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While China Wins, Macron Mixes His Cards in Djibouti

DJIBOUTI – French President Emmanuel Macron sought on Tuesday to reaffirm the importance of France in its former colony, Djibouti, in Paris, fearing more and more the muscular role of China in Africa, which extends its economic and military influence on the continent, Reuters reported Tuesday.
Djibouti, strategically located at the southern entrance of the Red Sea on the road leading to the Suez Canal, is home to the largest naval base in France on the continent and is home to about 1,400 people used to train African troops and monitor the Horn of Africa.
Whereas it was perceived as a vital outpost in the past, the French administrations have ignored it in recent years, Macron being the second French leader to visit East Africa in the last 20 years.
“France has for too long considered Djibouti a conquered territory,” said a senior French diplomat based in the region. “But now, China’s competition is fierce.”
These comments echoed the public criticism of President Ismail Omar Guelleh in 2015 accusing France – which it had gained independence in 1977 – to have abandoned Djibouti and invest very little.
Djibouti is also home to a US military base used as a launch pad for operations in Yemen and Somalia, but in 2013, China opened its largest overseas military base in the country, competing directly with Paris and Washington.
In recent years, Beijing has provided economic assistance, developed the country’s industrial production and invested heavily in large-scale public infrastructure projects, including restoring a French-made railroad from 1917 linking Djibouti to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
With a population of less than one million, it also processes 95% of goods imported by Ethiopia, its landlocked neighbor with 100 million inhabitants.
“At the strategic level, we must strengthen the French presence on three levels: economic, cultural and military,” said Marielle de Sarnez, chair of the parliamentary committee of foreign affairs of France, after its sending by Macron. “It’s urgent, otherwise we will lose ground.
The unexpected peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 2018 also redistributed the cards for Djibouti.
The lifting of the arms embargo imposed by the United Nations Security Council in Eritrea and other sanctions in November provoked the ire of Djibouti. He accuses Eritrea of occupying part of its territory and detaining 13 Djiboutian soldiers.
French officials said they raised the issue in the United States to assert its diplomatic influence on the region.
“What the Djiboutian authorities expect of us is to remain active so that Djibouti has full place in the re-compositing of the region,” said a French presidential source.
(Sahar News Monitoring Desk)

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