When US security adviser John Bolton unveiled the Trump Administration’s new Africa policy on Thursday, he made a point of talking about a single container port in the little East African nation Djibouti. Officials say that Doraleh Container Terminal is crucial for reviving the only permanent US base in Africa, and Bolton said China could take control of this port.
While Djibouti is slightly smaller than New Jersey and has a population of less than 1 million, the strategic situation gives it an extraordinary influence. Djibouti is located at the southern end of the Red Sea on shipping between Asia and the Suez Canal. Every day, 4.8 million barrels of oil are expected to transport the Bab el-Mandab route next to Djibouti.
Djibouti’s proximity to terrorist paradise in Yemen and Somalia also made it an ideal place for the US military. Camp Lemonnier, a former French foreign legion base, became an expedition base for the fight against terrorism after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The base, which shares a runway with Djibouti’s only international airport, has increased significantly over the years.  The base holds thousands of military personnel to support the operations of the region. Military reports kill about 254 al-Shabab militants through 32 airstrikes in Somalia so far. It is a significant increase compared with the approximately 150 Somali militants killed in the previous year. Djibouti is also adjacent to Yemen, where the United States has supported Saudi-led efforts against Houthi militants.
In October, the military announced a $ 240 million contract for expansion of facilities that will include infrastructure to support the airplane’s largest cargo rays. This is only part of the $ 1.4 billion plan for the base announced by the Pentagon in 2012. The Obama administration entered into a 30-year league loan for Camp Lemonnier 2014 at a cost of 63 million dollars a year.
While the United States and other countries have military interests in Djibouti, China has made major investments in its infrastructure. This can help Djibouti to be a nod in China’s massive project “One Belt, One Road” to connect markets across Asia, Africa and Europe.
Djibouti’s external debt has risen considerably since 2014 and much of this is believed to be infrastructure loan from China. In 2017, China established a military base next to the Doraleh Multipurpose Port, another shipping terminal in Djibouti that it financed.
Although there have been other problems with China in Djibouti, such as China’s allegations of using lasers against American pilots in Djibouti US officials have recently expressed concern about a port once driven by an external company but taken over by Djibouti- government.
Container terminals Doraleh opened in 2008 as a joint venture between DP World, an Emirate company, and the Djibouti government. In February, the government terminated the agreement with DP World, and in September the port was nationalized.
Djibouti’s business leader Abdourahman Boreh was involved in the agreement to create the Doraleh container terminal. The Djibouti government claims that Boreh has been challenged by DP World to facilitate an unfair contract.
“We found out that there were imbalances in the agreement so that we were convinced that the contract was signed in bad faith,” Djibouti’s ambassador to the United States Mohamed Siad Douale told the Washington Post. Douale claims that DP World diverted shipping traffic away from Djibouti and provided internal documentation showing that shipping traffic has increased by 33 percent after the termination of the contract in February.
In 2016, Boreh was cleansed of the failure of an international arbitration tribunal in Britain. Boreh refused to talk with the post of his involvement in the dispute over the Doraleh Container Terminal.
In September, the High Court of London issued a ban on Djibouti in the dispute with DP World, but the government ignored this verdict. 19659014] “We did not recognize the arbitrator of DP World because it was just unfair,” Douale said. He dismissed the idea that Djibouti would hand over control of the Doraleh Container Terminal to China.
“Djibouti is a sovereign state and Djibouti has control over its ports,” Douale said. “Our sole purpose is to build a financial future for our population.”
Some US officials are not convinced of such insurance.
“The Djibout is up to its head in debt to China,” Reuben Brigety, former United States ambassador to the African Union told the Washington Post. Brigety said he expected this leverage to be used to force the Djibouti government to hand over the control of the port to a Chinese company in the next six months.
“The Chinese will eventually use the very important strategic position to challenge US military operations, Sade Brigety.
Transferring the port’s function would not only allow China to limit the activities of Camp Lemonnier,” Brigety explained. would also have economic consequences in the region. The ports of Djibouti are an important transit point for goods sent to Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country.
“The United States is sleeping at the switch while all this happens,” Brigety said in November before Trump- The administration announced the new Africa strategy.
In November, Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) and later Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) sent a joint letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Minister Jim Matti’s statement on Doraleh Container Terminal.
“China’s control of Doraleh could make it possible to prevent US military operations in the Horn of Africa” said The letter.
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.) has also expressed concern.
“The one who believes China is only concerned about the Indo-Pacific region ignores the clear evidence in Africa and elsewhere,” said Thornberry in a statement after a March tour of East Africa, which included a stop in Djibouti.
“It’s hard to persuade how worried President Thornberry is about this issue,” said Claude H. Chafin, Communications Director of the House Armed Services Committee, The Post.
The first pillar of the Trump Administration’s new Africa strategy promotes trade and commercial ties between the United States and Africa. While investment in Djibouti can increase American influence, China certainly has a beginning.
Brigety already sees how the American interests can be affected in Djibouti.