Djibouti, the most strategic place connecting the indo pacific to the red sea and the greater eastern African region, has attracted a global competition by powerful countries to set up military bases in the country in the last 20 years.

What was once an obscure port overlooking the Gulf of Aden now hosts 8 military bases that belong to the US, China, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Saudi Arabia. The bases are lined up in a short distance across the nation’s red sea coast; making the country a powder keg where innocent mistakes could lead to grave miscalculations.

The continued expansion of the bases and the influence of the powers that manage these facilities is increasingly commandeering Djibouti’s internal capacity and independence to handle its strategic interests.

The importance of military buildup in Djibouti is a legacy of post 9/11 where the US established a marine expeditionary outpost to fight terrorism in the Middle East and effectively engage in Somalia against Islamic extremists. Ever since, a constant interest from global actors near and afar has saddled Djibouti with debt and political entanglements led by Gulf countries, the US and China.

In an indication of more players joining the tight ring, Russia and India are showing interest in building their bases in Djibouti. The Djiboutian leadership however does not seem ready to entertain the request, as it grapples with the possibility of reduced ability to decide on its sovereign affairs following Chinese American tussle over its loans and economic decisions. The operations of Doraleh port, built by china under its enhanced partnership with Djibouti, has drawn serious concerns from US military and government over its potential to place critical infrastructure under Chinese ownership in Djibouti.


The military bases are not just a geo strategic complication for Djibouti. The global powers are using the basing rights and resources to meddle in the delicate political and security landscapes of the Horn of African countries from Ethiopia to Uganda, Somaliland to Eritrea and South Sudan.

The Djiboutian leadership believed it was playing one power against the other when it pursued a silent basing diplomacy as part of its foreign policy; and it overestimated its capacity to prepare for outcome scenarios that compromise its decision making process.

With more finance invested in the country and military agreements providing them with expanded legal rights, the basing dynamics is simply too big for it to handle. In essence, it is now de facto outsourced a good portion of its sovereignty on its coast to a web of actors who are as busy keeping tabs on each other as they are engaged in overt and covert operations in and around the horn of Africa. There is a recent realization, however, among the political elite that a handful of powerful countries with their military hardware and special rights dotting the coastline may not be in the long term political and economic interest of the country.

As a country that depends on Djibouti for all its international trade, Ethiopia’s concerns over its lifeline logistics hub being potentially leveraged by a growing list of countries in Djibouti is increasing. With Ethiopia’s foreign trade expected to exponentially increase following its peace deal with the TPLF and an upcoming reset of relations with the West, difficult discussions between Addis and Djibouti on how to establish trust and consensus over long term geo strategic guarantees are on the horizon. The outcomes from those discussions will be substantive for the Horn, across the Atlantic and in the Indo-Pacific.