By Thomas C. Mountain,
The tiny country of Djibouti sitting at the strategically critical entrance from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea is quickly turning into the latest confrontation between the USA and China in Africa.
Djibouti, home to the only US permanent military presence in Africa, has recently notified the American military that they have to vacate Obock, a small secondary base which will see the installation of some 10,000 Chinese troops in their place.
The announcement, made the day after US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Djibouti last May is deeply worrying for Pax Americana for it comes on top of a major package of economic investments by China that has Djiboutian President Guelleh openly talking about the importance of his new friends from Asia.
China is about to complete a $3 billion railroad from the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, Africa’s second largest country to Djibouti, Ethiopia’s only outlet to the sea. China is also investing $400 million in modernizing Djibouti’s notoriously undersized port, where for the past 17 years (since the Ethiopians tried and failed to take Eritrea’s port of Assab during Ethiopia’s war against Eritrea from 1998-2000) Ethiopia has been forced to import 90% of its fuel and food from.
The US military pays Djibouti $63 million a year for the use of Camp Lemonnier, home to 4,000 US troops and one of the worlds largest drone bases used to terrorize the populations of Yemen and Somalia. This is a pittance really, when compared to the hundred$ of million$ a year that the Chinese investments will bring into Djiboutian government coffers.
The fact that 10,000 Chinese troops are being installed next door to such a critical US military base is causing powerful members of the US Congress to suddenly discover that Djibouti, long a de facto province of Ethiopia, is a “major violator of human rights”, dangerously “undemocratic”, and that it is time for “regime change” in the tiny country of about half a million people, long one of the poorest and most repressive on the planet.
So don’t be suprised if we wake up one morning and find that in the name of “democracy” there has been a military coup in Djibouti and that the Chinese, like what they are experiencing in South Sudan, find themselves with the short end of the stick when it comes to their rivalry with the USA in Africa.
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The writer is an independent journalist, living and reporting from Eritrea since 2006. He can be reached at thomascmountain at gmail dot com