The Republic of Djibouti’s Minister of Economy, Finance, Industry and Planning, Mr Ilyas Moussa Dawaleh, speaks to DIPLOMAT about his country’s role in regional and international affairs and its work as an international centre for the fight against piracy
This is one of the first visits to the UK by a Minister from Djibouti. What is the purpose of your trip?
Since independence in 1977, Djibouti has had a very strong relationship with France. Economically and politically this is very important to us, but we are keen to engage with more international partners like the UK. At present we have no Embassy in London, and there is no British Embassy in Djibouti City. This is something that we want to change.
During my visit I have met with officials at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and with members of Parliament. I participated in the first ever event at Chatham House on Djibouti. I was also honoured to speak at an event hosted by Diplomat magazine on Djibouti which led to a fascinating exchange of views amongst the diplomatic community from Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
What regional role does Djibouti play in terms of security?
Located on the Horn of Africa, Djibouti is a beacon of stability in an otherwise very unstable region. For this reason we play a vital role in maintaining regional security. We have participated in the African Union peace project in Somalia, and are also the international centre for the fight against piracy.
With one-third of the world’s trade passing through the Suez Canal, the issue of security is a particularly important one in Djibouti. Djibouti is the trusted East-African security partner of the international community. This is why Operation Atalanta, the European Union’s piracy force, is operating from Djibouti. Likewise, Djibouti is also home to the only US military base in Africa, and to the largest French military base on the continent. Outside of its NATO operations, Djibouti is also home to the only German base abroad that is not part of a NATO mission military base, and the only Japanese military base outside their country.
Djibouti is committed to securing peace in the Horn of Africa, and is keen to build relationships within the international community in order to achieve this.
What are the economic and trade prospects of Djibouti?
The port represents more than 60 per cent of Djibouti’s GDP. This is a result of the booming economic development in Africa and the sharp increase in African trade with the Gulf and with Asia, in particular with China. Djibouti is becoming a major player in East Africa, and plays a significant role beyond its own economy.
Djibouti has a strong relationship with Ethiopia, with most of the country’s international trade flowing through our port. Djibouti wants to provide a similar service to other Central and East African countries. At the crossroads of international trade for this region, Djibouti has a unique opportunity to become a hub for security and transport.
Who are Djibouti’s international partners?
Traditionally France has been Djibouti’s main economic partner, but over the last ten years relationships with the UAE and China have been booming. The historic rail link between Djibouti City and Addis Ababa – which was built by the French more than a century ago – is currently being rebuilt by the Chinese.
How democratic is Djibouti?
Granted independence in 1977, Djibouti is a young but real democracy. The recent local elections which took place in February 2012 saw the President’s party beaten by the opposition. These elections were viewed as free and fair by the international community, and resulted in the opposition taking up the post of Mayor of Djibouti City, the capital, where most of the population lives.
Further progress is needed though to increase the quality of political debate across the country. In advance of the next legislative election, the President has committed to changing the electoral system from first-past-the-post to proportional representation. This will ensure that the opposition is better represented in Parliament. A Senate will also be created to ensure that the five ethnic communities of Djibouti continue to be fairly represented in the Parliament.
Further reforms to improve the quality of our democracy are an important priority for the President and the Government. It is for the benefit of all Djibouti people.
It is also worth mentioning that our reforms go hand-in-hand with our drive for improved governance. Increased transparency can only strengthen the President’s efforts towards democracy. For example, we are implementing a system of checks and balances within government operations. We are committed in our fight against corruption. In fact, the new anti-corruption and ethics high commission, which was born as a result of the anti-corruption Act, is totally independent and has real authority.
Within the same Act, we introduced for the first time a clause that necessitates a full declaration of assets by senior (department heads onwards) and their immediate families.
We are also bringing full transparency and independence to a vital government activity, which is procurement. Starting this coming October, all government tenders will be overseen by the Commission des Marches, (Tenders Committee), which will be formed by people representing different government departments. The committee is independent, and the tendering process will be managed through a procurement government website.
These examples above demonstrate the government’s intention of taking Djibouti forward with a strong but transparent and soundly-managed government into a promising future for all Djibouti people.