How Djibouti emerged as a commercial and strategic crossroads of the world

Djibouti’s location, on the Bab Al-Mandab strait and at the intersection of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, has proved a blessing in countless ways. (AFP)
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Updated 16 September 2022

How Djibouti emerged as a commercial and strategic crossroads of the world

  • Tiny African nation’s Red Sea ports service trans-shipments between Europe, the Middle East and Asia
  • Location and relative stability enabling Djibouti to become the linchpin of global maritime commerce

RIYADH: If geography is destiny, then all small countries with much bigger neighbors perforce have to learn to capitalize on the advantages while handling the challenges with tact and finesse.

Few countries come close to Djibouti, a tiny African nation squeezed between Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia, in pulling off this feat.

Djibouti’s location, on the Bab Al-Mandab strait and at the intersection of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, has proved a blessing in countless ways. Its ports serve as the main gateway for trade for landlocked Ethiopia, handling 95 percent of the country’s trade. As a gateway to the Suez Canal, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, Djibouti’s ports also service trans-shipments between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

Relative political stability and strategic location have also made Djibouti an ideal site for foreign military bases, which in turn has ensured a steady flow of government revenue and foreign assistance. The government holds longstanding ties to France, which maintains a military presence in the country, as does the US, Japan, Italy, Germany, Spain, and China.




Tourism is also one of the growing economic sectors of Djibouti and is an industry that generates between 53,000 and 73,000 arrivals per year. (Shutterstock)

Radical Islam, which has caused havoc in neighboring Somalia among other African countries, has not been able to make inroads into Djibouti, a predominantly Muslim country with a smattering of other faiths.

During a visit in March, Ferid Belhaj, the World Bank’s vice president for the Middle East and North Africa, reaffirmed the bank’s commitment to Djibouti’s “resilient and inclusive recovery from COVID-19 and its efforts to accelerate more and better investments in people.”


INTERVIEW

Djibouti president stresses importance of preserving peace in ‘sensitive’ Red Sea and Gulf of Aden region


According to the African Development Bank Group’s “Djibouti Economic Outlook” report, the economy began to recover in 2021 with gross domestic product growth of 3.9 percent, up from 1.2 percent in 2020. The pickup was supported by a revitalized services sector, which generates about three-fourths of GDP, port activities in particular.




Djibouti’s ports also service trans-shipments between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. (AFP)

The group report said: “The outlook is positive. Average GDP growth over 2022 to 23 is forecast to reach 4.3 percent and remain supported by port and investment activities.”

In recent decades, Djibouti has invested heavily in building new ports and modernizing existing infrastructure. Work is ongoing on new facilities including a liquefied natural gas terminal, a business zone, ship repair yards, a crude oil terminal, an international airport, and railway lines connecting Tadjourah, Mekele, and the capital Addis Ababa with the Port of Djibouti.

Every day, an estimated 2,500 ships pass through and call through the port, with hopes pinned on it to turn Djibouti into the linchpin of global maritime commerce. As recently as Tuesday, a UN-chartered ship loaded with thousands of tons of Ukrainian wheat arrived in Djibouti, destined for some of the 22 million people at risk of starvation in the Horn of Africa.

Tourism is also one of the growing economic sectors of Djibouti and is an industry that generates between 53,000 and 73,000 arrivals per year. Besides historical sites, a national park, beaches, and mountain ranges, the country’s attractions include rock-art sites in Abourma, islands and beaches in the Gulf of Tadjoura and the Bab Al-Mandab, scuba diving, fishing, trekking, and hiking.

The right to own property is respected in Djibouti and the government has reorganized the labor unions. There are an estimated 15,000 foreigners residing in the country.

The indigenous population is divided between the majority Somalis (predominantly of the Issa tribe, with minority Isaaq and Gadabuursi representation) and the Afars (also known as the Danakils).

Djibouti is a member state of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Arab League. It strongly supports mediation efforts in the war in Ethiopia and promotes vaccination against COVID-19.

The history of Djibouti, recorded in the poetry and songs of its nomadic peoples, goes back thousands of years to a time when Djiboutians traded hides and skins for the perfumes and spices of ancient Egypt, India, and China. Through close contacts with the Arabian Peninsula for more than 1,000 years, the Somali and Afar tribes in the region became the first on the African continent to adopt Islam.

Trader and diplomat Rochet d’Hericourt’s exploration into Shoa (1839 to 1842) marked the beginning of French interest in the African shores of the Red Sea, an interest that grew in step with increased British activity in Egypt and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. In 1884 and 1885, France expanded its protectorate to include the shores of the Gulf of Tadjoura and Somaliland.

The administrative capital was moved from Obock to Djibouti in 1896. Djibouti attracted trade caravans crossing East Africa, as well as Somali settlers from the south. The Franco-Ethiopian railway, linking Djibouti to the heart of Ethiopia, was begun in 1897 and reached Addis Ababa in June 1917, further facilitating the increase of trade.




Diplomat Rochet d’Hericourt’s exploration into Shoa (1839 to 1842) marked the beginning of French interest in the African shores of the Red Sea. (AFP)

In 1957, the colony was reorganized by the French government to give the people considerable self-government. The next year, in a constitutional referendum, French Somaliland opted to join the French community as an overseas territory.

In March 1967, in a referendum conducted by the French government, 60 percent chose to continue the territory’s association with France. In July of that year, a directive from Paris formally changed the name of the region to the French Territory of the Afars and Issas.

Djiboutians voted for independence in a May 1977 referendum, and the Republic of Djibouti was established on June 27, 1977. Hassan Gouled Aptidon became the country’s first president and was re-elected multiple times until 1999, when Ismail Omar Guelleh became the new president.


'Stand for each other': Afghan women rally in support of antigovernment protests in Iran

Updated 16 sec ago

'Stand for each other': Afghan women rally in support of antigovernment protests in Iran

  • Protesters gathered in front of Iranian embassy in Kabul chanting, 'women, life, freedom'
  • The protest was soon dispersed by Taliban security forces who fired into the air

KABUL: Afghan women rallied in front of the Iranian embassy in Kabul on Thursday, joining global protests over the death of a young woman in the custody of Iran’s morality police.

Mahsa Amini, 22, was detained in Tehran on Sept. 12 for failing to cover her hair modestly enough. Women who were arrested along with Amini have said she was beaten inside a police van. Three days later she died in hospital after falling into a coma.

Public anger over her death has prompted days of rage and street protests across Iran, in what has been the largest manifestation of dissent against the Iranian government in over a decade.

Protests have also spilled to other countries.

A group of about 25 women who gathered in front of the Iranian embassy in Kabul carried placards that read: “Beautiful Mahsa, your blood is our way and inspiration,” as they chanted “women, life, freedom” — the phrase that has been used by demonstrators in Iran.

A 24-year-old university student who participated in the protest told Arab News she had attended the rally in solidarity with the women of Iran.

“Women in Iran and we are facing the same oppression. We wanted to show that we can amplify the voices of our sisters in Iran while highlighting our own concerns for freedom and dignity,” she said, on condition of anonymity.

“The widespread protests in Iran supported by men and women also inspired us to continue our fight for the rights of Afghan women in Afghanistan. Afghan women have been brave enough to defy the Taliban’s restrictive attitude. We will not be silenced and we will rise again.”

The rights of Afghan women have been limited since the Taliban took control of the country after US-led forces withdrew from Afghanistan in August last year.

Although they had previously promised a softer version of the harsh rule during their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, women have already been ordered to wear face cover in public, banned from making long-distance journeys alone, and prevented from working in most sectors outside of health and education.

Since September last year, permission from the Ministry of Justice is required to organize a protest. Slogans used during rallies must also be approved by authorities.

Soon after Thursday’s rally in front of the Iranian embassy began, it was dispersed by Taliban security forces, who fired into the air.

For Afghan women’s rights activist like Muzhgan Noori, the protest was a “fine example of sisterhood and solidarity among women sharing the same pain and concerns.”

“Afghan women have protested whenever they felt the need for it, and they should be able to do so now. The government must support and protect them instead of frightening them,” she told Arab News.

“I hope women continue to stand for each other.”


Pakistani court acquits ex-PM’s daughter in corruption case

Updated 29 September 2022

Pakistani court acquits ex-PM’s daughter in corruption case

  • Maryam Nawaz is the vice president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League
  • The court also acquitted her husband, Mohammad Sadar

ISLAMABAD: A court in Pakistan’s capital city on Thursday acquitted the daughter of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after she was sentenced to seven years in prison over charges connected with the purchase of luxury apartments in London.
Maryam Nawaz, the vice president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, said outside the Islamabad High court that she is “thankful to God that justice has been done.” The luxury apartments at issue are owned by her brothers.
The court also acquitted her husband, Mohammad Sadar, who had been sentenced to one year in jail on charges of giving false information to investigators in 2018.
Sharif, who had also been sentenced to 10 years in jail in the same case, has been living in self-imposed exile in London since 2019 after authorities released him on bail so that he could travel abroad to seek medical treatment.


US vice president Kamala Harris caps Asia trip with stop at DMZ dividing Koreas

Updated 29 September 2022

US vice president Kamala Harris caps Asia trip with stop at DMZ dividing Koreas

  • The visit comes on the heels of North Korea’s latest missile launches
  • At the DMZ, Harris went to the top of a ridge, near guard towers and security cameras

PANMUNJOM, Korea: US Vice President Kamala Harris capped her four-day trip to Asia with a stop Thursday at the Demilitarized Zone dividing the Korean Peninsula as she emphasized US commitment to the security of its Asian allies in the face of an increasingly aggressive North Korea.
The visit comes on the heels of North Korea’s latest missile launches and amid fears that the country may conduct a nuclear test. Visiting the DMZ has become something of a ritual for American leaders hoping to show their resolve to stand firm against aggression.
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles on Wednesday, while Harris was in Japan, and had fired one before she left Washington on Sunday. The launches contribute to a record level of missile testing this year that is intended to move Pyongyang closer to being acknowledged as a full-fledged nuclear power.
At the DMZ, Harris went to the top of a ridge, near guard towers and security cameras. She looked through bulky binoculars as a South Korean colonel pointed out military installations on the southern side. Then an American colonel pointed out some of the defenses along the military demarcation line, including fence topped with barbed wire and claymore mines. He said American soldiers regularly walk patrols along a path.
“It’s so close,” Harris said.
Her tour visit to the observation post came after she met US service members and some of their relatives at the Camp Bonifas Dining Facility, where she said she wanted them to know “how grateful and thankful we are.”
“I know it’s not always easy. Most of the time it’s not,” she said.
She asked a soldier from Florida on whether he checked in on his family after Hurricane Ian.
“Yeah, they’re up on a hill,” he said.
When another soldier stammered nervously while introducing himself, Harris said, “You know your name!”
“They’re going to give you such a hard time when this is over,” she joked.
Earlier, Harris met with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol at his office in Seoul where they condemned North Korea’s intensifying weapons tests and reaffirmed the US commitment to defend the South with a full range of its military capabilities in the event of war, Yoon’s office said.
They expressed concern over North Korea’s threats of nuclear conflict and pledged an unspecified stronger response to major North Korean provocations, including a nuclear test, which South Korean officials say could possibly take place in coming months.
Harris and Yoon were also expected to discuss expanding economic and technology partnerships and repairing recently strained ties between Seoul and Tokyo to strengthen their trilateral cooperation with Washington in the region.
Harris’ trip was organized so she could attend the state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but her itinerary was dominated by security concerns, a reflection of fears about China’s growing power and North Korea’s ramped-up testing activity.
In every meeting, Harris tried to lay to rest any fears that the United States was wavering in its commitment to protect its allies, describing American partnerships with South Korea and Japan as the “linchpin” and “cornerstone” of its defense strategy in Asia.
Yoon, who took office earlier this year, had anchored his election campaign with vows to deepen Seoul’s economic and security partnership with Washington to navigate challenges posed by the North Korean threat and address potential supply chain risks caused by the pandemic, the US-China rivalry and Russia’s war on Ukraine. But the alliance has been marked by tension recently.
South Koreans have expressed a sense of betrayal over a new law signed by President Joe Biden that prevents electric cars built outside of North America from being eligible for US government subsidies, undermining the competitiveness of automakers like Seoul-based Hyundai.
There are indications North Korea may up its weapons demonstrations soon as it refines its missiles and delivery systems and attempts to pressure Washington to accept the North as a nuclear power. South Korean officials said last week that they detected signs North Korea was preparing to test a ballistic missile system designed to be fired from submarines.
The US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan was to train with South Korean and Japanese warships in waters near the Korean Peninsula on Friday in the countries’ first trilateral anti-submarine exercises since 2017 to counter North Korean submarine threats, South Korea’s navy said Thursday.
US and South Korean officials also say North Korea is possibly gearing up for its first nuclear test since 2017. That test could come after China holds its Communist Party convention the week of Oct. 16, but before the United States holds its midterm elections Nov. 8, according to South Korean lawmakers who attended a closed-door briefing from the National Intelligence Service.


Taliban fire into air to disperse women’s rally backing Iran protests

Updated 29 September 2022

Taliban fire into air to disperse women’s rally backing Iran protests

KABUL:  Taliban forces fired shots into the air on Thursday to disperse a women’s rally supporting protests in Iran over the death of a woman in the custody of morality police.
Deadly protests have erupted in neighboring Iran for the past two weeks, following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while detained by the Islamic republic’s morality police.
Chanting the same “Women, life, freedom” mantra used in Iran, about 25 Afghan women protested in front of Kabul’s Iranian embassy before being dispersed by Taliban forces firing in the air, an AFP correspondent reported.
Women protesters carried banners that read: “Iran has risen, now it’s our turn!” and “From Kabul to Iran, say no to dictatorship!“
Taliban forces swiftly snatched the banners and tore them in front of the protesters.
Defiant Afghan women’s rights activists have staged sporadic protests in Kabul and some other cities since the Taliban stormed back to power last August.
The protests, banned by the Taliban, contravene a slew of harsh restrictions imposed by the hard-line extremists on Afghan women.
The Taliban have forcefully dispersed women’s rallies in the past, warned journalists against covering them and detained activists helming organization efforts.
An organizer of Thursday’s protest, speaking anonymously, told AFP it was staged “to show our support and solidarity with the people of Iran and the women victims of the Taliban in Afghanistan.”
Since returning to power, the Taliban have banned secondary school education for girls and barred women from many government jobs.
Women have also been ordered to fully cover themselves in public, preferably with the all-encompassing burqa.
So far the Taliban have dismissed international calls to remove the curbs on women, especially the ban on secondary school education.
On Tuesday, a United Nations report denounced the “severe restrictions” and called for them to be reversed.
The international community has insisted that lifting controls on women’s rights is a key condition for recognizing the Taliban government, which no country has so far done.


Kremlin suspects foreign ‘state involvement’ in Nord Stream leaks

Updated 29 September 2022

Kremlin suspects foreign ‘state involvement’ in Nord Stream leaks

  • The two other holes are in the Danish exclusive economic zone
  • The EU suspects sabotage behind the gas leaks on the subsea Russian pipelines

MOSCOW/OSLO: The Kremlin said Thursday that a foreign state was likely responsible for an incident that resulted in the leaks at the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines linking Russia to Europe.

“It’s very difficult to imagine that such a terrorist act could happen without the involvement of a state,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in his daily press briefing, renewing calls for an “urgent investigation.”

Sweden’s coast guard earlier this week discovered a fourth gas leak on the damaged Nord Stream pipelines, a coast guard spokesperson told newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

“Two of these four are in Sweden’s exclusive economic zone,” coast guard spokesperson Jenny Larsson told the newspaper.

The two other holes are in the Danish exclusive economic zone.

The European Union suspects sabotage was behind the gas leaks on the subsea Russian pipelines to Europe and has promised a “robust” response to any intentional disruption of its energy infrastructure.