Sunday, September 03, 2017

Djibouti Dreams

Djibouti, which is about the size of Wales, is sandwiched between Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. It sits on the Horn of Africa, close to the narrowest point of the Red Sea on the route to Suez Canal — a busy, international shipping corridor where those travelling from Europe must pass. Djibouti’s mostly barren landscapes are unsuitable for agriculture, so making use of the country’s strategic position at the mouth of the Gulf of Aden is critical to turn the country into a regional logistics hub.
The small nation gained independence from France in 1977 but back then, it had only one high school, one street and two doctors. Today it is home to just under one million people and is a very different place.
Djibouti has become a key military base for European, Asian, and American world powers as a result of its geostrategic location and its stability in a volatile region. Conflicts and crises in nearby countries including Somalia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have warranted the need for military bases.  Over the years, military forces have sent their troops to Djibouti either to carry out surveillance and counter-terrorism strikes or to deter the threat of piracy to international shipping lines.
Djibouti is  home to Africa’s largest US army base and France’s biggest Foreign Legion deployment. The US pays A$79m annually in rent for its base 
France, the former colonial power, has thousands of troops as well as warships, aircraft and armoured vehicles in Djibouti.
Since 2011, a Japanese Self Defence Force (SDF) contingent of 180 troops has occupied a 12 hectare site in Djibouti.  The SDF operates maritime patrol aircraft as part of an international force that hunts pirates in the seas of the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia. It’s Japan’s only foreign military base and it’s now set for expansion. The lease will cost Japan about A$1.2m per year, according to the Japanese government.
The Italians also have their own base, while troops from Germany and Spain are hosted by the French.
China opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti. China’s agreement with Djibouti ensures its military presence in the country up until 2026, with a contingent of up to 10,000 soldiers. The Chinese base is expected to bring in A$126m for the Djibouti government.
 The “Djibouti 2035” plan is set to emulate Dubai and Singapore. Fourteen infrastructure projects, amounting to over $A19 billion, are focused on expanding Djibouti’s sea, air and land connections by 2035. The new airport is scheduled to open in 2018 with runways big enough for modern commercial jets.
But economic problems exists behind the construction cranes and flashy hotels, with 42 per cent of local Djiboutians living in extreme poverty and 48 per cent of the labour force is unemployed, according to 2014 figures

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