Djibouti president in a catch-up visit to Paris

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Ismail Omar Guelleh, the long-standing president of Djibouti is in the French capital in what Le Monde newspaper described as catch-up visit to the former colonial power.
Guelleh, whose three-day visit is the first in a decade, comes amid the shift in the regional balance of power in the Horn of Africa. Djibouti, a tiny state that occupies an area of just 23,200 km2, has long been a training and testing ground of the French army, that in turn protected the regime shaken by a decade of rebellion (1991- 2001), the paper reminded its readers.
Fifteen years ago, Djibouti was a forgotten sandlot. Since then, everything has changed. It has become a hub for foreign forces tackling security issues within striking distance of the Horn of Africa, including terrorism and piracy. Most importantly, it is benefiting from the industrial ambitions of its more populous neighbour Ethiopia that has not had any direct access to the sea since Eritrea gained independence.
In this great powers jostle, France’s influence in the country is diminishing, amidst a sense of abandonment from Djibouti officials, according to Le Monde. Two years ago, in an interview with the weekly Jeune Afrique, President Guelleh complained about the lack of consideration of the French authorities with regard to his country.
The visit taking place after ten years of absence is remarkable, for the leader of a country whose head of state traditionally reserve their first official visit to France. This trip takes place within three months of a change of leadership at the Elysée and observers found it hard to determine its result, Cyril Bensimon of Le Monde argued.
On the security front, Paris expects “the navy to keep its privileged access”, while 1,400 French soldiers are based in Djibouti, the country’s largest overseas military base abroad.
The Franco-Djiboutian relationship, characterized by military operations, has never been conciliated. More than twenty years after the murder of Bernard Borrel – French judge – in Djibouti, questions still linger about what happened. At the end of 2015, the French ambassador, Serge Mucetti, was recalled to Paris at the request of the local authorities who considered him too close to the opposition.

Arefayné Fantahun
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