Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Djibouti. A luxury military choke point.











Western soldiers are a common sight in Djibouti. There are Western troops all over the place. The hotel in Djibouti’s nondescript capital was filled with German soldiers – the first I have ever encountered. Near the airport, a gaggle of French troops wearing camouflage fatigues and absurdly short shorts were marching along the road. A Mirage jet from the French air force screamed overhead.
French warships regularly visit the harbour a few miles away. France seized Djibouti in the 19th century and kept the tiny country as a colony until as recently as 1977. Paris ensured that Djibouti’s independence treaty enshrined its right to keep a military presence here in perpetuity. An old French base, known as Camp Lemonier, is now home to about 2,300 Americans from the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa.
Djibouti is Africa’s smallest countries, with only 500,000 people, resembles a camp for European and Americanarmies. Why? The Red Sea joins the Indian Ocean alongside Djibouti, making it one of the most strategically important locations on earth. This strategic location at the mouth of the Red Sea makes Djibouti an important port for goods entering and leaving the east African highlands. It makes an interesting and exotic yachting destination, and the city is laid out on a grid, making it very easy to explore in an afternoon.


Djibouti is a blend of colonial French and modern Arabic, and visitors are treated with traditional African hospitality. The Central Market just south of town is worth seeing, and is the best place to go if you’re hungry. Spicy, oven-baked or barbecued fish is a local specialty that you shouldn’t miss. The Aquarium Tropical de Djibouti is one of the town’s main attractions, open daily from 4 to 6:30pm, except during Ramadan. The best beaches are near the city of Dorale, and you can boat to the islands of Maskalii and Moucha in the Gulf of Tadjoura. Swimming, diving and snorkeling are excellent in the Red Sea coral reefs not far from the city of Djibouti. The climate here is mostly hot and humid, with the best time to visit being November to mid-April when it is less hot. Rainfall is less than five inches per year and vegetation is sparse or non-existent.

Here, Africa and Arabia are only 17 miles apart, separated by the Bab-El-Mandeb straits (which translates, appropriately enough, as the “Gates of Tears”). Giant tankers carry 3.3 million barrels of oil through this natural corridor every day. Last year, about 17,000 ships entered the “Gates of Tears”. This is what military planners call a “choke-point”. If terrorists were able to disable or destroy a super-tanker here, they could block the Bab-El-Mandeb and cause huge damage to the world economy. This explains the Western presence. But what do ordinary Djiboutians make of it? Post what you think today!

(Note:This Story was origionally posted by david.blair@telegraph.co.uk at 20 Oct 06 18:18)