Djibouti is the only country in the world that hosts military bases for both the United States and China. The US base, Camp Lemmonier, hosts US special forces and its only a few kilometers from China’s only military base outside of Asia. France, the former colonial ruler, also has a base in the country.
That so many countries would want their military stationed in tiny Djibouti is partly due of the country’s geography. It is strategically located in the horn of Africa, bordering Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea at the exact point where the Gulf of Aden meets the Red Sea, across the straight from Yemen.
But in part as a consequence of its strategic location its longtime leader President Ismael Omar Guelleh has had a stranglehold on power since 1999, cracking down on civil society, thwarting any potential political rivals and subverting democratic institutions.
One person trying to restore democracy to Djibouti is Daher Ahmed Farah, who is on the line with me today. He is the leader of the country’s main opposition political party, the Movement for Democratic Renewal and Development (MRD). He is currently in exile, living mostly in Brussels after the government issued a warrant for his arrest. We caught up as Farah was visiting Washington, DC for meetings at the state department and elsewhere.
Djibouti is obviously not much on the news radar and I found this conversation an interesting explanation of how a government that is a strategic ally of many world powers can use that position to consolidate power at home at the expense of democracy.