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Djibouti - Foreign Relations

Djibouti is the only country in the world that hosts military bases for both the United States and China. As a small and poor country, Djibouti's foreign policy aims to maintain good relations with a diverse range of foreign partners. By early 2016 three foreign military powers, the United States, France and Japan, had military forces positioned in Djibouti and another two, China and Saudi Arabia, were set to establish bases there soon.

Djibouti seeks to play a stabilizing role in the frequently tense regional politics of the Horn of Africa. Djibouti hosted UN-sponsored Somali reconciliation talks in 2008-2009 (the “Djibouti Process”), and provided military training for TFG troops in late 2009.

France is Djibouti's closest Western ally. As a former French colony, Djibouti heavily depends on France for economic and national security. The French contribute US$720 million per year to Djibouti’s GDP and employ about 1,400 people. In 1977, the two countries signed a bilateral defense agreement, which requires France to intervene to defend the Djiboutian government from external aggression. Though these agreements remain, France has begun to reduce its military presence in Djibouti.

Military and economic agreements with France provide continued security and economic assistance. Djibouti hosts France’s largest military presence overseas. The French military hospital is a key trauma care center in the area and helped stabilize victims after the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in October 2000.

During his 1998 visit, China's President Jiang Zemin commented on the smooth development of Sino-Djiboutian relations despite the changes in international and domestic changes in both countries. China provides aid to Djibouti for a variety of improvements. Djibouti values its relationship with China and supports China's reunification with Taiwan.

Relations between the United States and Djibouti are good. In April 1977, the United States established a Consulate General in Djibouti. After Djibouti gained independence several months later, the U.S. Consulate General’s status was raised to Embassy. The first U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Djibouti arrived in October 1980. On 13 June 1992, the United States and Djibouti agreed to furnish defense articles, related training, and other services.

Since December 2017, the Government of Djibouti sought to enforce the law against the concession contract entered into between Dubai Ports World ("DP World") and Doraleh Container Terminal SA and the Government, related to the container terminal at Doraleh. This effort culminated in a final demand that the contract be renegotiated by 21 February 2018, and the termination of that contract by Presidential Decree on 22 February 2018 and expropriation of all of the assets of Doraleh Container Terminal SA. The Doraleh Container Terminal S.A. (the "Terminal") from a Dubai Ports World designed, built and, since 2006, operated the Terminal pursuant to a concession awarded by the Government in 2006. The state-of-the-art Terminal is the largest employer and biggest source of revenue in the country. It has operated at a profit every year since it opened.

Djibouti’s Relations with Somalia

Djibouti’s relations with Somalia have been cooperative and relatively stable. Nationalistic claims to Somali territories in Djibouti were dropped following Djibouti’s decision to remain independent in 1977. Since then, Djibouti has been active in mediating Somalia’s disputes with its neighbors. Djiboutian leaders continue to seek peace in Somalia. Djibouti President Guelleh hosted the Arta Peace Conference in May 2000, an initiative that involved many of Somalia’s businessmen, clan elders, and professional and civil leaders.

Djibouti is an important player of the Somali issue. After having been at the origin of the agreements Arta (August 2000), Djibouti was in 2008 part of the negotiations between the TFG and the Islamic Courts Union. The discussions resulted in the Djibouti agreements that allowed the establishment of a new transitional government in Mogadishu.

Djibouti hosted by France training a battalion of Somali security forces in 2009; Somali police officers were trained there. A Djiboutian battalion (900 men) and a staff (150 men) were deployed in the mission of the African Union in Somalia (AMISOM) in 2012. These units were strengthened in Q4 2014 by a second battalion 900 men. The Government failed in its attempts to unravel the contracts by alleging the contracts were corrupt both before the High Court of England & Wales and before an arbitral Tribunal in London (comprising Sir Richard Aikens, Peter Leaver QC, Lord Hoffman), which dismissed the Government’s allegations that the contracts were unfair in their entirety.

Djibouti’s Relations with Yemen

Djibouti’s neighbor across the narrow Bab el Mandeb strait is Yemen. This troubled country was frequently in the headlines during the “Arab Spring” of 2011 when the authoritarian regime of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh created unrest. At the same time, Islamist militants in southern Yemen believed to be aligned with Al Qaeda fought with government security forces for control of cities near the country’s key port at Aden. In the north, local tribes people sabotaged oil pipelines and power plants. The cumulative effect of this violence and unrest was a tattered economy suffering from shortages of electricity, fuel, and water.

Djibouti watched the events in Yemen unfold with great interest. Most of Djibouti’s minority Arab population either originate from or trace their ancestry to Yemen. The two nations have a recent history of good relations. Only months before the 2011 demonstrations in Yemen began, the presidents of the two countries met in Djibouti to discuss matters of mutual interest, such as regional security against piracy and terrorism. Prior to that, in July 2010, top leaders from both countries discussed increasing economic ties between Djibouti and Yemen. Progress on these issues depends on the outcome of Yemen’s current struggles, which have been described as a “perfect storm of state failure.”

Other Foreign Relations

In April 2001, Djibouti closed its border with the Republic of Somaliland. Mutual relations had soured, as Somaliland strongly objected to Djibouti’s role in establishing the Transitional National Government in Mogadishu. However, in October 2001, both sides signed a six-point agreement to cease all propaganda and other activities that damaged relations between them.

Djibouti and Malaysia have established a trade relationship for commercial goods entering east Africa. To help manage Djibouti’s free trade zone, Djibouti has sought Malaysia’s involvement in the zone’s petroleum, telecommunications, and banking sectors. Djibouti has also sought Malaysian assistance for infrastructure development assistance to include agriculture, power generation and supply, ports, and airports.

After independence in 1977, the Republic of Djibouti became a member of the Arab League, although Arabs number no more than 6,000 in its ethnically mixed population. Djibouti’s Arab League membership allows Saudi Arabia to extend financial and diplomatic support. Saudi Arabia is also a major trading partner. Iran. In July 1998, Iran and Djibouti signed a letter of understanding to consolidate their political, economic, trade, and industrial ties. The letter of understanding stressed cooperation at international, regional, and Islamic forums. Djibouti’s government also expressed an interest in creating an oil refinery with the help of the Iranian government. Because of the strategic geographic importance of the Horn of Africa, both countries seek regional peace and security.

Djibouti is a member of the League of Arab States (LAS) and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), as well as the African Union (AU), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), and the International Organization of Francophones (“Organisation international de la Francophonie,” or OIF). Djibouti is also a member of the East African Standby Brigade Coordination Mechanism (EASBRICOM), which in 2012 was commanded by a Djiboutian general.

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) is the successor organization to the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD), created in 1986 by six drought stricken East African countries to coordinate development in the Horn of Africa. IGAD headquarters are in Djibouti. In April 1996, at the recommendation of the Heads of State and Government, the IGAD Council of Ministers identified three priority areas of cooperation: Conflict Prevention, Management, and Resolution, and Humanitarian Affairs; Infrastructure Development (Transport and Communications); and Food Security and Environment Protection.




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