not only on the continent, but globally. Djibouti is a nexus for political, trade, development and security issues in the Horn of Africa and it will play a critical role in shaping regional dynamics in coming years. The US and Djibouti share a long-term partnership guided by mutual strategic interests and a commitment to addressing shared challenges, including ensuring a prosperous future for young Djiboutians. During recent meetings and conversations at the UN General Assembly in New York, I have highlighted the importance of a continued and strong US-Africa partnership that prioritises a number of goals. These include promoting stronger trade and commercial ties between the US and Africa by establishing a level playing field across African markets; harnessing the potential of Africa’s tremendous youth bulge as a force for economic ingenuity and prosperity, as well as a counter-narrative to violent extremism and despair; advancing peace and security through robust partnerships with African governments via bilateral and regional mechanisms; and, most importantly, re-emphasising that the US has an unwavering commitment to Africa.
There is no more important role for me than promoting stronger trade and commercial ties between the US and Africa. In Djibouti, I see promising investments in infrastructure on the horizon. Among them, there is the natural gas pipeline, liquefaction plant and export terminal in Damerjog; the Djibouti International Free Trade Zone, which upon completion will be Africa’s largest free trade zone; and the establishment of port connections for Africa’s first electrified railway, the Addis-Djibouti railway. These are the kinds of projects that attract international investment, provide steady, paying jobs for young people, and expand the economic base for Djibouti and neighbouring countries. I would add that strong, accountable and democratic institutions, sustained by good governance and a strengthened commitment to the rule of law, are very necessary to generate greater prosperity and stability.
Investments in infrastructure must be accompanied by investments in human resources. We need to tap into the entrepreneurial spirit and dynamism of young Africans, and help create jobs and opportunities that will anchor them to their countries. Over 60% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa, more than 600m people, is below the age of 25, and this group also represents three-fifths of the region’s unemployed. We have partnered with the government of Djibouti to promote youth employment through job skills training, including English and fostering entrepreneurship. This is in addition to the $200m the US government contributed to the local economy in 2017, as well as the more than 1300 Djiboutians that the US employs directly. If young Africans see few prospects in their countries, they are more likely to embark on the dangerous route of illegal migration, join militant groups or engage in crime.
We are of course aware that many other countries see similar opportunities for partnership with Djibouti, including China. US policy is not to curtail any other actor’s constructive involvement in Africa, but to encourage them in so far as their influence positively supports good governance, rule of law and anti-corruption efforts. The US has had an official presence in Djibouti since 1929, with formal diplomatic recognition coming immediately after independence in 1977. We are firm in our conviction that many countries can play a positive role in Djibouti and throughout the region in helping create jobs, expanding educational opportunities and promoting development. I strongly believe that Africa is the continent of the future. All of us need to focus on helping that future become one of stability and prosperity instead of narrow self-interest and short-term gain.
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