ADDIS ABABA The African Union urged Djibouti and Eritrea to remain calm and exercise restraint on Saturday after Djibouti accused its neighbour of occupying disputed territory along their border following the withdrawal of Qatari peacekeepers.
On Friday, Djibouti’s Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali Youssouf said Eritrean troops had seized Dumeira Mountain and Dumeira Island, areas the neighbours contest, and his country’s military was on alert.
Authorities in the Eritrean capital Asmara were not available for comment.
Qatari peacekeepers were previously deployed along the frontier. Doha announced on June 14 that it had pulled its contingent out, days after the East African countries sided with Saudi Arabia and its allies in their standoff with Qatar.
In a statement, the African Union Commission’s Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat appealed for calm.
“The AU Commission, in close consultations with the authorities in Djibouti and Eritrea, is in the process of deploying a fact-finding mission to the Djibouti-Eritrea border,” he said.
The United Nations Security Council is due to discuss the situation behind closed doors on Monday, according to diplomats.
Clashes broke out between the Horn of Africa countries in June 2008 after Djibouti accused Asmara of moving troops across the border, raising fears the spat could engulf the region.
The dispute triggered several days of fighting in which a dozen Djiboutian troops died and dozens were wounded. Eritrea had initially denied making any incursions, accusing Djibouti of launching unprovoked attacks.
At the time, the U.N. Security Council requested both sides withdraw, before the neighbours accepted a Qatari request to mediate and deploy peacekeepers.
Qatar has not given reasons for its withdrawal, but it comes amid a diplomatic crisis with some of its Arab neighbours. They cut ties a week ago, accusing Qatar of backing Islamist militants and Iran – claims Doha strongly denies.
(Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)
Over the past few weeks the United States and France have pledged considerable extra funds to strengthening their military presence in Africa’s Sahel region – a narrow, arid band of land stretching across the continent from west to east just south of the Sahara desert. This has been prompted by growing Western fears of destabilisation. There has been concern that Islamist groups were establishing themselves in the vast spaces between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea.
Washington and Paris have promised to help bolster the security of allied governments from Mali in the west to Djibouti in the east. Most of these countries have porous borders and suffer internal security problems or conflicts.
Mali, for example, has endured a long-running civil war fuelled by the return of armed fighters from Libya after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. These fighters launched a separatist struggle that was quickly hijacked by Islamist movements like Ansare Dine and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
France has had a considerable military role in West and Central Africa, long after it’s colonial role ended in the early 1960s. Its military seeks to protect friendly governments and to defend longstanding French economic interests. These interests include particularly Niger’s uranium.
The US, in a less overt manner, has a surprisingly widespread military presence in Africa. This has increased in recent years with growing instability in the Sahel region. America is now taking a more overt approach with more basing facilities as well as surveillance and training missions. This includes supporting friendly states and establishing a stronger combat-capable presence.
But Western interest in the Sahel region is not merely about security. It has also been linked by some to the West’s desire to protect vital natural resources such as oil, gas and uranium. The geographer and Africa specialist, Padraig Carmody, has called this a new scramble for Africa.
Global chessboard of the 21st century
The arid, desert or semi-desert belt across the Sahel has been described as “a key territory on the global chessboard of the 21st century”. It is not just the security that is at stake but also the natural resource value of the region to the West, China and Japan.
Algeria has major oil and gas resources, Niger supplies uranium for France’s nuclear programmes and Chad is now an oil producer. There are believed to be untapped oil and gas fields in Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
Former US Ambassador to Nigeria and South Africa and Special Envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman, has pointed out that the West and China are competing fiercely for access to Africa’s mineral resources and for both political influence and commercial advantage.
It comes as no surprise that both China and Japan have recently increased their naval presence in the Horn of Africa. The naval facilities being established in Djibouti are ostensibly to combat piracy along the Indian Ocean littoral. But they have clear elements of a scramble for a major presence in Africa, at a time of competition over access to Africa’s mineral resources.
As the Washington Post has pointedly observed, US’s growing presence and role in Niger covering what has previously been seen as mainly a French area of interest and influence is a significant strategic move.
Gaddafi aftershocks still being felt
The US is also spending a considerable sum on developing a military base at Agadez in central Niger. From here drones could be launched for surveillance or combat missions across the Sahel and as far north as Libya.
The base would add to the existing US presence in Niger. It already shares facilities in the capital Niamey with French forces engaged in Operations Barkhane against Islamist insurgent groups in Mali. It also provides intelligence on Boko Haram militants in northern Nigeria, Niger, Chad and northern Cameroon to the governments of those states.
Prof Tony Chafer of Portsmouth University has pointed out that the heightened Western fear for stability and strategic resources in North and West Africa has led to unprecedented US-French cooperation. The two are working together in combating perceived enemies in the region and cooperating to strengthen the military capabilities of countries like Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Mali.
The cooperation has developed gradually since the early 2000s. But the exodus of experienced and well-armed fightersfrom post-Gaddafi Libya into the region triggered a shock wave.
French deployments have been bolstered with over 3,000 troops spread across the region. They are engaged with Islamist groups in Mali and backing UN efforts to keep the peace between violent factions in the Central African Republic. The French government has said its presence will be reduced to 300 troops by the end of the year.
History of Western intervention
There is a history of Western security interventions in a region where rebel or Islamist groups are still active. The groups, such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), pose a serious security threat in a number of countries. The list of active groups also includes Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), Ansar Dine and Boko Haram.
Up until now, US military facilities in Africa have always fallen short of being US bases. No country in Africa has been willing to host the US military command for Africa, Africom, and it has had to locate its HQ in Stuttgart in Germany.
But in 2015, the commander of Africom, General David Rodriguez, admitted that in addition to Djibouti, America had 11 “cooperative security locations” in sub-Saharan Africa. These had been upgraded in the years since 9/11. Yet this is not the full story. US forces have access to more than 60 outposts of various sorts from secure warehouses for equipment to surveillance bases, fuel depots, training camps and port facilities in 34 African states.
The pro-Western governments are willing to accept Western assistance. This is largely because of the huge territories they need to police and the small armies they are able to maintain. This is not to mention a paucity of advanced aircraft, drones and other surveillance equipment. Mali, for example, has only 7,500 military personnel, 15 aircraft and nine helicopters but its land area is a massive 1,240,192 square kilometres.
<h1>Why it’s not all about security as West beefs up military in Africa’s Sahel</h1>
<p>France has had a considerable military role in West and Central Africa, long after it’s colonial role ended in the early 1960s. Its military seeks to protect friendly governments and to defend longstanding French economic interests. These interests include particularly Niger’s uranium. </p>
<p>The US, in a less overt manner, has a surprisingly widespread military presence in Africa. This has <a href=”http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/africom.htm”>increased</a> in recent years with growing instability in the Sahel region. America is now taking a more overt approach with more basing facilities as well as surveillance and training missions. This includes supporting friendly states and establishing a stronger combat-capable presence. </p>
<p>It comes as no surprise that both China and Japan have recently increased their naval presence in the Horn of Africa. The naval facilities being established in Djibouti are ostensibly to combat piracy along the Indian Ocean littoral. But they have clear elements of a <a href=”http://www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-military-djibouti-idUSKCN12D0C4″>scramble</a> for a major presence in Africa, at a time of competition over access to Africa’s mineral resources.</p>
<p>The base would add to the existing US presence in Niger. It already shares facilities in the capital Niamey with French forces engaged in <a href=”https://southfront.org/french-anti-terror-efforts-in-africas-sahel-region/”>Operations Barkhane</a> against Islamist insurgent groups in Mali. It also provides intelligence on Boko Haram militants in northern Nigeria, Niger, Chad and northern Cameroon to the governments of those states.</p>
<p>There is a history of Western security interventions in a region where rebel or Islamist groups are still active. The groups, such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), pose a serious security threat in a number of countries. The list of active groups also includes Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), Ansar Dine and Boko Haram. </p>
<p>Up until now, US military facilities in Africa have always fallen short of being US bases. No country in Africa has been willing to host the US military command for Africa, <a href=”http://www.africom.mil/”>Africom</a>, and it has had to locate its HQ in Stuttgart in Germany.</p>
<p>But in 2015, the commander of Africom, General David Rodriguez, admitted that in addition to Djibouti, America had 11 <a href=”https://www.thenation.com/article/the-us-militarys-best-kept-secret/”>“cooperative security locations”</a> in sub-Saharan Africa. These had been upgraded in the years since 9/11. Yet this is not the full story. US forces have access to more than 60 outposts of various sorts from secure warehouses for equipment to surveillance bases, fuel depots, training camps and port facilities in 34 African states.</p>
<p>The pro-Western governments are willing to accept Western assistance. This is largely because of the huge territories they need to police and the small armies they are able to maintain. This is not to mention a paucity of advanced aircraft, drones and other surveillance equipment. Mali, <a href=”http://www.globalfirepower.com/country-military-strength-detail.asp?country_id=mali”>for example</a>, has only 7,500 military personnel, 15 aircraft and nine helicopters but its land area is a massive 1,240,192 square kilometres.</p>
China is negotiating a military base in the strategic port of Djibouti, an historic development that would see the US and China each have bases in the small nation that guards the entrance to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. President Ismail Omar Guelleh says that discussions are “ongoing” and that Beijing is “welcome”.
Djibouti is already home to Camp Lemonnier, the military headquarters used by US Special Forces for covert, anti-terror and other operations in Yemen and in Africa. France, the former colonial master, and Japan also have bases in the port, which is used by many foreign navies to fight piracy in neighbouring Somalia.
Djibouti’s president said China, a major trading partner for both Djibouti and its landlocked neighbour Ethiopia, is welcome.
“France’s presence is old, and the Americans found that the position of Djibouti could help in the fight against terrorism in the region,” Guelleh told AFP. “The Japanese want to protect themselves from piracy, and now the Chinese also want to protect their interests, and they are welcome.”
China refused to confirm or deny on Monday that it was establishing a military base in the Horn of Africa.
“Maintenance of peace and stability in the region is in line with the interests of related countries,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters. “It’s also the common aspiration of Djibouti, China and other countries in the world.”
China signed a security and defence agreement with Djibouti in February 2014. But a Chinese military base in Djibouti, the first in Africa, “would definitely be historic”, according to David Shinn, a former US ambassador to Ethiopia.
The US was reportedly angry about the conclusion last year of the China-Djibouti defence deal last year. But Shinn predicts that the US will take it in its stride.
“They might be a little concerned about what this (expansion well beyond the western Indian Ocean) means for the future,” he said in an interview from Washington. “But as far as a base in Djibouti, particularly a modest base, is concerned, I’d be surprised if there was great unhappiness about it.”
China is reportedly considering a permanent military base in Obock, Djibouti’s northern port city.
“China clearly has a goal of building a blue-water navy, which means it will at some point go well beyond the east coast of Africa and the western Indian Ocean, and it has to think — long term — about how it would be able to service its naval vessels as they go further and further, ” he explained.
Camp Lemonnier, home to 4,000 American citizens, is in the south-east of Djibouti. The US earlier this month signed a 20-year lease, indicating its willingness to stay. Terms of the lease were not disclosed.
It could provide a boost to China’s sphere of influence, which already extends from the South China Sea, along the west coast of Myanmar to the Arabian-Sea coastal port of Gwadar, Pakistan — a major destination in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
“Establishing these deep-sea ports is really about securing its economic interests, projecting influence and securing oil exports from the Gulf region,” Mason explained in a phone interview from Cairo.
“It’s perfectly rational for the Chinese to establish that type of instrastructure, not only for anti-piracy but also because it’s a key maritime route,” said Africa political military analyst Lesley Anne Warner. “I don’t want to use the word alarming, but what’s happening is a departure from China’s role in Africa, which has until now been primarily economically focussed.”
Its business interests are important in both Djibouti and neighbouring Ethiopia. Trade between Africa and China, in excess of 200 billion dollars (180 billion euros), is above the continent’s trade with the European Union or the US.
In Djibouti, China is already financing major infrastructure projects estimated to total more than 9 billion dollars (8 billion euros), including improved ports, airports and railway lines.
“Money talks, especially in small and underdeveloped states run by authoritarian governments such as Djibouti — and soon Beijing, not Washington, may have the strongest voice,” wrote Hudson Institute senior fellow John Lee in the current issue of Foreign Affairs.
There was speculation that Russia also wanted to establish a presence in Djibouti, but the presence of Russian warships may have created even more controversy in western nations because of the crisis in the Ukraine.
You can follow Michel Arseneault on Twitter @miko75011
Checking for malnutrition in Balbala, a peri-urban settlement in the outskirts of Djibouti City
BALBALA, 27 November 2012 (IRIN) – Successive years of poor rains have eroded the coping mechanisms of pastoralists in Djibouti’s rural regions, even as high food prices and unemployment rates afflict the country’s urban areas. These factors are increasing the vulnerability to food insecurity and spurring migration.
The area of Balbala, about 12km outside of Djibouti City, has become home to families fleeing both harsh conditions in the countryside and dwindling livelihood opportunities in the city. “What we need most is food”
Awale Farah, 65, migrated with his family of seven from the rural Ali Sabieh area, near the southern town of Dikhil, to Balbala three months ago. Dikhil lies along the border with Ethiopia and has a large number of migrants, complicating access to scarce basic resources there.
Farah says that back in Ali Sabieh, residents are moving closer to the Ali Addeh refugee camp, hoping to obtain some of the assistance meant for the camp’s 16,778 refugees. “I don’t know how they are getting along. What we need most is food,” he said.
At present, about 70,000 people in rural Djibouti are food insecure. More than 60 percent of household food supply is being met by food assistance in the northwest pastoral zone, according to an October-to-March 2013 food security outlook by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET).
In the southeast pastoral border area, “households are marginally able to meet minimum food needs only through accelerated depletion of livelihood assets and adoption of unsustainable coping strategies such as charcoal sales,” the outlook says.
The areas most affected by hunger include Obock in the north, Dikhil and Balbala. According to 2010 figures, 42.9 percent of the children in Obock showed signs of wasting. In 2006, Djibouti ranked second in the world for prevalence of wasting in children under five, at 21 percent.
But life in Balbala is not easy, either. “The situation here is very hard. Sometimes we get money from family members in town,” Farah said. “In Dikhil, at least we had livestock that would always provide us with food.” Even so, many pastoralists have lost their livestock to the successive droughts.
Today, I left at 4am to go and look for work and came back home with nothing. There are days when we eat nothing
To cope, Farah has split up his family – two of his children are staying with relatives in Djibouti City. Unemployment and high prices
Meanwhile, a lack of jobs is causing city residents to migrate to peri-urban areas such as Balbala.
Abdillahi Djama Abdiguedi’s family moved to Balbala from Gagada, an area closer to the city where rent cost them 5,000 Djibouti francs (about US$28.20) per month.
“Here, we pay nothing,” he said. “Most of the people around here moved from the city.”
Abdiguedi works as a casual labourer every morning, heading to town to search for work at construction sites. “Today, I left at 4am to go and look for work and came back home with nothing. There are days when we eat nothing,” he said. “The children have forgotten what milk is.”
Meat prices have increased from 800 francs to 1,200-1,400 francs, notes FEWSNET.
Water is also more expensive. At present, a jerrycan of water sells for 150 francs, up from 50 francs in 2011, according to Balbala residents. “The water companies say that the water is more expensive due to the high cost of fuel required to bring it in,” said a resident.
FEWSNET cites high unemployment, which stands at 48 percent, and high staple prices as reasons for poor urban households’ acute food insecurity, which it estimates will remain at crisis levels up to December.
About 90 percent of the land in Djibouti is arid and the ecosystem fragile; the country also has few natural resources. These and other factors force Djibouti to rely heavily on food imports. Improving child survival
Food insecurity and drought are contributing to high rates of malnutrition among children, according to Mohamadou Bachir Mbodj, the chief of child survival and development at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) office in Djibouti.
Also contributing to child malnutrition are low rates of exclusive breastfeeding. A 2010 survey found that, while 98 percent of nursing mothers in Djibouti breastfed their infants, only 24.5 percent did so exclusively, Bachir said. “The challenge is: how can we narrow the gap between the 98 percent and the 24.5 percent?”
A pastoralist woman who was displaced by past drought in Djibouti (file photo)
For every 1,000 children born in Djibouti, 73 die before their first birthday, according to UNICEF. Good child feeding practices could help to lower these numbers. UNICEF is using ‘grandmother counsellors’ to encourage exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months as well as good weaning practices.
“When you do early initiation of breastfeeding, practice exclusive breastfeeding for six months and timely weaning, one can help to reduce infant mortality by up to 19 percent,” he said, noting that longer-term approaches with longer-lasting funds that address underlying factors should be put in place to deal with malnutrition. Safety nets and sustainability
“There is a need for more integrated strategies in water, agriculture, health and nutrition for sustainability,” said Mario Touchette, the UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) Djibouti representative and country director.
“For example, building small water catchments dams could help to improve the situation in rural communities. The access of health and nutrition services would also be important for them. There is also a need to provide alternative livelihood sources for rural-based populations, a majority of whom are pastoralists, but the environment is too challenging.”
Touchette said aid organizations must strike a difficult balance between meeting the needs of increasingly vulnerable urban populations and focusing on rural areas where humanitarian needs remain high and many donors expect action. “If we provide more assistance to the urban areas, vulnerable people from rural areas might be more attracted to migrate to urban areas,” he noted.
Still, food insecurity in urban areas is becoming a priority for WFP; Djibouti’s population of about 800,000 is mainly urban.
WFP is also keen on helping the country develop a national safety net programme. “The safety net should include food-cash vouchers, supplementary feeding programmes and school feeding programmes. We could link it also to some professional training, for example,” Touchette said. “The challenge is how to continue providing assistance without maintaining them [beneficiaries] in this cycle of perpetual assistance.”
During the country’s July-to-September lean season, WFP, alongside three local NGOs and the State Secretary for National Solidarity, provided food vouchers to some 3,000 households in Balbala. The coupons were distributed to women every week helping to supplement their households’ food needs. This pilot programme received financial support from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund and the government of Switzerland.
Djibouti is among the Horn of Africa countries that endorsed the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Drought Disaster Resilience and Sustainability Initiative (IDDRSI ) after the devastating 2010-2011 drought. IDDRSI aims to help to end drought emergencies through long-term development initiatives focusing on the region’s arid and semi-arid areas.
JUBA (Reuters) – South Sudan is considering building an oil pipeline through Ethiopia and Djibouti, officials said on Thursday, weeks after the new country shut down crude production in a row over export transit fees with Sudan.
South Sudan seceded from Sudan last year, but the two countries have been unable to agree how much the Juba government should pay to transport its oil output of about 350,000 barrels per day through Sudan to a Red Sea port.
As talks floundered in December, Khartoum began taking a portion of southern oil to make up for what it calls unpaid fees. Juba responded by halting oil production last month and has started looking for alternative routes to export its crude.
At the moment, the only pipelines taking southern oil to market pass through Sudan. Analysts fear the dispute could spark conflict between the two countries, both of whose economies depend on oil.
South Sudan signed a memorandum of understanding with Ethiopia and Djibouti around trade last week which included the possibility of building an oil pipeline, Deputy Minister of Information and Broadcasting Atem Yaak Atem said.
“As a landlocked country, we would like to have an outlet to the sea for our goods to go to the outside world and for our imports to come in,” he said. Read more…
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama said on Thursday that the United States would boost its emergency aid to the Horn of Africa by $113 million.
Calling the crisis “urgent,” Obama said in a statement that the additional aid would come on top of the $870 million in assistance the United States has already provided to help countries hit by the worst drought in decades.
The crisis has left more than 13 million people at risk of starvation in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti. Read more…