Djibouti, where global praetorians gather

By Parselelo Kantai and Patrick Smith
Posted on Wednesday, 7 January 2015 10:56

Camp Lemonnier, a 500-acre base housing some 3,200 US soldiers and civilians, sits on the long sea road abutting Ambouli International Airport.

Djiboutian soldiers guard the gate, and across the road ageing yellow taxis bake in the 40-degree heat.

At the next junction is Djibouti’s new police training academy, built with money from the US.

Local police graduates now stand guard over what is the most internationalised military zone in the world.

Next to the police academy is Japan’s military base, then those of Italy and Germany. Further along is France’s Camp Monclar.

Under an international anti-piracy programme, Russia has naval and air facilities on the Gulf of Tadjoura.

China signed a pact with Djibouti in February, involving military training and weapons sales, and established its first base outside its sovereign territory “to protect Chinese citizens and national interests”, officials said.

That deal prompted a visit by US national security adviser Susan Rice to Djibouti in March, followed up by an invitation to Guelleh to visit president Barack Obama in May.

Djibouti and the US agreed a fresh 20-year lease for Camp Lemonnier for $63m a year plus another $7m in aid.

But Guelleh insisted that the US move its busy drone base, from which it targets Somalia, Yemen and neighbouring states, to a distant airstrip.

Previously, the drones had been allowed to use a runway at the international airport.

Before the bombing of a popular restaurant in May, foreign soldiers wandered freely in Djibouti city, frequenting the bars and French-style cafés around Place Menelik.

Now, the foreigners are more cautious and the old drinking haunts have restyled themselves as restaurants in deference to the more assertive Islamic culture in the city. ●

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