The Middle East is undeniably a region of great importance in world affairs, not least for its economic resources. The region’s contemporary image is, however, one of instability and conflict in which sudden changes can occur at any moment, not always for the best. Finding a dependable regional base for mercantile operations has thus become a prime motivation for global trading companies and even entire countries seeking to secure the constant flow of business and supply of resources. Small, neutral nations located within the region have thereby proven to be valuable partners in global commerce. Djibouti, lying at the crossroads of major trade routes between Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, is increasingly proving its worth as one such partner, offering an array of services in addition to a financially and politically stable environment.
In 2007, Djibouti will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of its independence from France. The festivities will constitute a benchmark for this small nation on the Horn of Africa as it celebrates its transformation from a poverty-stricken, aid-dependent nation into to a rapidly developing and investment-led democracy. The key to the country’s current success is its stability. Having chosen the path of neutrality in a volatile region has paid off handsomely, as regional trade has found in Djibouti a secure
platform from which to operate.
One only needs to look at the latest figures of foreign investment taking place in the country to understand how today’s Djibouti is poised to prosper in the coming decade. Since the government’s handing over of Djibouti’s ports management to Dubai Ports World, the emirate of Dubai alone has invested over $600 million in infrastructure projects, including a container terminal at the brand new port of Doraleh, a new five-star hotel in the capital, and a tourist island resort.
The steps taken to improve Djibouti’s economy by the People’s Rally for Progress Party (PRP), headed by President Ismael Omar Guelleh, have no doubt been to the country’s advantage. By focusing on the state’s strategic location on busy shipping routes and by servicing trade towards the African hinterland, Djibouti has managed to cut out a niche for itself where opportunities for revenue did not otherwise exist. Part of the government’s policy is also to act as a political and diplomatic force within African and Arab communities such as COMESA and the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD). Increased political participation is encouraged, and Djibouti’s multi-party system has created democratic opportunities for all its citizens. This is especially evident in the encouragement of increased female participation in the political process. Women currently hold two ministerial positions.
Having overcome tribal disagreements in the early 1990’s, the National Assembly now counts 65 members, elected for a five-year term in multi-seat constituencies. The President, currently Ismael Omar Guelleh, is also
elected for a term of five years and appoints his Prime Minister, a position which at present is held by Dileita Mohamed Dileita. Commerce and sea trade effected an intermingling of Djiboutians with the Arabian Peninsula and brought about the adoption of Islam. This fact puts them on excellent diplomatic terms with their Middle Eastern neighbors, notably the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and Iran.
In its efforts to fight terrorism, Djibouti has joined forces with the United States, who established a military presence in the country as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S. military response to the September 11 attacks. Ties with France continue to remain close and the French army’s largest military presence outside of France is still based in Djibouti, with approximately 2,600 troops. Offering Djibouti as a base of operations for these forces has not only safeguarded security in the region, but has also brought in much-needed development aid, with troops making frequent contributions to the country’s social network by building local schools and infrastructure.
President Guelleh views the strategic alliance with the United States as an important catalyst for Djibouti’s social and economic development. Within the diplomatic sphere, Djibouti has benefited from a number of projects funded by the USAID-managed Economic Support Fund (ESF), particularly in the fields of education and public health. Despite these important contributions to the country’s social development, Djibouti’s government still faces many challenges, as the country ranked 154th among 177 countries on the 2004 United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) Human Development Index. Yet investments made by Dubai Ports World and other major companies with operations in Djibouti are sure indicators that prosperity is arriving on the country’s shores.
“The trust which has been built up between the United States and Djibouti in the fight against terrorism also enables us to attract a number of other countries and investors, giving them more reassurance and peace of mind” says President Guelleh. “Since good relations exist between the two nations, a stable investment environment exists in the country.” Djibouti today possesses a luminous glint in its eye when looking towards the future, one that is reflected in the vision of President Guelleh and his government when considering the role that the nation is playing on the international scene. “We are the smallest nation in this part of Africa, but we want to be the mustering element for the other countries in the region, and to offer them a space for exchange and dialogue to propagate peace, collaboration, and understanding between people.”