French President in Djibouti to reaffirm the support of Paris

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French president Emmanuel Macron (C) is welcomed by Djibouti's president Ismail Omar Guelleh upon his arrival at Djibouti's airport, March 11, 2019, in Djibouti, at the start of his trip to eastern Africa
French president Emmanuel Macron (C) is welcomed by Djibouti's president Ismail Omar Guelleh upon his arrival at Djibouti's airport, March 11, 2019, in Djibouti, at the start of his trip to eastern Africa

By:Le Monde

Historical ally of France, the country of the Horn of Africa is facing a geopolitical landscape jostled by the reconciliation between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

President Emmanuel Macron goes Monday evening, March 11, to Djibouti , historic and strategic ally of France who feels for several years a feeling of “abandonment” and is confronted with a geopolitical landscape jostled by the recent reconciliation between Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea. Nine years after the last visit of a French president – Nicolas Sarkozy -, the head of state will have a bilateral meeting with his counterpart Ismail Omar Guelleh, Tuesday morning, before going to the French military base, the largest of Africa, which has 1,450 soldiers.

It is about this visit to “mark the strength of our partnership” , we note at the Elysee, against the background of increasing influence of China in Djibouti and throughout the continent: “We have the defense cooperation treaty signed in 2011, and there are also economic issues that are under way. “ More importantly, ” there is a questioning, Djibouti side, its place in the regional reconstruction that is underway; it is on this point that the dialogue between the two heads of state will be concentrated , it adds.

Resentment and frustration

Unexpected, the peace sealed in 2018 between the two enemy brothers of the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia and Eritrea, has indeed caused a redistribution of the cards that goes well beyond the relations between Addis Ababa and Asmara . In November, the UN Security Council lifted the arms embargo, travel bans, asset freezes and other sanctions against Eritrea; a decision that sparked the ire of Djibouti. The latter accuses Asmara of occupying part of its territory – the region of Ras Doumeira, on the Red Sea – and still detains thirteen of its soldiers.

“There is a lifting of the embargo without there being a resolution of the dispute between Djibouti and Eritrea , notes one in Paris. France has been very active in ensuring that these points are covered by a regular meeting clause. What the Djiboutian authorities are expecting from us is that we remain active so that Djibouti has its place in the regional recomposition. “

Although short – a dozen hours – this presidential visit and this support reaffirmed by Paris could allow to turn the page of the resentment and frustration expressed in recent years by the Djiboutian authorities. “Everything happens as if France no longer considered us,” said President Ismael Omar Guelleh in an interview with the weekly Jeune Afrique in 2015, pointing “very little investment” and “no ministerial visit for years”.

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A strategic position

A French diplomat posted in the region admits that France “has considered for a long time conquered land” and has left the field free, especially to the Chinese. A sentiment shared by the delegation of the National Assembly sent in May 2018 to Djibouti, which occupies a strategic position at the southern entrance to the Red Sea, strongly coveted by foreign powers – Beijing has installed its only and largest base military abroad.

“We have the feeling in Djibouti that [the French presence] is losing ground and that it is less important than before, it is not just a feeling,” said MP Marielle de Sarnez during the meeting. report of this mission, in September. “I think that strategically, we need a reinforcement of the French presence on these three axes: economic, cultural with the Francophonie, and military ,” she added. It’s urgent. “

After Djibouti, Emmanuel Macron is expected in Ethiopia on Tuesday afternoon, then Kenya on Wednesday and Thursday, the last leg of his tour in East Africa.

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