Djibouti: Base of Operation Atalanta

December 14, 2018 (Google Translation) – “Djibouti” – the name promises an exotic flair. The other is a temporary home – for example, the German soldiers of the anti-piracy operation Atalanta.

Djibouti is a republic in East Africa. She became independent in 1977 from the former colonial power of France. Djibouti borders Eritrea to the north, Ethiopia to the west and south, Somalia to the southeast, and the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea to the east.

The population structure in Djibouti is dominated by two main populations. With a share of about 60 percent, the Somali in the south and the Afar ethnic group are most strongly represented in the north with an estimated 35 percent. Most Djiboutian Somali belong to the Issa, a subclan of the Dir.

Djibouti is a poorly underdeveloped country by international standards, with the unemployment rate estimated at more than 50 percent. Nevertheless, Djibouti is considered politically “stable” in the region.

Geostrategically located

In the past, the country tried again and again to profile itself foreign policy. It acted as mediator in the conflicts between Ethiopia and Somalia and between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Because of the geostrategic favorable situation several states built military bases in the country. In Djibouti is the headquarters of IGAD, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional peacekeeping and economic cooperation organization in East Africa. The country is a member of the UN and the Arab League.

Djibouti is a presidential republic under the 1992 Constitution. The head of state is the country’s president, elected directly by the people for six years. He appoints the head of government and his cabinet, and at the same time commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

The National Assembly is made up of 65 directly elected MPs who hold the legislative power of the state. All inhabitants of the country from 18 years have the right to vote, as early as 1946, the women’s suffrage was introduced. The legal system is based on Islamic law, highest instance is the Supreme Court.

The canal brought the upswing

Between the 7th and 10th centuries, today’s Djibouti, like much of the riparian states, came under the rule of Arab sultans who Islamized the nomadic shepherd population. Until the mid-19th century, the local nomads of the Afar and Somali lived largely unaffected by the political developments in the region.

The insignificant role of the region in the Horn of Africa changed with the construction of the Suez Canal in 1859. Due to the new connection between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea and the resulting short way to the trading areas of Asia Djibouti was soon on one of the most important trade routes in the world. In 1862, France acquired the port of Obock and the surrounding countryside.

In 1896, Djibouti was finally officially declared a colony of the French Somali coast. In the subsequent period, it came to building a colonial infrastructure. Residential buildings for civil servants, administrative buildings and barracks were built. The existing port was further expanded and became the main source of income for Djibouti. Almost at the same time, construction began on a rail link to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.

After the end of the Second World War Dschibuti got in the course of decolonization first the status of an overseas territory. This also involved more rights and self-determination for the country.

After the independence of Somalia in 1960, the largest Somali ethnic group in Djibouti pursued this goal, or sought to connect to the newly created state. In several referendums in the years 1958 and 1967, however, a majority of the population spoke in favor of remaining in France as an overseas territory.

Only on 27 June 1977 France finally released Djibouti into independence. France, however, remained closely connected with Djibouti as a protective power due to a treaty on security and defense treaties and is still permanently present with a military contingent.

Three years of civil war

From the first parliamentary elections in 1977, the ethnic group of the Somali emerged victorious. Under the leadership of the first president Hassan Gouled Aptidon, she subsequently established an ethnic-based one-party system in the country, which was dominated by the Issa.

The Afar ethnic group has increasingly been removed and marginalized from leading positions in the state and society. This led to ethnic tensions. The contrasts and tensions in the country continued to worsen during the 1980s. In 1991, an armed uprising of the Afar erupted. This was followed by a civil war lasting almost three years, with catastrophic economic consequences for Djibouti.

It was only in 1994 that a peace agreement between the government and the opposition could be reached under pressure from France.

A fragile stability

With the adoption of a new constitution, a multiparty system was also introduced in the country. Since 1999, the country has been governed by Ismael Omar Guelleh, a member of the Issa ethnic group.

Although several elections took place after the end of the civil war – most recently parliamentary elections in 2018, which confirmed the governing party coalition of the president after a two-day election campaign – it is still not possible to speak of established democracy and equal rights for both ethnic groups in Djibouti.

Bundeswehr since 2002 on site

Since the beginning of 2002, the Bundeswehr has been represented in the smallest state in the Horn of Africa. A maritime logistics base in Djibouti was built especially for Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). It was to supply the German units that operated there as part of the anti-terrorism mission. Since the start of Operation Atalanta in 2008, the Bundeswehr regularly sends personnel and materials to the region.

Permanently in Djibouti now a “Support Element Atalanta” (SEA) is in use. It serves ships as a logistical base in the Horn of Africa and thus ensures a longer stay in the operational area. The SEA is stationed on Base Aérienne, a French military airfield.

In the inter-monsoon season, a P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft will also be deployed, as only then will the maritime conditions in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean make pirate activity in the region more likely.