TheAfricareport-The deadly conflict between Ethiopia’s federal government and Tigrayan rebels continues to intensify, especially after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed issued a warning on Sunday to surrender within 72 hours. But despite international calls for a cease in action, many regional neighbours, including the small state of Djibouti, are supporting the PM’s stance.
With less than five months to go before the presidential election, Djibouti’s head of state takes stock of his efforts to tackle economic and social issues, internal opposition, a war in Ethiopia and the country’s relations with China, France and the United States.
The virus quietly arrived in Djibouti one evening in mid-March 2020, aboard a Spanish military plane that had taken off from Seville. Eight months later, the silent killer continues to lurk in spite of the health authorities’ swift implementation of the “three Ts” (test, trace and treat), with 8% of the country’s population tested to date, i.e., the highest rate in the region.
Though the government of this city-state with 1 million residents has taken an optimistic view of the future – it forecasts a return to growth in 2021 – the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic is weighing heavily on its economy, which was in full swing before it ground to a halt. The Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway line, one of the country’s essential arteries, is running on a reduced schedule, while the stately hotel located in the continent’s largest free zone, just a few kilometres away from the capital, remains hopelessly empty.
But according to Aboubaker Omar Hadi, president of the Djibouti Ports & Free Zones Authority and one of Ismaïl Omar Guelleh’s closest associates, “It’s merely a setback, our fundamentals are strong.”
“Fundamentals”? The former French colony is ideally located along the world’s second-busiest shipping route, a gateway to trade with a wide swath of Africa, backed by a market of 400 million people. Its strategic geographic location is also a coveted spot for foreign military bases. Lastly, it also has political stability going for it: contrary to what happens elsewhere, Djibouti’s elections aren’t highly tense affairs.
These advantages – combined with a government that the opposition calls authoritarian and which, it’s true, prioritises development and the fight against endemic poverty and unemployment over the expansion of freedoms – explain the unshakeable calm of President Guelleh, 73, who has been running the country since 1999.