US Expands Presence in Djibouti

Posted Date: Friday, May 9, 2014

VOA Carolyn Presutti Monday, May 5, 2014 WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama met Monday with the president of Djibouti. The tiny East African country is strategic to the U.S. as a hub for anti-terrorism in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. There are many who worry, however, about any pivot of U.S. foreign policy toward what they call “the militarization” of Africa. 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. Djibouti is home to 3,000 U.S. civilian and military personnel at Camp Lemonnier, the only permanent U.S. military base in Africa, located next to Djibouti International Airport. The U.S. pays $38 million a year to lease the base. Joe Siegle, research director at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, said, “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.” Anti-terrorism hub Camp Lemonnier serves as an anti-terrorism hub for the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Up until recently, it was used to launch U.S. drone strikes against suspected al-Qaida fighters. 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 Djibouti City. So the U.S. moved the drone fleet to another airstrip 13 kilometers away from the airport. For the U.S., it’s a matter of balance. Djibouti’s human rights record is not stellar. Freedom House, a human rights reporting agency, labeled Djibouti as “Not Free” in last year’s Freedom in the World report. It accused President Omar Guelleh of suppressing civil liberties, and ranked its political rights near the bottom. Opposition to military Abayomi Azikiwe, the editor of Pan-African News Wire, is totally against the U.S. military buildup. In a Skype interview, he said there’s more at play than terrorism. “Due to the fact more and more oil is being imported there from Africa into the United States, as well as other strategic minerals. That in our opinion is guiding this increased military presence,” said Azikiwe. 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.

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