International Affairs 21 March 2017
Ismaïl Omar Guelleh has lost an umpteenth battle in his war that he has declared against his opponent Abdourahman Boreh in the International Court of Arbitration. The Djiboutian president has been turned down yet again in a case on which he has spent $100 million of public funds on a personal “vendetta” that sets him against the port operator DP World and has led to increasingly tense diplomatic relations with Djibouti’s historical partners.
The case of Djibouti v. DP World was adjudicated on 21 February 2017 in favour of the accused. The case traces its origins back to an agreement signed in 2000 between the Djibouti State and the port subsidiary of the Dubai World government holding company. Abourahman Boreh, a businessman and a friend of the Djibouti president, who was then in charge of managing the Djibouti ports and free trade zone, is accused by Djibouti of having received tens of millions of dollars in order to facilitate the DP World’s winning of the concession for the port of Doraleh for a period of 50 years. In its last judgment in London, the International Court of Arbitration ruled in favour of DP World, arguing that “Mr. Boreh at no time broke his duty of probity towards Djibouti”.
The whole affair has consisted of a series of costly legal actions initiated by IOG, who has been suing his former advisor for acts of terrorism, treason and corruption since 2009. In exile since 2008 following a disagreement with IOG on his proposed reform of the constitution to run for a third – then a fourth – term, Abdourahman Boreh was sentenced to 15 years in prison by the Djiboutian judiciary in 2008. In each case he has been cleared by the international tribunals, which are expected to have cost the State of Djibouti more than $90 million in legal fees and compensation.
Djibouti’s deteriorating relations with its Western allies and the United Arab Emirates
In addition to the large sums of money wasted on these legal cases, IOG’s pursuits have also cost Djibouti its partnership with the United Arab Emirates, whose on-site projects have been frozen. Relations between the two countries have gradually deteriorated, much like those with Djibouti’s historical allies.
In power since 1999 after succeeding his uncle, IOG is also on thin ice with France and has turned his back on his greatest western ally (until now): the United States. Despite recent large American investments in a military base in 2002, and in the port of Obock in 2009, Washington was ordered to move off its turf and may way for China, Djibouti’s new best friend. The Djiboutian president has not held back in lauding praises on Beijing, “one of the biggest investors in the country”, whom he has even given military facilities. 10,000 troops could be deployed here by the end of 2017.
China, a dangerous new “strategic ally”
A strategic hotspot politically – facing the Persian Gulf – as well as commercially – 40% of global maritime traffic passes through it – Djibouti has warmly welcomed the many Chinese projects on its territory: future international port of Doraleh, oil terminal, oil pipeline, the construction of railways and roads to Ethiopia. “What we get from China is much more important than any other long-standing partner,” said Djiboutian Finance Minister Ilyas Moussa Dawaleh, who also defines China as a “strategic ally”. This is the last thing that Sino-US relations, already tense from the diplomatic conflict about international waters in the South China Sea, needed.
Relations between the two biggest world powers have been far from warm since the inauguration of Donald Trump at the White House at the end of January. In his book Time to get tough: making Americain # 1 again, the now-US president referred to Beijing as “the enemy”, noting its “dangerousness”. Pete Hoekstra, former Speaker of the House of Representatives has alerted the President of the dangers of the growing influence of China in Djibouti. If the United States is already looking to other countries to expand its military presence on the African continent, Djibouti could pay dearly for the rivalry between China and the United States.
Some see it as the reason for the departure or decline in activity of several major western groups such as Total, Exxon Mobil, Shell, BNP, Crédit Agricole and insurance companies. A significant, if not indispensable, shortfall for this nation in the Horn of Africa, where the relative poverty rate still affects 79.4% of the population …