Djibouti, a country located at the entrance to Bab al-Mandab, where 30% of world trade passes, has become an international phenomenon due to the multiplicity of military bases operating on its territory.
The strategic location of Djibouti is a critical factor in attracting global powers to establish bases and deploy their forces in this African country.
These foreign military bases play a key role in maintaining the security of the country, given the turbulent situation in Yemen and Somalia, the exacerbation of piracy in the western Indian Ocean and the Horn of Africa, in addition to the establishment of strongholds by terrorist groups such as the al-Shabaab group, which has exploited Somalia’s weak governance.
The number of foreign bases in Djibouti ranges between 8 to 11 bases, depending on which sources you consult. The most important base, and the oldest, is the French base.
Since the September 11 attacks, the United States has stepped up its presence in the country, within the “war on terror” framework.
Besides the US and France, China also maintains a naval base. At the same time, other countries such as Germany, Spain, Italy, Britain, Japan, and Turkey are active, either through bases of their own or through French and American bases. This, in fact, is what complicates the calculation of the actual number of bases that are all located within close proximity to one another.
Sometimes, the proximity can cause friction between nations operating there, with some exchanging accusations of espionage. Russia and India have also expressed interest in establishing bases in the small African country.
The most prominent bases in Djibouti currently are:
France: France maintains its largest foreign military base outside of its borders in Djibouti. About 1,500 soldiers are deployed at the base, performing counter-terrorism missions and guarding nearby sea lanes.
French forces have been in Djibouti since before its independence in 1977 and have have never left the country.
United States: Camp Lemonnier is the primary base of operations for the United States Africa Command in the Horn of Africa. In 2013, the base underwent significant expansion.
Now it includes about 1,000 soldiers from the Special Forces. Drones are usually launched from the base to strike the sites of the Al-Shabaab group in Somalia and East Africa, as well as other extremist organisations. Washington pays $60 million annually in fees for renting the base.
China: China has a military base in the port of Doraleh — an extension of the Port of Djibouti — 5 km west of Djibouti City. It is affiliated with the Navy Department of the Chinese People's Liberation and is essential in developing Chinese capabilities on the high seas.
The base, whose construction began in March 2016, is used for relief operations, emergency aid, and combating piracy. China pays $100 million in rent.
Japan: Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence Force base is located in Ambouli. The Japanese Parliament (the National Diet) approved in 2009 the Anti-Terrorism Law, which allowed the deployment of Japanese forces in the country.
Germany/Spain/ Italy: Forces from Germany, Spain, and Italy are usually active within other bases, primarily the French and American bases. The military infrastructure provided by the two countries is used in a joint framework to prevent piracy and smuggling and to ensure the safe passage of commercial ships through the Bab al-Mandab.