The foreign bases in Djibouti provide benefits to the country:
- They generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the government.
- They provide security for the nation, because there are troops and technicians from five countries and from EU forces, on its territory.
- In addition, the naval facilities provide a defence against piracy. Piracy threatens Djibouti’s port-based and trade-based economy.
- The foreign bases bring OECD countries into Djibouti for the long term, which can help promote donor aid & anti-poverty programmes, human rights, democracy and public service provision.
These are four good reasons to keep the bases in Djibouti, and ensure they are able to do their work efficiently.
However, there are risks that Djibouti must be wary of, and that the Government of Djibouti must take steps to mitigate. The benefits of foreign bases are never ‘a free ride’. With the benefits go responsibilities.
Poverty, and anger at the government within Djibouti, need to be addressed so that resentment does not build up, and so the money they bring in is not seen as a ‘bad thing’. Using government funds to improve the conditions for the poor is essential in ensuring that the local unrest does not develop and get out of hand. Those with bases have a mutual relationship with the people of the country in which they are based. The government and the Presidency should take active steps on this front. A new President needs to address this and give greater security and ease of operation for the foreign bases.
Keeping the economy healthy, growing and ‘pluralistic’ with lots of foreign investment is a key part of this, so that many countries have a stake in Djibouti’s stability. This is in stark contrast with the policy of the current regime, which has led to soured relations with investors, and bitter disputes between the Presidency and investors from France, the UK and Dubai.
Relations with neighbouring countries are especially important – it is vital that the Djibouti government does not give reason to other countries in the region to express their dissatisfaction by attempting to disrupt locations in Djibouti, or by encouraging others to disrupt or attack key locations. Good economic and political relations are essential – and an ongoing dialogue to understand each other’s concerns and differences and address them in a civilised manner. In Djibouti, historic tensions with Eritrea, Ethiopia, and the different regions of Somalia need constant attention. Good relations with neighbours are essential, and this requires proactive steps and a well-managed Foreign Ministry.. A new President should ensure that good relations with neighbours contribute to improved security, not increase security threats.
It is also essential that Djibouti does not encourage (or allow through neglect) the growth of radical groups or international terror organisations on its territory or in its political and economic systems. Economic and banking supervision and local/national governance to international standards is always necessary to prevent this. It is part of a new President’s responsibility to ensure that the scope for terror groups to locate in Djibouti, or have their banking deposits in Djibouti, is rigorously blocked.
Unfortunately, the current Djibouti regime, and the President with his ‘top team’ have failed to understand any of these responsibilities, and as a result the bases face rising threats which must be countered.
A new President and a new national assembly need to manage actively the factors that can bring problems associated with the presence of the bases.
More engagement between base commanders and their teams and the institutions of Djibouti is needed to broaden the relationship , so personnel at the bases feel more welcome and at ease in Djibouti. Steps are needed from the Presidency to try and achieve this.
Such steps are in the interests of Djibouti as a nation. Foreign bases and protection of the maritime routes and Djibouti’s ports and transport systems, are integral parts of the very existence of Djibouti as a modern nation-state. They are a source of stability as well as income, should the Presidency decide to work together with base commanders for mutual benefit.
However the cavalier attitude of the Presidency to security, financial integrity, and economic development, shows that these undeniable features of Djibouti as a nation, have been forgotten.
It is time to change this – peacefully, through proper free and fair election, which are recognised and accepted internationally, as sufficient to provide true legitimacy for the government.