Tiny but Strategic Djibouti Dreams of Becoming East African Powerhouse

The Washington Diplomat, Wed, Oct 31, 2018

by Larry Luxner

A country few Americans have ever heard of — and even fewer have visited — hosts the only permanent U.S. military base in Africa. It’s also home to China’s first overseas military base — just a few miles from America’s base — along with military outposts for France, Italy and Japan. In fact, Djibouti is home to more foreign bases than any other country, a reflection of its geostrategic value as a hub of counterterrorism operations, global shipping and regional stability.

The Republic of Djibouti is a New Jersey-size desert nation of just under 1 million people that sits on a prime piece of real estate. Wedged among three much bigger countries in the troubled Horn of Africa, it is the launching pad for American drone missions against extremist groups such as al-Shabab, Boko Haram and the Islamic State.

It’s also located along the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, one of the world’s busiest shipping corridors and a key chokepoint for Mideast oil. All of that makes the country attractive to world powers vying for influence in Africa and the Middle East, which in turn has helped Djibouti become one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. And now it’s building the continent’s largest industrial free zone, with cash from China.

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