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Djibouti Is Dangerously Becoming a Trigger for Transregional Destabilization

Global Research, March 09, 2018
Oriental Review 8 March 2018
 

 

 
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The delicate balance of power in the Horn of Africa might soon be broken by the developing situation inside of Djibouti surrounding the future ownership of its main port, with the possible American-Emirati reaction to this potentially serving as a trigger for militarily activating the complex transregional alliance system that’s formed in this part of the world over the past couple of years.

Making A Mountain Out Of A Molehill

The tiny state of Djibouti is once again making global headlines after its government ended a contract with an Emirati port operator late last month that was in control of the country’s most important container terminal. The move followed a multi-year dispute that culminated in what Abu Dhabi decried as an “illegal seizure” of its asset, but which the national authorities said was a necessary action to end the stalemate. This seemingly insignificant commercial spat would have remained irrelevant to international politics had the US not decided to weigh in earlier this week in supporting its Emirati ally.

Reuters reported that the top America military official in Africa, Marine General Thomas Waldhauser, responded to speculation in Congress that Djibouti was supposedly planning to “give [the port] to China as a gift” by ominously warning that

“If the Chinese took over that port, then the consequences could be significant”.

Republican Representative Bradley Byrne went even further by speculating that

“If this was an illegal seizure of that port, what is to say that government wouldn’t illegally terminate our lease before its term is up?”

These statements have thus turned an ordinarily uneventful dispute that’s destined for the Court of International Arbitration into a full-fledged geopolitical scandal.

Djibouti regional map

Djibouti’s Transregional Dimensions

Djibouti is of global importance because of its location at the Bab el Mandeb strait that connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and serves as the maritime transit location between Europe and Asia. Apart from the US, China, France, ItalyJapan, and soon even Saudi Arabia all have bases in the country, with India being able to utilize America’s by means of the summer 2016 LEMOA deal that gives each country access to the other’s military facilities on a case-by-case “logistics” basis. Furthermore, Djibouti is the terminal location for the Djibouti-Addis Ababa Railway (DAAR) that basically functions as “China’s CPEC” or the Horn of Africa Silk Road, thus explaining one of the unstated strategic reasons why Beijing chose the country for hosting its first-ever overseas military base.

Ethiopia, however, is at the center of a transregional alliance system that’s sprung up in the area over the past couple of years as a result of its ambitious efforts to construct the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile River that provides most of the more famous Nile’s water. The balance of forces has seen Ethiopia band together with Sudan while Egypt – which claims that GERD will adversely affect its water supplies and therefore make it strategically dependent on Ethiopia – has sought out Addis Ababa’s nemesis, Eritrea. Moreover, the Gulf Cold War has expanded to the region, with Qatar siding more closely with Ethiopia and the UAE partnering with Eritrea, in which it has a military facility that it uses in connection with the War on Yemen.

Saudi Arabia is impartial because it has military relations with Eritrea but agricultural ones with Ethiopia, even though its Egyptian partner (which practically functions as a subordinate or client state at this point) wishes that it took a stronger stand against Addis Ababa. Djibouti’s situation is much more complex than any of these parties’ because it has close relations with each of the countries that have or will have military bases within its territory, and it had previously enjoyed positive relations with the UAE prior to the port dispute. Qatar used to station peacekeepers along the Djiboutian-Eritrean border since their brief 2008 border conflict but withdrew them last summer after both states sided with Saudi Arabia in the Gulf Cold War.

Approaching The Breaking Point

Even though Djibouti has historically harbored suspicions of much larger Ethiopia’s intentions, especially since it became landlocked following Eritrea’s 1993 independence, its fears have been allayed ever since China got involved in DAAR and apparently convinced it that Addis Ababa has no interest in behaving aggressively towards the de-facto city-state so long as its Silk Road access to the People’s Republic is ensured. In fact, the “African CPEC” did more for building trust between these two lopsided countries than anything else could have ever done, though it wasn’t a solution for regional stability in the geopolitical sense, as is evidently seen by the transregional alliance system that was earlier described.

In fact, the structural instability that now characterizes the Horn of Africa might reach a breaking point with the potential destabilization of Djibouti that might be brought about if the US and its Emirati ally join forces in pressuring this tiny country to reverse its takeover of the disputed port. Washington is already hinting that it might consider this to be a ‘national security threat’ to its interests, while Abu Dhabi is alleging that what happened is no different than the strong armed robbery of one of its most prized global assets. The groundwork has now been established for these two countries to cooperate in making Djibouti pay for what it did.

Policy Toolkit

The reason why this has any importance to the outside world is because it may lead to the Horn of Africa becoming a 21st-century version of the pre-World War I Balkans in the sense that a far-reaching alliance network could once again be on the brink of being militarily activated due to an unexpected and seemingly insignificant event. The two most realistic and potentially interconnected options that the US-UAE “alliance within an alliance” have at their disposal for use against Djibouti suggest that a larger conflict could easily explode by miscalculation alone, to say nothing of Machiavellian intent, thus making the historical-regional comparison an apt one:

Eritrean Border Skirmish:

The UAE’s Eritrean underling already has a preexisting border disagreement with Djibouti, and it wouldn’t be difficult for the wealthy patron state to tempt its impoverished client to make a move against Abu Dhabi’s new regional adversary.

Color Revolution:

Djibouti was briefly rocked by pro-Islamist Color Revolution unrest at the end of 2015 that was quickly quelled by the authorities, though there’s no saying that such a scenario couldn’t be “encouraged” to repeat itself in the near future as “phase one” of an American pressure campaign.

Hybrid War:

The merging of conventional Eritrean aggression, Asmara’s asymmetrical use of the Al Shabaab terrorist group that the UNSC sanctioned the country for supporting, and American-backed Color Revolution unrest in the urban center would constitute a classic Hybrid War in the Horn of Africa.

Djibouti political map

Realistic Responses

Scenario forecasting is a difficult art so it’s with a grain of salt that one should approach this exercise, though nevertheless understanding the utility that it has in allowing one to envision the most likely responses to each of the two primary options that the US and UAE have for use against Djibouti:

The Second African World War:

Eritrean aggression against Djibouti could prompt Ethiopia and Sudan to take action against it, thereby drawing in Asmara’s Egyptian ally and its GCC partners, all of which might create a situation that compels the US and China to intervene at different stages and in varying capacities to uncertain ends.

An Ethiopian Collapse:

Ethiopia is in the throes of its second state of emergency in just as many years, and the Color Revolution blockage of DAAR might be all that’s needed to provoke the Oromo into reviving their Hybrid War campaign and possibly pushing the country past the edge of collapse.

Pro-Beijing Blowback

The American-Emirati destabilization of Djibouti might intentionally or unwittingly produce consequences that endanger China’s interests in the Horn of Africa, but there’s also the chance that the blowback that they produce conversely strengthens Beijing’s role in this region instead:

The People’s Republic And Peacekeeping:

So long as China can avoid the “mission creep” scenario that the US is pushing it towards, it might be able to manage any Eritrean-Djiboutian border tensions (and possibly others) through a peacekeeping mission like the one that it proposed last summer, therefore stabilizing the region.

Diplomacy And Deal-Making:

China is the best suited out of any country to mediate between all conflicting parties within the region, especially if it commits peacekeepers to the cause, and this might see its diplomacy producing the Silk Road fruit of more “win-win” deals that sustain the peace that its soldiers first attained.

Peace Isn’t Possible Without The People’s Republic:

The aggregate consequences of China’s military and diplomatic efforts at obtaining, securing, and advancing peace in the Horn of Africa could enable Beijing to become a stabilizing force in one of the world’s most unstable regions and consequently assist its integration into the Multipolar World Order.

Concluding Thoughts

The latest developments in the tiny Horn of Africa country of Djibouti might seem uninteresting for most outside observers, but upon closer examination of the broader strategic dynamics at play and the delicate balance of power between the two transregional alliances there, it becomes apparent that these unresolved and escalating events might serve as a catalyst for a larger conflict. At the risk of sounding cliché, the “stage is set” and all of the local actors are ready – and almost eager, one could argue – to “play their role” in the upcoming “drama”, with only China having any realistic chance of stabilizing the situation before it gets out of control.

That said, China must also remain cognizant of the US’ desire to trap it in the quagmire of “mission creep” as a proxy means of “containing” its influence in Africa, and Beijing’s relatively ‘conservative” decision makers aren’t predisposed to overtly intervening in other countries’ affairs, though the recent case of Myanmar stands out as a notable exception and might portend a change in policy. In any case, it’s clear to see that the destabilization of Djibouti will inevitably have negative consequences for China’s regional and Silk Road interests, thereby making the most recent developments yet another example of how the US-Chinese proxy struggle is rapidly reaching every corner of the world.

*

Andrew Korybko is an American Moscow-based political analyst specializing in the relationship between the US strategy in Afro-Eurasia, China’s One Belt One Road global vision of New Silk Road connectivity, and Hybrid Warfare.

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Which country is easiest for regime change?

Ethiopia

Somalia/Somaliland

Djibouti

Eritrea

Sudan

South Sudan

Kenya

Uganda

 

There  has to be a regime change somewhere, things cannt go on like this for long. America wants regime change in Ethiopia, Djibouti both since was not successful to separate the two and make them act against each other, so both have to go.

China wants regime change in Eritrea to eliminate the main trigger that can be used by America against Djibouti and Sudan, the two key countries.

 

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People and countries have fought for 200 years for or about Suez Canal.

Isn' there more economical more peaceful more prosperous alternative. Here are some alternatives:

1. Russia and Iran build a waterway from Persian gulf to Caspian sea, price tag 10 billion time it takes 6 years: benefits

Russia avoids black sea, mediteranean as only option, Iran brings russia to have something risk share, China avoids the empire killer region of middle east losers: Egypt, Israel, USA, Britain, France..

2. Israel to build a Canal from Israel/Jordan to Mediteranean price tag 10/17 Billion time it takes 2 years

This would start war by Egypt unless Israel and Egypt have ownership in both old and new Canals. Everybody gains but no change for East/Horn Africa and no change for turkey/blacksea

Loser: Only egypt winner: Saudi, Jordan, Israel

3. Build extensive rail roads criss crossing Africa and eliminate bottle necks

China building railroad Sudan to Chad and if libya gets act together to Mediteranean

China building railroads Djibouti to deep Africa and Somalia to deep Africa

Downside: Railroads need complete security, impossible to get in Africa where a derailment cost weeks and months

4. Bridge between Djibouti and Yemen 14km 17 billion feasibility done even plans ready

Qatar and UAE competing to build this road link Asia Africa. Was hot one time and almost to start. Maybe Meles and Abdella Saleh lost lives this as one factor. Loser: Egypt USA poured cold water on it.

 

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Quote

 

An Ethiopian Collapse:

Ethiopia is in the throes of its second state of emergency in just as many years, and the Color Revolution blockage of DAAR might be all that’s needed to provoke the Oromo into reviving their Hybrid War campaign and possibly pushing the country past the edge of collapse.

 

OO when you started posting here you, did expect The Ti grey regime will be in serious trouble? You though you will enjoy the Somali tragedy and started to lecture us. Unfortunately your house is now on fire so why don't you update us your intelligence assessment of what is happening behind the scenes in Ethiopia where there is apparent power struggle. 

 

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Yeah, since they all saw SOMALIA internal problem as blessing for Ethiopia!, all of sudden, when the fire caught ETHIOPIA, it is now EAST AFRICA problem, and SOMALIS should  worry for them!

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6 minutes ago, Peace Action said:

 

OO when you started posting here you, did expect The Ti grey regime will be in serious trouble? You though you will enjoy the Somali tragedy and started to lecture us. Unfortunately your house is now on fire so why don't you update us your intelligence assessment of what is happening behind the scenes in Ethiopia where there is apparent power struggle. 

 

You are mistaken on one thing. I never wish ill on anyone, even when I consider an enemy, let alone a Somali. The principle is even your enemy wish to defeat them, but not wish that they get sick or something bad happen to them. Then since you did not contribute to the downfall, you will not benefit anything from it.

On your question:

Yes everybody is in trouble. I guess you read the inestigative analysis.

There must be power struggle, since I do not want anyone to lead any country or people if not willing to struggle for the power to lead.

Tigray will be OK, has a number of options that are not bad. Same with Somalis have number of options which are not bad.

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8 minutes ago, maakhiri1 said:

Yeah, since they all saw SOMALIA internal problem as blessing for Ethiopia!, all of sudden, when the fire caught ETHIOPIA, it is now EAST AFRICA problem, and SOMALIS should  worry for them!

maakhiri1,

NO. the whole discussion always involved Djibouti and Ethiopia and if I remember correctly Sudan and Eritrea as well. Including Egypt, UAE Turkey which all involved.

There are not strictly internal problems anymore. Even a remote village or hamlet falls in the radar view of one or more powers.

Somalis are part of every country in East Africa, either as citizens or neighbours, can't escape that.

 

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Tallaabo   
15 hours ago, Old_Observer said:

Which country is easiest for regime change?

Ethiopia

Somalia/Somaliland

Djibouti

Eritrea

Sudan

South Sudan

Kenya

Uganda

 

There  has to be a regime change somewhere, things cannt go on like this for long. America wants regime change in Ethiopia, Djibouti both since was not successful to separate the two and make them act against each other, so both have to go.

China wants regime change in Eritrea to eliminate the main trigger that can be used by America against Djibouti and Sudan, the two key countries.

 

Anyone who wants to change regimes in Somaliland or Somalia has got to wait only few years. Unlike all our neighbours, our change of leadership by a democratic election in the case of Somaliland or tribal selection in the case of Somalia is frequent. 

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24 minutes ago, Tallaabo said:

Anyone who wants to change regimes in Somaliland or Somalia has got to wait only few years. Unlike all our neighbours, our change of leadership by a democratic election in the case of Somaliland or tribal selection in the case of Somalia is frequent. 

lol

No time to wait. America wants one in a hurry.

Ethiopia and Djibouti, Ethiopia Somaliland don't want trouble between them, hard to move them to fight each other. One needs to change at least one regime and make it trouble maker.

There is Eritrea for Djibouti, but that even brings Djibouti and Ethiopia even closer. Same with Sudan Eritrea brings them closer.

Some rubble rouser is needed. Kenya is not going to volunteer for this. South Sudan has no capability, if Ethiopia just arms the refugees and send a brigade they can change South Sudan government and take over the villas in Juba.

Someone Quick. I am sure some SOLers would want president Farmaajo to give it a try, but Djibouti would not get him out of Mogadishu and Ethiopia would meet him at the border, there is also AMISOM that is guaranteed by Ethiopia for its existance in Somalia.

Sad but that is what they seem to be looking for.

 

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14 hours ago, Old_Observer said:

You are mistaken on one thing. I never wish ill on anyone, even when I consider an enemy, let alone a Somali. The principle is even your enemy wish to defeat them, but not wish that they get sick or something bad happen to them. Then since you did not contribute to the downfall, you will not benefit anything from it.

On your question:

Yes everybody is in trouble. I guess you read the inestigative analysis.

There must be power struggle, since I do not want anyone to lead any country or people if not willing to struggle for the power to lead.

Tigray will be OK, has a number of options that are not bad. Same with Somalis have number of options which are not bad.

OO, kindly elaborate on these “options” you say the Tigray have? Also, let us know the options you have gracefully allowed us “Somalis” to choose from?

Much obliged.

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The basis r main criterion to be able to say has options is a society that can stand on its own, hold its own. Of course everything is relative, Somali kilil does not need to be as powerful as Russia or America or Turkey. The neighbourhood requires basically societal cohesiveness, organization, preparadness and some level of military force.

If you agree on this main criterion then its easy to understand why I said has options.

Example: Level of military force. If your potential enemy knows he will be hurt more than you do in a conflict, will not start a conflict. If your potential friend knows you are a somebody to lean on to be leaned on then he will be more of your friend.

Do you see the options you have?

Example: preparedness. One of the weaknesses you have is draught and home produced food sufficient for a crisis. If you have capacity to move people, anticipate severity, and capable to provide basic subsistence and move (current capacity can move 2000 person per 48 hours and provide emergency food and water). I don't know the capacity but there is food storage in different locations of the kilil and tents would be homes in such situation. You might have seen in the news during the crisis with neighbor kilil Oromo.

Do you see the options you have?

Example: Cohesivness. Even if people might not feel comfortable, but you can move people from a clan area to another clan area with very little obstruction today that would have been almst impossible to do a decade ago. People also will slowly understand even if you used emergency state declaration or some force where justifiable. You can also take vehicles from companies or individuals at a moments notice with proper declaration and compensate people at later date.

Do you see the options you have?

Example: Organization: There is a permanent commission whose job it is to gather predictions, prepare and present plans to deal with emergency or expected draught, deal with desease/illness (communicable). It can include the Militia, Liyu, Students of high schools in its contingency planing and also kilil government employees.

Do you see the options you have?

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South Sudan: Today announced that it is coming to the negotiations in Addis Ababa and stated that:

1. The news that was in the media stating that the government of South Sudan wants "the meeting should be moved away from Addis Aaba" is fake news (what to expect from Egypt)

2. Thanks the people and government of Ethiopia for help during the independence struggle and for peace after independence

3. South Sudan thanks IGAD countries, Britain, China, United States

________________________________________________

Missed Japan that has contributed peace keepers and diplomatic support from its embassy in Ethiopia

Missed to give mention to Sudan along same status as Ethiopia for Sudan's contribution to peace in South Sudan

_________________________________________________

Uganda must have told Kir that he can go to Addis Ababa, and Egypt must have been defeated in its tretcherous but weak diplomacy

 

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Great statesmen past presidents Silanyo and Hassen Shiek Mahmud:

Egypt gathered the chief of Navy, Army and Airforce, Chief of Military intelligence, chief of intelligence and other high officials led by deputy foreign minister (who was Egypts ambassador to Ethiopia 2 years before that) and headed to Djibouti, Somaliland and Somalia.

Egypt had come up with illustrious agenda of development in Agriculture, education including hundreds of scholarships, military training, security and police training, construction you name it programs that can tranform Somalia and Somaliland into middle income countries or even first world in a matter of few years. For Somaliland was told that Egypt host.. the negotiations with Somalia...nudge nudge eye movement (and eliminate Turkey from any of it) and for Somalia a slightly different version of it.

The Catch

All contingent and based on that Somaliland or Somalia sign an agreement for Airforce base, Army base, Navy base for Egyt and security branch headquarters. In the agreement also to include these bases can be used against third cuntry starting with operations in Yemen.

 

Both Presidents simply shocked and left the Egyptians speechless.

Thank you but not thank you

 

There is an article in the Ethiopian media on this and the embarassment of the Egyptians is that everybody knew, because the president of Somalia was smart enough to make the information public, detering Egypt from attempting anything sinister.

 

Ethiopia is indebted to both Somalia and Somaliland for simply not entertaining the idea.

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galbeedi   

Tilamook,

You asked OO about options and he goes to his usual Sudan, Egypt and UAE. Non of the railways and bridges in Yemen is  even in the pipes. War is raging in Yemen and and who knows what would happen in the middle east.

others asked him about the Tigray options in Ethiopia and  he talks about Somali issue that he does not anything. 

He thinks meddling and division among Somalis will buy him time. What he doesn't get is people do not like those who pretend to be your brothers or friends. THere are nations who are rivals, with hostile history yet living side by side while each one is watching his back. Turkey and Greece had over million casualty in the first world war yet, they  are neighbors today while both are NATO members. No  Greece will dare to interfere with Turkey or vice versa. The greeks hate the Turks but thy accept and can not do anything about Turkey.

We do not like those that we have historical rivalry and bad history to interfere and advice our interest. We are not that stupid. We are neighbors and we accept co-existence and peace, just like the Turks accept the Greeks. As we speak there is zero trade between us and the borders are closed.  Only a fool or a simple minded separatist,  a tribal chauvinist who is looking for power or a criminals will accommodate Ethiopia or the take advice and help from Ethiopia. Do not waste your time , we are nomads who are born and will always e free from tyranny unlike the Ethiopians who are born to enslave one another.

If you want to discuss something , tell how Ethiopia could survive another decade . Tell us how you intend to keep the status quo. 

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galbeedi,

Your anti Xabeshi or anti Tigray or anti Tigray AI tirade and frastration aside, did you make any sense of the options? I gave the basis upon which you select your options.

It is very simple and clear. You can take a look again.

If there is war you can take this or that option based on what your strength and weakness is. Its that simple, nothing complicated.

I know how frastraing it is for you having predicted in few days the Oromo would take over Ethiopia or Ethiopia would fall apart and galbeedi the nationalist Somali/Oromo would come to pick up the peieces of the kilil. When you were away for some time, I thought you went to Oromo country to e the most important consultant.

 

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