Mercredi 21 Août 2019  

N°118 - Deuxième trimestre 2017

La lettre diplometque
  Djibouti : un acteur de la paix et du développement dans la région
  Pays desiré, pays courtisé
  « La relation qui caractérise nos deux pays reste unique »
  Pour le maintien de liens politiques forts avec Djibouti
  Témoignage : « Au petit matin, l’accord était scellé »
  1977-2017 : un pays transformé
  Lycée français de Djibouti : « un espace d’excellence »
  Contribuer à la recherche du passé du territoire djiboutien
  Les FFDj, le contingent le plus important des forces françaises pré-positionnées à l’étranger
  La diplomatie du contraste et du balancier
  Djibouti, un petit État aux grandes ambitions
  « Nous avons placé le commerce et la logistique au centre de notre stratégie »
  Djibouti : décollage imminent
  Les nouvelles aspirations du Phare de la mer Rouge
  La CCD, une institution connectée à son environnement
  Djibouti, des perspectives à explorer
  Coubèche : un essor qui se confond avec celui de l’économie djiboutienne
La lettre diplometque
La lettre diplomatique Haut
  S.E.M. / H.E. Ayeid Mousseid Yahya

Forty Years of Independence and Steady Emergence

Interview with H.E. Ayeid MOUSSEID YAHYA,
the Ambassador of Djibouti to France

Known as the Lighthouse of the Red Sea, Djibouti has become in four decades a key partner of the international community in the global fight against terrorism and in safeguarding one of the main commercial road in the world. Beyond these issues, H.E. Ayeid Mousseid Yahya, the Ambassador of Djibouti to France, tells us about the prospects of enhancing cooperation with France in the context of a booming Djiboutian economy.

The Diplomatic Letter: Mr. Ambassador, the Republic of Djibouti celebrated the 40th anniversary of its independence on 27 June 2017. Could you describe the strides your country has made in the interim for our readers, and outline the essential elements behind its success? 

H.E. Ayeid MOUSSEID YAHYA: We did indeed celebrate, with pomp and circumstance, the 40th anniversary of the Republic of Djibouti on 27 June 2017. This event gave us an opportunity to gather together once again to honor those who fought for our country’s independence and those who took the first steps toward building our nation. It was also an opportunity to reflect upon the great strides our country has made, of which we are extremely proud. Djibouti has become a country of substance on the international stage. In testament to this, we have already had the honor of taking on high-level responsibilities as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, most notably within inter-governmental organizations.
Forty years may seem like a relatively long stretch of time, but it is short on the scale of human history. As is underscored so often by the President of the Republic of Djibouti, H.E. Ismail Omar Guelleh, we managed to forge the Djiboutian nation in just four decades. That is, no doubt, our most important achievement, one without which our country could not have attained its current level of success. It must be kept in mind that back in 1977, we inherited a bare rock that had just one school, for instance, and one single hospital. In fact, a good number of countries did not believe Djibouti could handle independence, given the great challenges in East Africa at the time.
Forty years later, thousands of Djiboutians have passed the Baccalaureate exam. Djibouti is a stable country that lives at peace with its neighbors. Thanks to our chief of state’s visionary spirit, Djibouti has strengthened its geostrategic position, enhanced its infrastructures, bolstered its education system and human resources, and widened its diplomatic network.

T.D.L.: Relations between France and Djibouti have changed drastically in four decades, as evidenced by the bilateral defense treaty signed on 21 December 2011. How would you describe these ties right now? Has there been positive feedback from President Ismail Omar Guelleh’s state visit to Paris, on 28 February 2017? After the election of a new French President, on 7 May 2017, do you expect to see changes in France’s policy toward your country, and more broadly toward Africa?

H.E.A.M.Y.: Speaking as the Ambassador of Djibouti to France, I believe that relations between Djibouti and France are excellent. Our two sovereign states established ties when Djibouti gained independence, in 1977, but our bonds date back far earlier and have been holding strong for nearly one and a half centuries. Along with this shared history, we have another bond that I consider to be of utmost importance: our shared language, French, which makes Djibouti the only French-speaking country in East Africa.
You mentioned our defense accord with French authorities. We signed the last attendant agreements over the past few months. Relations between Djibouti and France do, of course, have a strategic dimension, given our country’s geographic location, which makes it a natural bridge between the Arabian Peninsula and the East African hinterland.
With regard to President Ismail Omar Guelleh’s state visit in February 2017, let me just say that it was an ideal opportunity to reaffirm our relations and show just how excellent they truly are.
I would add that I find it perfectly normal that our ties have changed. France has tended to draw down its military presence in Djibouti, in line with the French government’s budget choices. Djibouti continues, nonetheless, to harbor the largest French military presence outside France, with more than 1,450 French soldiers representing three branches of the armed forces (Navy, Air Force, Army) stationed in our country. This presence gives France a strategic foothold in the Horn of Africa, a region facing myriad conflicts, such as the one in Somalia with al-Shabaab, and, unfortunately, the conflict in our turbulent neighbor Eritrea. This region is also being undermined by piracy, in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, and by the crisis that is roiling Yemen.
In answer to your last question, I would like to emphasize that President Ismail Omar Guelleh was one of the first chiefs of state to extend his congratulations to President Emmanuel Macron. France has elected a young and dynamic new president. We sincerely hope that we will be able to continue strengthening the lasting and sincere bonds of friendship our two countries have shared for so many years. 

T.D.L.: According to statistics issued by France’s Directorate General of the Treasury, roughly 10 million euros of foreign direct investment flow into your country every year. On the heels of the Djiboutian president’s meeting with MEDEF, during his last state visit, which activity sectors hold good potential for expanding bilateral ties? 

H.E.A.M.Y.: During his last state visit to France, President Ismail Omar Guelleh did indeed visit MEDEF, where he urged French companies to invest in our country. As I like to say, it takes two to tango, and we dance our best when we do it with someone who speaks the same language. This is the case with France. Working together to strengthen our trade and economic ties must be a key part of our bilateral cooperation. Indeed, I believe it is essential that Djibouti be seen more as a trade hub and not merely as a security foothold. This is a simple fact and I am sure that the French, and entrepreneurs the world over, understand it full well. We thus look forward eagerly to the arrival of French companies.
There is good potential for expanding our economic ties in every activity sector. The Djiboutian economy is showing steady growth, which is expected to reach 7% in 2017. It has become very competitive and is open to competition. All one needs to do is look at the growing number of international investors who come knocking on Djibouti’s door every single day. They come from regions all around the globe: Turkey, China, and the Gulf countries. In these conditions, France – with its strong companies and their advanced technology, coupled with the potential fostered by our friendly ties – has a key role to play in Djibouti. This is all the more true, given that these opportunities are not confined to the national market. As I have already said, our country is a trade and port hub that opens a door onto the entire East Africa region. The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) brings together more than 400 million people. Djibouti is also a direct gateway to the vast Ethiopian market, which is comprised of nearly 100 million people. On this score, I can assure you that we are already seeing a new dynamic that has given our economic cooperation fresh momentum. 

T.D.L.: 2017 was a pivotal year for the Djiboutian economy, with the construction of several major infrastructure works, led by port installations. How will this heightened capacity change your country?

H.E.A.M.Y.: In order to boost the development of our country, we had to lay special emphasis on promoting our economic edge and unique geostrategic location, at the entrance of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and the Red Sea. In other words, we focused all our efforts on beefing up our infrastructures, which have clearly had a substantial impact on the upturn taken by Djibouti over the past few years. And as you pointed out, 2017 should be an particularly important turning point for us, with several large-scale projects reaching completion.
When Djibouti gained independence, it had just one port. Now we have seven ports with modern facilities. Two new ports are about to be completed in northern Djibouti: Goubet Port, designed to export salt harvested from Lake Assal; and Tadjourah Port, which will be used primarily to export potassium mined in Ethiopia.
Earlier this year, on 24 May 2017, we officially opened our country’s largest port: the multipurpose Doraleh Port, which expanded the pre-existing infrastructures at the Doraleh Container Terminal. We also recently launched operations at Damerjog Port, which is designed to serve the livestock trade. This activity sector has continued to steadily grow. The wealth of East African countries such as Ethiopia and Somalia is counted not in barrels but in head of livestock, most of which are exported to Gulf Countries. The Damerjog Quarantine Facility has made Djibouti a key transit country for the livestock trade. 

T.D.L.: Djibouti hopes to achieve its goal of becoming the first African country running on 100% renewable energy by 2020. What type of energy alternatives is it promoting to that end?

H.E.A.M.Y.: Djibouti is, to a certain extent, already headed in the right direction in this arena. A large portion of our electrical supply is generated in Ethiopia, from which we import it via a power interconnection.
Alongside this, we have been implementing a policy that promotes renewable energies for many years now. We were one of the first countries to start taking advantage of the potential of geothermal energy, an inexhaustible energy source that Djibouti can tap very easily, thanks to its geological features. We began conducting studies in this area as early as 1981, working with French and then Italian experts. After that, we even brought in the top specialists in the field: the Icelanders. 
Unfortunately, the global financial crisis brought these efforts to a halt. But quite some time ago, we started up this work again, all on our own. It is being led by a Djiboutian entity created specifically to this end. We have done drilling at two sites, opening up a wide array of prospects. We, of course, have very high hopes for developing this industry, which I am fully convinced could turn us into a green country that is fully energy-independent within the next 10 or 15 years. What’s more, we are also developing solar and wind farms. Both of these energy sources are, admittedly, intermittent, but there is huge potential in Djibouti for expanding them. 

T.D.L.: Djiboutian authorities officially opened the Addis Abada-Djibouti railway on 9 January 2017. Could you describe the importance of this new railway line for our readers?

H.E.A.M.Y.: This is the first electrified railway line in Africa. It replaces the old line left over from the French colonial period, which had fallen into disrepair. After looking, unsuccessfully, for possible ways to restore it, working first with our French partners and then with the European Union (EU), we were finally able to bring this commercial railroad back into service with financial support from China. It will help us increase the movement of both people and goods between Djibouti and Ethiopia, with the goal of increasing the amount of freight transported via this rail network to 3,500 tons a day.
Let me add that this is not the only major project we are carrying out with Ethiopia, which remains one of our country’s leading partners. The construction of an aqueduct to carry water between our countries, as well as a second electricity transmission line, are also worthy of mention.

T.D.L.: Do you think this rail link could be the first step toward building a truly transcontinental line? On a broader level, what are the prospects for bolstering cooperation between Djibouti and its African partners?

H.E.A.M.Y.: We do indeed hope that this railway line will eventually be extended to South Sudan, once peace has been restored, and that it will also run to Kenya and, why not, that it could one day become a transcontinental railway linking Djibouti and Dakar. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) intends to link all of Africa’s major cities by road and by train. Building a link between Djibouti and Dakar would bring about huge savings in the transport sector alone. Not to mention the new trade routes that could be opened up, for instance, once containers can be transported from one side of the continent to the other.
In more concrete terms, these projects and ideas bear witness to the enormous potential for expanding cooperation between African countries. We are speaking out strongly to make this happen. It is one of Djibouti’s top foreign policy goals. Our country stands at the border between Africa and the Arab world, yet retains a strong sense of belonging to Africa. President Ismail Omar Guelleh attends all of the African Union summits and our diplomatic services are actively involved in the efforts to build a strong Africa.
We hope to be able to foster more experience sharing between African countries. Various African countries have asked us to share our expertise in the port industry with them. As for Djibouti, we are looking for new solutions in the agricultural sector, which is still underdeveloped in our country. Another dimension of the ongoing cooperation between African countries is illustrated by Djibouti’s investments in wheat production in Sudan and Ethiopia, with the aim of ensuring our food security. 

T.D.L.: Looking beyond the regional level, your country’s desire to become a key trade hub gained a global dimension on 17 January 2017, when President Ismail Omar Guelleh formally launched the construction of an international free zone. Could you give us more details about this project? Is it a good example of the growing economic cooperation between Djibouti and China?

H.E.A.M.Y.: First and foremost, let me make it clear that while a Chinese firm has been tapped to build this free trade zone, it is still 100% Djiboutian. Like all international free trade zones, it is open to all companies, whatever their country of origin may be. Other countries are involved in this along with China, such as Turkey, but no one is talking about its involvement. We very much hope that other countries like France will take an interest in this free trade zone, which will greatly benefit not only our country, but all the countries in the sub-region. 
There has clearly been an uptick recently in economic cooperation between Djibouti and China, but our two countries established diplomatic relations all the way back in 1979. Over the years, we have forged ties in numerous areas. At this point in time, we can only welcome this inflow of Chinese investment, which is helping spur the growth of our economy, in the port and airport industries in particular, as well as the real-estate sector. It has enabled us to push forward with our development strategy, especially since the new Silk Road project being spearheaded by Chinese President Xi Jinping could open up new opportunities for Djibouti.

T.D.L.: With the IGAD Secretariat headquartered in Djibouti, your country has become a key player in the campaign to foster development and security in the region. Could you outline Djibouti’s efforts to help bring stability to a region undermined by persisting conflicts, like the one in Somalia?

H.E.A.M.Y.: Since gaining independence, our country has done its best to play a strong role and help bring stability to the region. We are, as always, determined to remain a welcoming land for people afflicted by the conflicts that have battered our region for far too long. The first refugees came from Ogaden, in Ethiopia, then from Somalia, then Eritrea, and lately, from Yemen. During the biggest refugee waves, our country took in the equivalent of half its own population. While Lebanon and Jordan are considered the leading lands of welcome for refugees in our region, it should be noted that Djibouti comes in a strong third. We have every intention of continuing to play this role and pursuing our open-arms policy, despite our limited means.
We see our contribution to helping stabilize and restore peace in Somalia as a moral duty. Somalia is a country with which we have very special ties, on the linguistic, cultural and ethnic level. It is a country that gave us its support right away, when we set out to claim our own independence. Djibouti has hence been a key contributor in the organization of the 23 international conferences that have been held to date concerning Somalia. The first and most important of these conferences gave rise to the Arta Accord, which is the backbone of the ongoing process to restore peace in Somalia. It is true that this has been a long process, and that many obstacles still lie ahead. But the great strides that have been made must also be kept in mind. Somalia now has a well-established transitional government that is seeking solutions. We must give it financial support, first off, to foster its economic development and strengthen its public structures. But above all, we must help Somalia rebuild security. 

T.D.L.: The Islamic terrorists of al-Shabaab are a major security challenge in the Horn of Africa. Could you describe Djibouti’s involvement in the fight against terrorism?

H.E.A.M.Y.: The fight against al-Shabaab is indeed the biggest challenge facing Somalia, and the biggest de facto challenge for the region as a whole. Our country remains fully committed to fighting alongside Somalia’s authorities, as evidenced by the two Djiboutian contingents that are backing them up in this battle, working through the African Union’s peace-keeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM). 
As you know, Djibouti is a Muslim country, but it is an open country that has been shaped by a great wealth of cultural influences over the course of its history. In our eyes, the acts that have been committed – purportedly in the name of Islam – do not represent our religion, our viewpoint, or our way of life. Bolstered by this conviction, we are battling these extremists working within the framework of the applicable UN Security Council resolutions. We are doing this in solidarity with our neighbor, but also for our own security, and, on a wider level, for the security of the international community as a whole.
I might add that Djibouti will very soon be opening, within the framework of IGAD, a Center of Excellence for Fighting Violent Extremism for the Horn of Africa region. Education will be one of the main areas of focus in its work. We must look beyond the military aspect, and analyze the roots of this extremism. Over the past few years, the international community has become increasingly aware of the need to battle the root causes of terrorism, which involve things such as education, the media, and young people. Steps must now be taken to ensure that idle youths – who easily fall prey to malevolent ideologies or to groups that dabble in organized crime – can thrive and can build a future for themselves. Education and jobs are the sine qua non conditions for defeating terrorism as well as piracy, another security challenge for our region. Foreign partners such as Japan and the EU have committed themselves to helping us fight piracy, with Operation Atalanta, but the solutions to this problem will not be found on the high seas.

T.D.L.: With the civil war in Yemen still raging, Djibouti signed a military cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia in April 2016. What other key issues are being addressed in the bilateral strategic dialogue? What are your thoughts on the shifting power dynamics in the region? 

H.E.A.M.Y.: There is no doubt that the ties between Djibouti and Saudi Arabia have been growing, and that the Yemen crisis made them a bit stronger. That said, these ties have been in existence since the first day that Djibouti gained independence. In fact, Saudi Arabia was one of our very first partners.
As far as the regional situation is concerned, we do not believe it is being “reshaped,” per se. The Arab world is evolving, but what we are seeing is more a reassertion of certain principles and a reassertion of the role of certain countries.

T.D.L.: Following on the heels of France, the U.S., and Japan, China is now building a military base in Djibouti. How would you describe the strategic role your country is playing on the regional and global stage? Could Djibouti’s heightened status potentially raise risks to its security? 

H.E.A.M.Y.: After the September 11th attacks, and the adoption of Resolution 1373, the Republic of Djibouti did its utmost to shoulder its responsibilities in the fight against international terrorism. This included opening our doors to the United States, which set up a base in our country to fight violent extremism, following the war in Afghanistan and at a time when violent groups were popping up in our sub-region. Japan, for its part, was motivated more by concerns over piracy and the security of international trade. The European Union has also committed itself to this battle, with Operation Atalanta. China, which is also a permanent member of the Security Council, saw its role enhanced in the keeping-peace system in Africa. Its expanding presence on the continent, in the economic arena and in cooperative actions, reflects its need to protect its countrymen in times of crisis. That was the case, for instance, during the crisis in Yemen, when nearly 4,000 Chinese citizens were blocked inside that country, along with 8,000 Indian citizens. We helped evacuate them from Yemen.
I would not, however, call these “risks.” All of our partners are cooperating with one another in other arenas. As for the potential risk of terrorism, as you well know, no country is safe from terrorism. Unfortunately, we have a certain amount of experience in this area. We had to deal with terrorism back in 1987, and more recently in May 2014, with the attack carried out in a restaurant in Djibouti frequented by expatriates. We, obviously, took the necessary measures straight away.

T.D.L.: You have served as Djibouti’s Ambassador and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO since 2016. What do you hope to see happen with the election of this organization’s new director-general, in the Autumn of 2017?

H.E.A.M.Y.: Our country is actively involved in the work of UNESCO. To give you an example, the UNESCO Science Report: Towards 2030 was publicly launched in Djibouti, with the Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova in attendance. Djiboutian specialists helped translate this report, underscoring not only our involvement in this organization’s activities, but also the fact that we are an active member of the scientific world. This is something that I would like to emphasize, because Djibouti is investing heavily in education, which has led to a strong rise over the past decade in the number of students in our country. This is also an indication of Africa’s determination to assert itself on the international stage.
During her official visit to Djibouti, on 4-5 December 2016, Irina Bokova spoke with all the ministers involved in this work, as well as President Ismail Omar Guelleh, about ways to expand our cooperation.
2017 is, in fact, a very important year for UNESCO, with the election of a new Director-General. We applaud the work that has been accomplished by Irina Bokova, especially in the difficult conditions created by the organization’s shrinking budget. In that sense, we have called upon UNESCO to target these programs more heavily, and not lose sight of its unique mission. We would like UNESCO to be an international organization that fosters education, science and culture, in order to fight hate, war and extremism. As concerns the election of a new director-general, we believe it is high time this responsibility be given to a representative of the Arab world, which has not yet held this post.

T.D.L.: Do you still see Djibouti’s membership in the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF) as a positive tool for reenergizing the bilateral political dialogue and helping firmly anchor your country to the globalization process?

H.E.A.M.Y.: As I have said, our membership in the Francophone community remains near and dear to us. We had the great honor of welcoming the Secretary-General of the OIF Michaelle Jean, when she make an official visit to Djibouti from 31 January to 2 February 2017. This was an opportunity for us to jointly celebrate La Francophonie. Secretary-General Jean even called our country the “beacon for La Francophonie in the Horn of Africa.” Numerous issues were addressed, with the aim of strengthening our ties working through several different initiatives, such as the upcoming creation of a Regional Center for the Study of French (CREF). In addition, I would like to underscore that the Secretary-General of the OIF also met with economic actors brought together by the Djiboutian Chamber of Commerce. Djibouti fully supports the “economic Francophonie” championed by Michaelle Jean, which affords us an excellent opportunity to tap the wide potential for broader cooperation and exchanges within the French-speaking community.

T.D.L.: Drawing upon your experience as a diplomat who has served in several Latin American countries, in what direction would you like to see your country diversify its South-South cooperative partnerships in the years to come?

H.E.A.M.Y.: Latin America is a region I know well, after serving there for nearly a decade, in Cuba, Argentina, and Brazil. We can, of course, build bridges everywhere. With Cuba, we have forged cooperative ties in the medical arena that have proved very successful. We have also started to build economic synergies with Brazil. In fact, a Brazilian firm built the Doraleh Container Terminal. Finally, ties between the big political blocks – such as the Africa-South America Summits and the UNASUR-Arab League Summits – have been steadily growing.
Since claiming independence, Djibouti has constantly looked for ways to maximize its assets by trying to diversify it partnerships on the international stage. This is true in infrastructure construction, but also in the financial sector. There are now more than ten banks operating in our country, including the French financial establishment BRED. This is also true when it comes to financial cooperation, with Djibouti joining the Africa Finance Corporation. Thanks to our country’s political stability, coupled with our leaders’ wisdom and thoughtful decision-making, our partnership landscape has been greatly diversified. Along with China, our cooperation with the Gulf countries should also be mentioned, as well as its work with Turkey.

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