The World Today for March 04, 2024


Location, Location


An Iranian ship named the Behshad was docked off Djibouti near a Chinese military base for weeks, allegedly transmitting commercial shipping information to the Houthis, a Yemeni militant group that has been attacking ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The Behshad received at least four shipments of supplies, according to TradeWinds, a news outlet that covers global shipping.

Despite the small Horn of Africa nation’s tolerance of the Behshad, however, Djibouti still isn’t immune to the chaos that the Houthis are sowing to assert their influence in the region, especially as the West continues to support Israel’s war against Hamas, another Iran-backed group, in the Gaza Strip, regardless of the toll on civilians.

The Iranian-supported Houthis, for example, have cut undersea telecommunications cables that run between Djibouti and Saudi Arabia, added i24 News, citing Israeli media reports. These lines connected Europe, Africa, and India. Ships struck by Houthi missiles have leaked their toxic cargoes into the region’s water, too, added Agence France-Press.

American and British forces have conducted strikes to dissuade the Houthis from continuing their piracy and aggression, but those efforts have yet to yield success. Djibouti, a Muslim-majority nation, appears to have allied with China to help reduce its risk exposure to these problems, however.

As the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat explained, Chinese ships appear to have immunity from Houthi attacks, leading to a boom at Djibouti’s ports as more shippers hire Chinese carriers to move their products through the Red Sea to the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, as he navigates these developments at sea, Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh has become increasingly concerned about events transpiring in Ethiopia, his country’s neighbor to the west and south.

Currently, Ethiopian trade passing through Djibouti and vice versa comprises 75 percent of the latter country’s gross domestic product. But, as World Politics Review wrote, Ethiopian leaders are moving ahead with plans to build a new port in Somaliland, an unrecognized independent state that is technically part of Somalia.

Ethiopia lost its access to the sea when nearby Eritrea won its independence in 1993. Five years later, after a war with Eritrea ended, Ethiopia moved its export routes to Djibouti. Now, however, Ethiopia plans to gain access to the port of Berbera in Somaliland as well as a 13-mile stretch of coastline where Ethiopia – an otherwise landlocked country – could establish a naval base. Somalian officials have panned the idea, Al Jazeera reported, saying Ethiopia has no right to sign a deal with Somaliland. Somali leaders are warning Ethiopia to not move forward, saying it risks regional harm, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud told Al Jazeera.

In what looks like a policy to engage – rather than let events transpire without attempting to influence them – Guelleh has tried to play a mediating role between Ethiopia and Somalia to help them hash out their disagreement.

As world leaders tread carefully in this minefield, Djibouti worries about its lost income from the port deal being realized. The country of about one million has few natural resources, an authoritarian leadership and a GDP, of $3 billion annually, equivalent to China’s output every two hours, wrote Brookings.

But it does have one key resource that the American and the Chinese militaries, as well as the French, Japanese, Italians, Spanish, Russian, Indians, and Saudi Arabian all covet, and as a result, inspired another great power rivalry: its strategic location that comes with a deep-water port complex.

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