Djibouti: plying smoothly in troubled waters
By Bashir Goth, Khaleej Times, 17 July 2007=
THE Horn of African Republic of Djibouti has celebrated its 30th independence anniversary bearing the hallmarks of becoming the Dubai of East Africa. But this former French colony, perched on the Gulf of Aden at the southern entrance to the Red Sea, did not show any potential for future development when it gained its independence from France on 27 June 1977.
Not only did it sit on a harsh terrain of stony desert, with scattered plateaus and languished under torrid and dry climate, but it was also the bone of contention between two neighbouring, socialist, and belligerent regimes. On the southeast border Somalia under General Mohammed Siyad Barre was poised to bring Djibouti back to the Somali fold to fulfill its historical dream of uniting all Somali ethnic people in the Horn of Africa under one national flag, while Ethiopia on the west and south under Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam was ready to go to war over Djibouti to prevent its historical rival from grabbing its marine gateway.
Coming under France’s suzerainty in 1884 when European colonial powers divided the Somali peninsula among British, Italian and French domination areas, the people of Djitouti had shared the dream of unity with their fellow Somalis in the Horn of Africa. Djibouti’s economy, however, heavily relied on its populous neighbour Ethiopia since the Ethio-Djibouti railway became operational in 1901. Faced with the dilemma of either ditching his people’s nationalistic sentiment of uniting with Somalia or risking his country becoming a battleground, Djibouti’s Independence leader and first President Hassan Gouled Aptidon wisely steered his tiny new republic away from danger by declaring it as a sovereign state and allowing the French garrison to continue its presence in the territory for protection.
The new nation, however, didn’t have enough respite as the old demons came haunting her when Somalia and Ethiopia clashed over their old territorial dispute on the Somali region of Ethiopia, popularly known as the Ogaden. The railway was blown up and thousands of refugees sought resort in Djibouti, thus putting the country’s meager resources under intolerable strain. With the port, Djibouti’s sole revenue provider, suffering heavily from the war, the country had to survive by French and international aid. And with the Eritrean liberation struggle against Ethiopia at its height, Djibouti’s borders were all in flames at one time. It needed more than a miracle to survive. Read More in Khaleej Times.