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Djibouti is packed with a small amount of foreign military presence, represented by 6 foreign military bases, belonging to France, the United States, Japan, China, Spain and Italy. Through their military bases, these countries seek to protect their strategic interests in the region, expand their political and military influence, and achieve declared goals such as countering the phenomenon of piracy, combating terrorism and securing the maritime trade route passing through the Red Sea.

Djibouti is home to the largest U.S. military base in Africa, China's only military base outside its borders, Japan's first overseas military base since World War II, and the most important French military unit in Africa.

It also hosts NATO forces and joint international military forces working as part of anti-piracy efforts, and many countries, including Russia, India, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, are seeking to establish military bases in the country.

The foreign military presence in Djibouti has emerged since the establishment of the French protectorate in the eighties of the 19th century, and France was able to maintain a military base after the country's independence in 1977, and that base remained the only one until the beginning of the 21st century, when the foreign military presence began to invade the country significantly, and before the second decade of the 21st century, the hosting of foreign military bases became a clear phenomenon in Djibouti.

Why Djibouti?

This international military grouping, which includes countries from the East and West camps, comes in a developing Arab-African country, with an area of no more than 23,<> square kilometers, barely a population of one million people, and is not characterized by a strong economy and does not have attractive natural resources, but often depends on foreign aid provided by international institutions and friendly countries.

This polarization is due to Djibouti's unique strategic location, as it overlooks the western side of the "Bab al-Mandab Strait", the southern gateway to the Red Sea, which is of great economic, military and security importance, and serves as a bridge between Africa and the Middle East, linking Europe with East Asia.

Due to its location, Djibouti controls international traffic through the Bab al-Mandab Strait and the Gulf of Aden, where the international trade route linking East Asia and Europe passes, constitutes one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, transports an estimated 10 percent of global trade, and most of the Persian Gulf's energy exports destined for Europe and America pass through it.

On the other hand, Djibouti enjoys balanced external relations and friendly relations with neighbouring countries, in addition to its relatively stable internal situation in an environment rife with conflicts, both on the African side and in the other direction towards the Middle East.

These conditions have made Djibouti an ideal location for the construction of military and security bases, including intelligence observation centers, and the possibility of rapid intervention when needed in nearby conflict zones, such as Yemen, Sudan, and Somalia. It also carries out military operations to secure maritime trade, counter the phenomenon of piracy and combat so-called "terrorism", as well as contribute to peacekeeping operations and humanitarian relief.

Annual land lease fees for foreign military bases form an important part of Djibouti's national income (AP)

Economic investment and security support

Djibouti has a fragile economy, lacking the basic ingredients for agricultural development, lacking a solid industrial base, and limited investment in mining, which has made it heavily dependent on the service sector, which accounts for about 80% of GDP, especially its dependence on ports, which serve as shipping and refueling hubs.

Given the weakness of the economy, and as part of their strategy to raise GDP, the authorities in the country are working to exploit the geostrategic importance of Djibouti's location, by leasing land to various military forces, with the aim of strengthening the country's economic and security situation.

According to a study by the JICA Research Institute of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, rental revenues for military bases stationed in Djibouti amounted to about 2020 million US dollars in 129, amounting to 18% of the country's income.

The U.S. base is the most expensive, with a rent of $63 million per year, France pays an annual fee of $40 million, including the cost of a Spanish base at the French military base, China provides $20 million a year for renting its own base, and Djibouti receives a relatively small amount from Japan and Italy, estimated at $6 million annually for both countries.

The tenant countries also provide projects, initiatives and financial assistance that will strengthen Djibouti's economy and raise the standard of living of the population, and the size of donations varies from year to year, but often ranges from 10% to 20% of the state budget.

Among the aspects of development support provided by America is the "Djibouti First" initiative, which was approved by the US Congress in 2014, and gives contractual preference to Djiboutian goods and services that support US efforts in the region, and the United States also launched the "Workforce Development Project" with the aim of providing technical training for the country's workforce, and the United States provides food assistance through the "US Agency for International Development".

China, Djibouti's largest foreign investor, has made investments that have made tangible economic gains, and Chinese projects are improving maritime and land infrastructure, which helps economic growth, and has financed the construction of the multi-purpose port of Doraleh, the construction of the Djibouti and Addis Ababa electric railway, a daily water pipeline from Ethiopia to Djibouti, and the financing of the free trade area, which contributes to job creation and reducing unemployment.

Chinese investment serves the infrastructure of the Belt and Road project and is often in the form of private loans rather than grants, which means debt accumulates if it is unable to repay it.

Scene from the opening ceremony of the Chinese military base in Djibouti in 2017 (French)

The French Development Agency (AFD) provided a grant of €6 million to improve the living conditions of some neighborhoods in Djibouti City, and in 2006 the French government committed $82 million in aid to Djibouti.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is sending large amounts of aid to Djibouti. In May 2023, JICA received a US$4 million grant to be used to secure medical equipment for hospitals in Djibouti.

In addition, Djibouti benefits from the military forces on its territory to establish its security, as the military cooperation agreement with France in 1991 included France assuming responsibility for Djibouti's maritime and air security, in addition to monitoring traffic in the city, and France provided Djiboutian forces with logistical, intelligence and medical support during the border dispute with Eritrea in 2008.

Japanese patrol boats provide security conditions that allow Djibouti's ports to compete more with their counterparts in the region. Japan also provided a $26 million grant under a plan to improve maritime security capabilities, which included the construction of patrol boats and a floating dock for the Djiboutian coast guard.

In order to reap the economic and security benefits of Djibouti, local authorities have allowed six foreign countries to establish military bases in the country:

The US base "Lemonier" has 4,<> personnel (Reuters)

US military base "Lemonnier"

The U.S. military base was established in 2002 on the grounds of Camp Lemonier, originally a French base, and Limonier is the only permanent base for the United States in Africa. It has 4,<> personnel and has the authority to use the country's ports and airports.

The base is a hub for gathering intelligence, launching "counterterrorism operations," and providing military training for African forces to counter Islamist militant groups, which the United States classifies as the first line of threat to its interests in the region.

It is also working to consolidate America's political and military influence in the region, provide logistical support for the Gulf wars, combat piracy, protect energy investments and ensure the flow of oil.

The area of the base was expanded in 2007 to about 200 hectares, and as part of a plan announced in 2012 to develop the base at a cost of $1.4 billion, facilities and infrastructure were expanded to accommodate air force cargo aircraft, and a huge yard was built to increase the deployment capacity of drones, tactical aircraft and their support aircraft.

The base houses some British military forces, which are involved in anti-piracy operations in the region and protect British ships transiting the Bab al-Mandab and the Red Sea.

French military base

The French military base, which is the oldest foreign military base in Djibouti, was established in 1969, and after Djibouti's independence in 1977, the two parties signed an agreement that allows France to maintain its military base, in exchange for defending Djibouti in the event of an external attack, and financing part of its budget, and the agreement was renewed in 1991, 2011 and 2021 with an amendment to some of its conditions.

Al-Qaeda deals with crises in Africa, the Middle East and the Indian Ocean, protects French citizens, secures naval vessels, supports the work of the European Union and NATO member states in the Horn of Africa, hosts German and Spanish units, and joint international anti-piracy forces.

The base is home to France's largest permanent military unit in Africa, with 1450,<> soldiers, belonging to various units: ground and air forces, naval commandos and rapid intervention forces. French troops are stationed at the naval base and are deployed in several other locations such as Djibouti Ambouli International Airport and Shabelle Airport, and the base includes helicopters, Mirage fighter jets, a tank squadron and armored vehicles.

Chinese Base

The Chinese military base opened in August 2017, near the port of Doraleh, about 10 kilometers northwest of the US military base, and is China's first and only military base abroad, with 1000,<> troops, and carries out the task of gathering intelligence in the region and providing naval and logistical support to the Chinese military, which would extend Chinese influence over a wider area of the world.

The establishment of the base is also closely linked to Chinese economic interests, in terms of securing China's trade with the European Union, which passes through the Gulf of Aden and the Bab al-Mandab, and is valued at more than one billion dollars per day, as well as working to protect Chinese imports of Middle East oil, which amounts to about 40% of China's total oil imports. The base's presence also helps support the Belt and Road project, which connects China's coastal areas with Africa, Asia and Europe.

The Chinese base covers an area of 36 hectares and includes military barracks, drone sites, and a helipad that can accommodate more than 24 large helicopters. The base has a pier, which can accommodate large warships, nuclear-powered attack submarines and aircraft carriers.

The base has been rehabilitated with advanced air, sea and land capabilities, and can accommodate huge numbers of residents, up to about 10,<> personnel.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits a Japanese military camp in Djibouti in 2013 (AP)

Japanese military base

The Japanese military base was established in 2011, near the US "Lemonnier" camp, and is the first military base for Japan abroad since World War II, and includes 180 soldiers, belonging to the defense forces, security forces and coast guard.

The main objective of the base was to participate in international operations to combat piracy and protect the security of Japanese merchant ships, which transport the country's car exports through the Bab al-Mandab Strait, and to secure the passage of oil imports obtained by Japan from the Middle East.

Al-Qaeda later became involved in humanitarian relief operations, such as evacuating citizens and providing emergency medical assistance, as well as gathering intelligence in the Middle East.

The base has been expanded and developed into a 15-hectare Japan Self-Defense Forces operations center in the Horn of Africa, including an aircraft yard, advanced warfare equipment including a destroyer for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, maritime reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft, and armored vehicles.

Spanish Chief of Defence Staff visits crew of Spanish EU naval aircraft in Djibouti (social media)

Italian military base

The Italian military base was established in 2014, near Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport, and houses an average of 80 troops. It was created to participate in the European Union's Atlanta operations, protect merchant ships transiting the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, and provide support to Italian naval operations in the region.

Spanish military base

Established in 2008, the Spanish military base uses the headquarters of the French military base, and the Spanish forces include 50 soldiers, and its mission is to support "Operation Atalanta", and to support the missions of the European Union and international organizations to secure navigation in the region. Spanish forces have been involved in anti-piracy operations and surveillance of fishing activities.

Source : Al Jazeera + Websites