Djibouti, the Pomegranate of the Scale in East Africa (1)
Djibouti, the Pomegranate of the Scale in East Africa (1)
By: Mekki Elmograbi
The leadership of this small country has committed itself to wise and balanced policy in a surrounding full of conflicts. It has succeeded in employing the unique geographical location, where modern ports and investments – in stony and arid lands – are visibly taking shape and roots with bright future ahead.
The steelyard scale by definition is a balance in which an object to be weighed is suspended from the shorter arm of a beam and the weight determined by sliding counterpoise “the shape of pomegranate fruit” along a graduated scale on the longer beam until equilibrium is attained. The word is used in Arabic as “Romanat Al-Mizan” which means “the Pomegranate of the Scale” or in French “Le Pommeau de La Balance Romaine” to describe something that is small in size and weight but without which no equilibrium is attainable.
On our 5-day visit – me and two dozens of Ethiopian and Addis Ababa based journalists – to the Pomegranate of East Africa, I embarked on writing. Wait a minute! Why did I choose East Africa not the Horn of Africa? Whose coast extending from North to South, with Djibouti in the middle, but constitutes the most important due to its location in the crowded passage from the entire east and west of the world, beyond which are ten landlocked countries.
I had planned to write the series of my articles under “Djibouti the Bless of Geography and Gift of Balance”, but opted
for the above title after being impressed by things on our way to the Republican Palace to meet the leader of the Renaissance President Ismail Omar Guelleh after a meeting with the Minister for Finance Mr. Ilyas Moussa Dawaleh.
Dawaleh noted that when the colonizers departed the country left only ten graduates in the country, one school and two doctors, adding that colonization did not care about educating and developing the people of Djibouti. He went on to tell the grievances of the past as well as a “gradual success” story up to the time of Mega Projects, which we seen for ourselves during our visit.
From a previous visit to Djibouti I knew there were only two or three cranes at the old port before the coming of Guelleh to power by whose arrival the old historical port was refurbished and developed to match international standards; in addition to the inauguration of extra terminals for containers and oil and also the greater free zone in the country. The Ports and Free Zones Authority in the Djiboutian government is currently engaged in the construction of four additional ports and a free zone, specially for exporting cattle and meats, meaning the eastern region of country,
which abounds in cattle and meats will reap the fruits of ports and the integrated free zone “Damerjog”, which will become the “sole guarantee” for East African exports.
On the fifth day of our visit, neither exhaustion nor the long journey – by sea and land from the dawn to the sunset – to Tajoura and mega projects there did not have any effect as the heart beats love for this modest and moderate nation of Djibouti.
At the new elegant hall of Studies Center, belonging to the Ministry of Foreign Mahmud Ali Yousif, spoke or more precisely discussed several issues with the visiting press delegation to his country in a fluent English for ten minutes, before listening to their questions. He spent twenty minutes responding to questions and more than half an hour in interviews to a number of TV channels and news agencies. He explained his countries affairs in strong right forward argument. The journalists were representing Ethiopian media or regional and international correspondents residing in Addis Ababa, for this reason I can claim that the questions covered all areas.
He underscored the importance of balance in an ocean vomiting crisis, stating: “shortly after the independence of Djibouti, the war broke out between Ethiopia and Somalia and shortly after internal Ethiopian war got fierce against Mengesto until the fall of his regime. By the time Ethiopia started to be stable, the regime in Somalia collapsed, and now the neighboring Yemen slipped into a new crisis”, Mahmud Yousif said, “If there are any worth noting achievements in the region such as preventing and reigning in piracy, Djibouti has played a major role without its participation and contribution it would not have been possible for the entire region to overcome such a grave danger as well as other dangers of terrorism and conflicts, which are currently being curbed.”
Yes, the Minister was absolutely true as the situation in the region is more gracious than he cited. Waves and gales have hit the region; especially interests in Djibouti had increased following the opening of Suez Canal late 19th century. Two years following its colonization of Egypt, Britain colonized the ports of Zilei, Barbara, Aden, by the time when France sent its ships toward the Gulf of Tajoura, ever since discussions of different forms have continued up to the moment. A European friend of mine once told me that “East Africa is rich in conflicts” rhyming with “rich in resources”.
Djibouti’s neighborhood has never been stable. After the Ethiopian Italian war, the region entered independence revolutions, conflict between East and West after the World War II. The nonstop civil wars in the region have been but “war by proxy” for international conflicts and ambitions. War in early eighties claimed one million lives only in Ethiopia, where then Derg regime used starving people as a weapon that, which sparked the civil war in 1992 that ended in victory by the revolutionaries and eventually culminated in stability in Ethiopia. As to Somalia, the regime of Siad Beri collapsed in 1991, which resolute in curving the country into Puntalnd in the center and Jubaland in the south, and a third independence movement led by Rahanweyn Resistance Army a fourth movement calling for autonomy in addition to the Republic of Somaliland, which steadily seeking secession from mother land.
Yemen had seen internal wars and war with Egypt, and has always driven by divisions into tribal lines and full of arms in the hands of tribes; which in turn has continued to fuel the conflict in the region, aggravated by the emergence and evanesce of piracy and the coming into existence of Al-Shabab movement.
Djibouti has been a political laboratory for supplying remedies of stability. Despite resistance to implementation here and there, the country has remained as steelyard to polarization and hijacking, and in safe hands of a wise leadership, whose balanced foreign policies yielded it a state of security and stability to render it a rising regional economic power.
We concluded our session with Mahmoud Ali Yousif in a brief conversation in Arabic, language in which he is conversant and fluent, salutations to the spokespersons for the government for such balance.
To be continued