Djibouti sits at a critically important strategic point in the Horn of Africa. Its main port, the Port of Djibouti, lies on one of the busiest trade routes in the world– about a third of all merchant ships travel through or near its waters every day.
Djibouti emerged as an independent country in 1977, after four hundred years of foreign control by the Ottoman Empire (1577-1867) and the French (1867-1977). Unlike the majority of newly independent African states in the 1970s, Djoubti transitioned comparatively peacefully to an independent republic. The Constitution of Djoubti created a strong President and executive branch organized through various ministries. Legislative matters are handled by the National Assembly, presided over by the Prime Minister, who is named by the President.
Since its independence, Djoubti politics have been controlled by a dominant party, the People’s Rally for Progress (PRP). The PRP has controlled the government since 1977. While the overwhelming majority of the citizens of Djibouti practice Sunni Islam (87%), Djibouti is a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic country. The majority of residents speak Somali, but a sizeable minority identify as Afar. Arabic, Omani, and French are also spoken in Djibouti.
After independence, the PRP assumed power as the only legally recognized political party. The PRP by the Somali Issa Dir clan, leading to dissent and disenfranchisement from Djoubti’s Afar population.
In 1991, the Derg Government in Ethiopia was overthrown and thousands of Ethiopian soldiers fled to Djoubti. Within months, the French and Djibouti governments organized repatriation of Ethiopian troops, who left their weapons and ammunition behind in Djoubti. Unhappy with a lack of representation in government, a rebel group formed, the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD), calling for greater political participation of Afar, and launched a guerrilla struggle against the government.
An insurgency-style civil war persisted until 1994 when a peace agreement came into effect. The FRUD was recognized as a legitimate political party in Djoubti and in 1995, the FRUD was given control of two ministries. The PRP and FRUD jointly participated in fair elections in 1997. However, some members of the FRUD refused to recognize the peace agreement and continued guerilla attacks until 2001, when its leaders finally assented to the peace accord.
Since its independence in 1977, Djibouti has had a strong tradition of multilateralism. It plays an important role in the African Union and is an active participant in the United Nations, Non-Alignment Movement, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Arab League. It also moved to create strong bilateral ties to Somalia, Ethiopia, France, the United States, and more recently, with Turkey and China.
Because of its geographic significance, many powers have entered into agreements with Djoubti to host military bases in the country. France continues to have a military presence since it transitioned powered to the Djoubti in 1977, outlined in a mutual defense treaty. In 2002, the United States took over the abandoned French base at Camp Lemonnier. Camp Lemonnier played an important role in the US’s counter-terrorism efforts following the September 11 Attacks. It is the base for Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa and hosts over 4,000 US military personnel. Italy, the UAE, Japan, India, and China each have separate military bases in Djibouti. The lease payments for these bases make up 5% of Djibouti’s GDP. The government is currently in talks with Saudi Arabia to open a new base.
Ethiopian Uncertainty and Ethnic Turmoil in Djoubti
The political situation in Ethiopia has continued to worsen since the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who passed away unexpectedly in 2012. Ethiopia is a multiethnic, multilingual country, with 34% of people identifying as Oromo, 20% as Amhara, 4.5% Somali, 4.5% Tigrayan, and five other ethnicities with at least 1% of the population.
From 1961-1991, Eritrea, with a majority Tigrayan (55%) and Tigre (30%) population, fought a war for independence from Ethiopia, which it eventually won. This cut Ethiopia off from the sea, making it a landlocked country. War broke out again when Eritrea invaded part of Ethiopia in 1998 and lasted until 2000 when a peace deal originated. It wasn’t until 2018 when the Ethiopian government agreed to fully enact all parts of the peace treaty, led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Increased ethnic violence has led to political instability. In 2017, clashes arose between the Omoro and Somali populations, the majority of whom are displaced persons. In 2018, clashes between the Gedeo and Omoro populations in the south of Ethiopia led to 1.4 million people fleeing their homes and becoming displaced. On 22 June 2019, factions of the security forces of the region attempted a coup d’état against the regional government, during which the President of the Amhara Region, Ambachew Mekonnen, was assassinated.
The federal government, under the Prosperity Party, requested that the National Election Board of Ethiopia cancel elections for 2020 due to health and safety concerns about COVID-19. No official date was set for the next election at that time, but the government promised that once a vaccine was developed for COVID-19 that elections would move forward. The Tigrayan ruling party, Tigray People’s Liberation Front or TPLF, opposed canceling the elections and, when their request to the federal government to hold elections was rejected, the TPLF proceeded to hold elections anyway on 9 September 2020.
Relations between the federal government and the Tigray regional government deteriorated after the election, and on 4 November 2020, Abiy began a military offensive in the Tigray Region in response to attacks on army units stationed there, causing thousands of refugees to flee to neighboring Sudan and triggering the Tigray War.
In July 2021, in Ethiopia’s Somali region, a vital road and rail link connecting Addis Ababa and the port of Djibouti was blocked by youths angered by a deadly militia attack on their region. Around 95% of imports into Ethiopia are transported via that corridor, according to a 2018 study by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development. According to Reuters, “Somali region President Mustafa Muhumed Omer said the road and railway had been blocked by youths protesting against an attack on the region’s Gedamaytu town by militia from the neighbouring region of Afar.”
In Djibouti, in August 2021 fighting broke out in several parts of the capital Djibouti, between the ethnic Afar group, which straddles Djibouti’s borders with Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the Issa, Djibouti’s other main ethnic group
Piracy Off the Horn of Africa
Starting in the 1990s, international piracy increasingly became an area of concern in the Gulf of Aden. As one of the top three busiest shipping routes in the world, Djibouti played an important part in anti-piracy efforts. An estimated $2 billion USD of trade is lost or stolen as a result of piracy each year.
As the threat of piracy increased throughout the 2000s, more foreign powers looked to Djibouti as a host for naval bases. The United States, China, India, and Italy all currently have naval bases in the port of Djibouti, many as a direct result of anti-piracy.
However, the United States has raised concerns that anti-piracy efforts are being used by foreign powers, specifically Beijing, as cover to open larger and more overt forward operating bases. In April 2021, the Pentagon released satellite images of the Chinese naval base with docks largest enough to accommodate China’s new aircraft carriers. China’s base in Djibouti is their only foreign military base. The US has raised alarms the Chinese base’s presence in Djibouti will pressure East African states to accept more deals with China Belt and Road Initiative.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative
China’s naval base in Djibouti does more than provide the People’s Liberation Army a permanent fixture in East Africa. The base is designed to project power and sphere of influence as China looks to connect its markets with the rest of the world. The centerpiece of China’s strategy revolves around the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the largest economic development project sponsored by a single country in history. China plans to use the BRI to build a “21st-century silk road;” a series of naval, rail, and road infrastructure projects to connect China’s economy to the Middle East, South Asia, Africa, and Europe.
Western economists and politicians have expressed concern that China’s motivations expand beyond increasing global ties and opening new markets for its goods. Countries that participate in the BRI often receive cheap capital from Chinese institutions to build new infrastructure projects. In exchange, Beijing ties these loans to aggressive repayment structures. When a country cannot afford to repay the loan, many agreements then grant China exclusive lease rights to bases or territory. For example, after Sri Lanka defaulted on a loan repayment used to build a new port, China was given a 99-year lease to use the strategically important port.
China has already funded a major railway link connecting Djibouti City to the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, which opened last year and has cut journey times down from days to hours. Financed and built by China, using Chinese technology and operated according to Chinese standards, this railway is specifically geared towards improving the super power’s access to Djibouti’s much larger neighbor, whose rapidly growing economy offers, among other things: cheap labor, tariff-free trade with the US market.
China’s current and future plans also involve funding the construction of the Djibouti International Free Trade Zone (DIFTZ). Free trade zones are special economic areas, usually based around major ports, which allow for goods to be landed, stored, handled, and manufactured under specific customs regulations and generally without customs duty. Representing an essential feature of a global economy that relies heavily on the frictionless movement of goods, free trade zones are absolutely vital in the kind of economic “choke point” that the Bab el-Mandeb Strait represents.
Access to Water
In Djibouti, water is as precious as it is scarce. Since the country does not have a permanent source of surface water such as rivers or freshwater lakes, the country must rely on deep underground water tables, fed by rainwater infiltration, where they exist. Since 2009, Djibouti has been negatively affected by drought and its consequences on the rural and urban vulnerable communities. Precipitation levels have dropped to approximately half of the normal quantity, and underground water tables have been drawn down. The scarce rains allow a temporary regeneration of water aquifers but are clearly insufficient to properly replenish these sources. The drought persists. Many cisterns and shallow wells dry up during the dry season, which lasts from April to September, increasing families’ difficulties to access this vital resource. Drought consequences are enormous. Many herders and rural dwellers have lost their sources of livelihood, and uncountable families have seen their incomes drastically reduced and, as a result, are forced to abandon their homelands and seek refuge in urban centers.
This displacement is accompanied by the disruption of traditional coping strategies and increased vulnerability. Preventable communicable diseases, such as cholera, measles, and acute respiratory infections are becoming more frequent. More than 15 percent of Djibouti’s population practices open defecation, and 78 percent still lack access to improved toilets. There are significant discrepancies between urban and rural areas: while 70.4 percent of urban inhabitants have access to sanitation facilities, only 16.4 percent of the rural population has access to latrines.
Questions to Consider
- How can the government of Djoubti continue to grow its economy, which has since annual increases in GDP of 6% per year for the last ten years?
- Djibouti’s President was recently elected to a fifth term with 97% of the vote. How sustainable is the PRP’s control of the Djibouti government?
- How should Djibouti respond to the growing unrest and uncertainty in Ethiopia?
- How should the Djibouti government respond to communal violence and protesting among its Afar regions?
- Potable water continues to become more scarce in Djibouti, how can the government ensure access to clean water for its population?
- How can Djibouti counteract the effects of deforestation and desertification that are limited the fertile land in Djibouti?
- How can Djibouti secure more COVID-19 vaccines for its population? What is the best way to distribute vaccines?
- What should Djibouti consider when negotiating with Saudi Arabia and other countries that want to lease bases in Djibouti?
- How can Djibouti leverage its growing relationship with Beijing to spur on its economic development?
The Council of Ministers will operate as a full crisis committee. Delegates will be able to pass directives by a 2/3 majority of the committee and will also have full discretion over their portfolio. The committee must respond to updates from the crisis room with the goal of keeping order in Djibouti, growing its economy, maintaining peaceful relations with foreign countries, and ensuring peaceful passage of shipping through the Horn of Africa. Delegates may pass private directives in collaboration with one another. All crisis notes and private directives/portfolio actions must be submitted to the crisis room via one of two crisis pads.
|Title of Minister||Incumbent|
|Minister of Communication & Culture||Ali Hassan BAHDON|
|Minister of Defense||Hassan Darar HOUFFANEH|
|Minister of Economy, Finance, & Planning||Ilyas Moussa DAWALEH|
|Minister of Education & Professional Training||Djama Elmi OKIEH|
|Minister of Energy & Water||Ali YACOUB|
|Minister of Foreign Affairs & Intl. Cooperation||Mahamoud Ali YOUSSOUF|
|Minister of Habitat, Urban Planning, Environment, & Town Planning||Mohamed Moussa Ibrahim BALALA|
|Minister of Health||Kassim Issack OSMAN|
|Minister of Infrastructure & Transport||Moussa Ahmed HASSAN|
|Minister of Justice & Penal Affairs||Ali Farah ASSOWEH|