Counter-Terrorism: June 9, 2005


Lots of folks in sub-Saharan Africa snicker when they hear France's president Jacques Chirac complain of US "unilateralism" and American imperial aims. France still maintains an empire and if you don't think so, check out the way the Ivory Coast, Chad, and the Central African Republic (CAR) work -- or don't work. 

And then there's Djibouti,  an independent (at least nominally) nation located on the Horn of Africa. At one time know as the French colony of "Afars and the Issas", the place has something State Department real estate agents understand-- strategic location, strategic location, strategic location. It's near the mouth of the Red Sea-- and for the region it has excellent logistics capabilities. Djibouti got its independence from France in 1977, but the way France "de-colonialized" was something of a fiction. France and Djibouti maintain very "close ties."

Since 2002, Djibouti has served as a base for U.S. military and intelligence operations against terrorist groups in east Africa and the Arabian peninsula.

Djibouti had a "minor" civil war that lasted from the early-1990s until 2001. Afar ethnics --chafing under an Issa dominated government-- occasionally blew up things and ambushed convoys. That fracas seems to be settled, though settled in the way France likes to settle things. President Ismail Omar Guelleh was recently reelected president. In April 2005 Guelleh won 100 percent of the votes in the presidential election. He was unopposed.

Several analysts have suggested continued American use of Djibouti facilities is an example of France "hedging its bets." Jacques Chirac has repeatedly played the anti-American card in French domestic politics, at the UN, and throughout the European Union. But it's argued that encouraging Djibouti to provide a base in east Africa to bash Al Qaeda scores some covert brownie points from Washington.

After the French "No" to the EU constitution, Chirac can use all the brownie points he can scrape together. --Austin Bay


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