Monday, November 20, 2006

Djibouti’s Dangerous Games

By Jamal Gabobe

Djibouti is a small country that is making one big miscalculation after another. First it spearheaded efforts to transform the Inter-Governmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD) from an organization whose main task was to do something about the effects of the recurring drought in the Horn Africa region, to an organization with a political agenda. Djibouti’s thinking was that since the secretariat of IGAD was placed in its territory, it would be the key player and main political beneficiary from IGAD’s new orientation. Djibouti’s thinking turned out to be wrong. A case in point is the issue of Somalia. Djibouti thought it could use the IGAD as cover for its efforts to impose on Somalis a settlement to its liking, but other bigger and more important countries within IGAD, such as Ethiopia and Kenya, not only blocked Djibouti’s efforts, but were finally able to outmuscle Djibouti and take charge of the Somalia issue.

Having failed to achieve its objectives through IGAD, Djibouti has switched to downgrading the importance of IGAD and upgrading its activities within other forums such as The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). There is however, no evidence that Djibouti is going to perform better within COMESA than it did within IGAD, especially since Djibouti is run by the same people who are responsible for the IGAD fiasco, and many of the countries that sidelined it in IGAD are also members of COMESA.

Djibouti is one of the biggest beneficiaries from the September 11 tragedy. Before this date the statelet was in dire economic straits. Its civil servants were not paid salaries for months. After September 11, Djibouti struck a deal with the United States whereby the United States pays Djibouti $30 million annually for stationing US troops in Djibouti, an arrangement that has vastly improved Djibouti’s economic situation. But although it gets millions of dollars from the US in the name of fighting terrorism, Djibouti is a sponsor of the terrorist courts of Mogadishu. The connection between Mogadishu’s Islamic Courts and the Djibouti regime was recently confirmed by the UN. Referring to the UN’s latest report on Somalia, Reuters wrote (Nov.15, 2006), “ Djibouti , Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia also provided support ranging from weapons to money and military supplies including medicine to the Islamists.”

Ethiopia is the biggest user of Djibouti’s port and one of its most important sources of revenue. Yet, Djibouti allows radical militants of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), to slip through its borders into Ethiopia where they engage in terrorist activities. The Indian Ocean Newsletter (N° 1190 22/07/2006) wrote, “several hundreds of combatants of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF, opposition), armed and supported by Eritrea, have already infiltrated these last few weeks via Djibouti into the Ethiopian region of Ogaden, in the hope that an Islamist victory in Mogadishu would favor the development of their own breakaway struggle in Ethiopia.”

Somaliland’s President Dahir Rayale Kahin tried very hard and exposed himself to a lot of criticism in his efforts to establish good relations between Somaliland and Djibouti. It is Somaliland’s policy that no security threats are directed at Djibouti or the American troops stationed there, from, or through, Somaliland. Somaliland has taken back thousands of refugees that were a burden on Djibouti. But despite all of these good faith efforts and policies that are favorable to Djibouti, that country has continued to sabotage Somaliland at every opportunity.

Whether one looks at its relations with the United States, Ethiopia, or Somaliland, Djibouti is clearly playing with fire. It is up to the United States and Ethiopia how they are going to respond to the harm Djibouti is inflicting on their interests. But as far as our country is concerned, it is time that Somaliland’s government re-evaluates its relations with Djibouti. In the meantime, Somaliland should: (a) inform both Djibouti and the United States that the status quo is no longer acceptable, and that in order for Somaliland to contribute fully to peace and security in the region, both Djibouti and the United States have to address Somaliland’s policy concerns in a way that is satisfactory to Somaliland; (b) make it clear to the United States that its military donations to Djibouti have seriously upset the military balance in the area, and in order to prevent conflict, it should either extend substantial military assistance to Somaliland or cease arming Djibouti.
Courtesy of: Somaliland Times

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