9 September 2018

Djibouti: Impoverished Djibouti Has Nothing to Show for Its Wealth

Djibouti — WITH vast amounts of aid flowing into government coffers and its strategic position boasting one of the busiest shipping lanes, Djibouti ought to be among the wealthiest countries in the African continent.

However, the irony is that the tiny country situated in the eastern coast of Africa is among the poorest, characterised by a crippling sewage crisis that has led to an eruption of water-borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

Children are bearing the brunt of the crisis emanating from shocking levels of poor sanitation in the country of about 1 million people.

In rural areas, three out of four people have no access to toilets and relieve themselves in the bush.

In the capital Djibouti City, home to half the country's population, a quarter of the population has no access to toilet facilities.

With the Horn of Africa a dry zone and with only 20 centimetres or less than 10 inches of rain a year, water is at premium in Djibouti.

Villages often rely on one or two wells, many of which are now contaminated with bacteria linked to human waste.

The 26 300 refugees from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen, have added to the problem.

However, Radwan Bahdon, the government's Director of Sanitation, said the situation was under control.

A new sanitation plant funded by the European Union (EU) is functioning, he added.

"Until 2014, wastewater was discharged into the sea without treatment," Bahdon said.

Officials lay the blame on the administration of President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, in office since 1999 after succeeding his uncle- Hassan Gouled Aptidon- who ruled since independence from France in 1977.

Guelleh, whose government is accused of human rights violations, retained power with 90 percent of the vote in February this year.

Vast amounts of aid have flowed into the Treasury over the years but the country has little, if any, to show for it.

Critics accuse Guelleh and his family as well as closest advisors of having significant clout in the economy.

Despite the grinding poverty afflicting the majority, Guelleh recently flew to China in a presidential jet.

Economists warn that Djibouti's debt is close to its entire GDP but Mr Guelleh has shown no sign of slowing down on the opulence.

"In Djibouti, we are confronted by a family dynasty built on the suffering of our less than 1 million people," opposition leader, Daher Farah, said of the impoverished country.

Despite its tiny size as the eighth-smallest country in Africa, at 23 200 km2, it is influential.

It has the United States' only permanent military base in Africa, located at the Fort Lemonier, not far from the presidential palace.

France has its largest unit of the Foreign Legion in Djibouti.

Last year, China opened its first overseas military base-in Djibouti- with room for more troops that the US and France missions combined.

Regarding trade, Djibouti lies on one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. It is the only route between the Indian Ocean and Suez Canal, a waypoint between Africa, India and the Middle East.

Loans from China have financed the building of a new railway to Ethiopia and cranes hovering over the port and city.

The government earns millions from passing ships.

However, earlier this year, Guelleh signed a decree stripping Dubai firm, DP World, of its 50-year contract to manage the container port.

When a London Court of Arbitration ruled in favour of DP World, government issued a statement it would not recognise the verdict.

The defiance raised fears whether Guelleh could use a similar decree to take back Fort Lemonier.

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