During his visit to Atlanta in mid-June, Mohamed Siad Douale, the Republic of Djibouti’s ambassador to the U.S., traced for Global Atlanta his country’s progress over the past 40 years recalling its point of departure when it became independent from France in 1977.
Djibouti’s prospects for the future, he said, were widely reported to be pretty bleak. Among its assets were a limited workforce, one square mile of arable land and its only apparent resources being sand, salt and 20,000 camels.
Today, 40 years later, the New Jersey-sized country can point to $14 billion worth of Chinese infrastructure development,a U.S. army base and encouraging prospects for foreign direct investment to meet the demand in a rapidly expanding economy closely linked to that of Ethiopia, one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
Even the Trump administration has recognized its importance and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited in April at which time he traced the U.S.’s relationship back to the Sept. 9, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York, calling Djibouti “a country that stepped forward at the end of 2001, early 2002, and said we’re with you, and they have been with us every day, and every month and every year since then.”
Djibouti hosts the only U.S. military base on the African continent, which us used as a staging ground for counterterrorism operations in Africa and the Middle East.
The obvious key to the country’s transformation is its geographic location on the furthest tip of the Horn of Africa, less than 20 miles from the failed state of Yemen and overlooking the critical passageway through the Gulf of Aden, and surrounded by Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia.
Mr. Douale said that 30,000 ships pass through the Gulf of Aden each year, heading to and from the Suez Canal making their way to and from Asia, Europe and the Americas and bearing dry commodities and containerized cargo including manufactured goods. Their cargo also includes millions of tons of crude oil, petroleum products, gas and dry commodities such as grains, iron ore and coal.
The only alternative trade route is around South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, which adds three weeks or more to a typical journey and increases the cost of goods.
Of course, the Chinese have noticed and have invested heavily in Djibouti’s infrastructure, upgrading the country’s port and financing a railroad extending from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, to Djibouti.
They also have built a 90-acre base designed to house up to several thousand troops, providing a strategic post from which to protect oil imports from the Middle East that cross the Indian Ocean on their way to China and providing greater access to the Arabian Peninsula.
It’s the Chinese first overseas military base and is located just a few miles from Camp Lemonnier, the U.S. base. Having the Chinese so close has provided some concern for the U.S. military, but Mr. Douale didn’t seem overly concerned and encouraged U.S. companies to provide a counterbalance to the extensive investments of the Chinese.
The Japanese, he said, also are to have a separate military base. It’s Japan’s first overseas base as well and is to support the presence of Japanese troops who have occupied a 30-acre site near Camp Lemonnier since 2011.
Besides the American, Chinese and Japanese troops, extensive French and other European Union troops are stationed in the country.
Mr. Douale didn’t come to Atlanta, however, to only discuss the strategic military value of this country. He’s also looking for business and came to promote Djibouti’s Vision 2035 plan that aims to accelerate the country’s growth and create jobs.
Djibouti’s economy, he said during a luncheon held at the Intercontinental Hotel in Buckhead and hosted by the law firm Taylor English Duma LLP , offers many opportunities for U.S. companies to participate in the country’s development and help overcome obstacles such as its high electricity costs, chronic water shortages, food insecurity and governance challenges.
The U.S. already is providing support for its Ministry of Education to improve the overall quality of primary schooling and increasing access to education, especially for girls. It also has health initiatives to prevent HIV/AIDs and to treat and prevent malaria and polio.
In addition, the U.S. seeks to help improve the quality of the vocational workforce through readiness programs, and create the links between vocational education centers and sources of jobs.
Closely allied to Ethiopia, its largest trading partner, Djibouti also can provide a base from which to access the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), a free trade area with 20 member states stretching from Libya to Swaziland with access, he said, to 318 million potential consumers.
Djibouti like many of COMESA’s members need housing and are promoting tourism entailing a requirement to have more hotels and tourist-related services.
The country also is developing free trade zones to encourage investment and with an eye to Atlanta and Georgia’s strengths, the ambassador cited real estate, tourism, salt production, logistics and warehousing education and fisheries as all possessing opportunities for small- to medium-sized companies to get involved.
For more information, contact Deitra Crawley, partner at Taylor English Duma, by calling (678) 336-7275 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org; Micah D. Wells, legal counsel, also may be reached at email@example.com or send an email to Ambassador Douale at firstname.lastname@example.org