Augusto Manzanal Ciancaglini
The Bab el-Mandeb Strait, between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, is an obligatory passage for connecting the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea, making it one of the most geostrategically important areas in the world. Djibouti, a micro-state of 23,000 square kilometres and nearly 900,000 inhabitants, can boast of being located in this important bottleneck through which much of global trade passes.
Taking advantage of this location, it is home to several foreign military bases: France has a very large presence in its former colony, Japan is an exception, China is making its debut, the United States is a must and Italy is appearing. As a result, Chinese and American soldiers are squeezed together and are separated by only 10 kilometres.
At least 90 per cent of goods travel by sea, so control of the main bottlenecks like Bab el-Mandeb is essential to a power: customers do not stop (Saudi Arabia would be a next tenant and Russia tried with less luck). However, despite its location, this small African state cannot yet be compared to Panama or Singapore, but rather to its neighbour Eritrea, which has bases in Israel and Iran. In fact, Djibouti represents a maritime watchtower and a latent beachhead towards Africa.
There is therefore an interesting double aspect to the analysis of the geopolitical experience that Djibouti signifies: on the one hand, the relations of the military contingents of rival powers so close together in a very small territory, and, on the other, how a country’s behaviour, a priori insignificant, is determined by being in the right place, at the right time and with the most important guests. In a special region, Djibouti’s sovereignty is carved from within by the conflicting interests of its guests and from outside by the contrast with its neighbours, that is, the influence of Ethiopia, competition with Eritrea or pressure from both Somali and Yemeni chaos.
Djibouti, which has been invaded by itself, is attempting to escape from poverty through its role as a landlord and even aspires to become a kind of “Singapore of Africa”, but could be transformed into something else: the particular purposes accumulate different troops in the same space, a huge neutralised power that provides the opportunity to play an unusual diplomatic role.
Thus, in the Horn of Africa a tiny, destitute two-fronted sentry is rented in the hope of becoming a wealthy dwarf cancer-killer. Meanwhile, its powerful inhabitants are crowding into the control of Bab el-Mandeb, Africa and its co-inhabitants.
© All rights reserved