US Signs New Deal With Djibouti

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President Ismail Omar Guelleh
President Ismail Omar Guelleh

 

President Ismail Omar Guelleh
President Ismail Omar Guelleh

The United States and Djibouti have signed a new 10-year lease on a
U.S. military base in the Horn of Africa nation that the White House
called a critical part in fighting terrorism.

President Barack Obama announced the deal?Monday?at a White House
meeting with Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh.

Obama called the base a critical facility and extraordinarily
important to the U.S. role in the Horn of Africa. He said he is
grateful to Guelleh for agreeing to a long-term lease.

Guelleh thanked Obama for what he called a vision for the development
of Africa, including heath care, education and food security in
Djibouti.

Both presidents promised to continue working together to increase
economic development and fight terrorism in the Horn of Africa,
including their committment to keep al-Qaida and the Somali-based
Islamist terrorist group al-Shabab from gaining ground.

In an interview with the VOA Somali service, Guelleh said $3 billion
of Western pledges to help Somalia rebuild its army and the country
have not been met. He said there is no getting around the fact that
rebuilding the army is a necessity if the world wants to see Somalia
stand on its own feet.

Anti-terrorism hub

The tiny East African country of Djibouti is strategic to the United
States as a hub for anti-terrorism efforts in Africa and the Arabian
Peninsula.

Djiboutian solders are part of the African Union force that has had
some success against al-Shabab in Somalia.

Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti houses about 4,000 U.S. soldiers and other
military personnel. The United States regards it as a major staging
area for attacks against terrorists in Yemen and Somalia. It is the
only permanent U.S. military base in Africa, and Washington pays $38
million a year to lease it.

Until recently, the facility was used to launch U.S. drone strikes
against suspected al-Qaida fighters.

In a joint statement from the White House, the two leaders noted their
shared commitment to combat violent extremism, to counter piracy and
to secure Djibouti’s borders.

Obama announced the United States would increase technical and
financial aid for Djibouti civilian projects and, according to the
statement, would “provide enhanced security assistance and equipment
to Djiboutian security forces.”

Militarization fears

There are many who worry, however, about any pivot of U.S. foreign
policy toward what they call ?the militarization? of Africa.

The Republic of Djibouti is a geographical gold mine. With its busy
port, it sits strategically in the Horn of Africa. It?s across the
Gulf of Aden from Yemen and bordered by Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia
— making it a prime counter-terrorism partner for the United States.

?The U.S. has calculated that putting the money into what?s seen as a
relatively stable country in a very strategic location with access to
a lot of unstable countries will pay off both in the near and the long
term,” said Joe Siegle, research director at the Africa Center for
Strategic Studies.

Ben Fred-Mensah, who teaches international relations and government at
Howard University, said, ?terrorism is very much alive. As America
always says, ?It?s better we fight them outside, than to wait and
fight them at home.?

But Djibouti residents complained when five drones in three years
crashed, one just 1.5 kilometers from the capital, Djibouti City. So
the U.S. moved the drone fleet to another airstrip 13 kilometers from
the airport.

Abayomi Azikiwe, the editor of Pan-African News Wire, opposes the U.S.
military buildup. In a Skype interview, he said there?s more at play
than terrorism.

?More and more oil is being imported there from Africa into the United
States, as well as other strategic minerals,” Azikiwe said. “That, in
our opinion, is guiding this increased military presence.”

Fred-Mensah said his opposition stems from his African roots. ?I begin
to question whether we still enjoy our sovereignty or whether we are
losing our sovereignty because we are relatively weak,? he said.

The Pentagon plans to spend more than $1 billion over the next 25
years to expand and renovate Camp Lemonnier – reaffirming its presence
in Africa.

For the U.S., investing in Djibouti is a matter of balance. Djibouti
has a less-than-stellar human rights record. Freedom House, a human
rights reporting agency, labeled Djibouti as ?Not Free? in last year?s
Freedom in the World report. It accused Guelleh of suppressing civil
liberties and ranked the nation’s political rights near the bottom.

In the interview with VOA, Guelleh said he is not bothered by the
Djiboutian opposition claims that security forces arrest and harass
its members and squelch protests and a free press.

The president said people in Djibouti are arrested because of a crime
and are given the right to a trial with a lawyer.

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