Djibouti’s President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh stated that his country is closely following recent developments in the Bab el-Mandeb region and the Gulf of Aden.

He emphasized his country’s commitment to securing the Red Sea and the strategic strait, and to facilitating international trade.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Guelleh mentioned cooperation with major powers like the US, France, and Britain, as well as with Red Sea coastal states, particularly Saudi Arabia, to ensure maritime security, fight terrorism, and tackle regional and global security challenges.

Guelleh stressed Djibouti’s refusal to allow any party to be targeted from its soil. He pointed out that international military bases in the country are there to maintain global security, fight terrorism and piracy, and safeguard navigation in this crucial area.

He also discussed various topics, including the impact of China’s Belt and Road Initiative on the Horn of Africa region and Djibouti’s neutral stance despite hosting military bases.

Djibouti-Saudi Relations

In assessing the current Djibouti-Saudi relations and their coordination, particularly in economic and political cooperation, Guelleh began the interview by praising Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper for its informative role in the Arab world.

He then highlighted that the ties between Djibouti and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are robust and have deep historical roots since Djibouti gained independence in 1977.

“Cooperation is ongoing across various sectors, including security, military, and business,” said Guelleh.

“Since 2008, both countries have signed around 30 agreements covering diverse areas,” he revealed.

“Looking ahead, we aim to further strengthen collaboration, particularly in maritime transport, logistics, and port services, building on our significant progress in port development,” added the president.

According to Guelleh, efforts are underway to develop joint maritime and air transport projects, along with establishing a free zone and warehouses for Saudi exports within Djibouti’s International Free Trade Zone, aiming to boost Saudi exports to Africa.

As for how Djibouti can contribute to Arab-African relations, Guelleh said: “Geographically located on the southwestern shore of the Red Sea, Djibouti serves as a crucial link between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.”

“This geographic advantage positions Djibouti to enhance Arab-African relations and play a key role in ensuring Arab national security,” he added.

Economically, Djibouti acts as a gateway for countries in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) on the Red Sea.

Guelleh argued that Djibouti’s advanced port infrastructure significantly supports the development of Arab-African economic relations.

Following recent developments in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, the Red Sea, and the Gulf of Aden, the president affirmed that his administration was keeping a close eye on events taking place near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait to ensure the security of these waters and facilitate global trade.

“It’s crucial to resolve regional crises and work together to keep navigation safe in the Red Sea,” stressed Guelleh, adding that Djibouti’s strategic position makes it vital for global trade.

“We collaborate with major powers like the US, France, Britain, and Red Sea nations, especially Saudi Arabia, to safeguard maritime navigation and combat security threats,” he revealed.

Regarding easing tensions, Guelleh said: “Our focus is on regional and global cooperation to maintain security and smooth navigation in the Red Sea, crucial for international maritime transport.”

Moreover, Guelleh reminded that Djibouti was among the first countries to endorse the establishment of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden littoral states forum, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, Jordan, and Eritrea.

“Recognizing the significance of such a forum, we proposed early on that its headquarters be in Saudi Arabia due to its pioneering initiatives in the Red Sea security system since 1956,” said Guelleh.

Djibouti and Saudi Arabia’s Role in Red Sea Stability

When asked to shed light on how Djibouti and Saudi Arabia contribute to stability in the Red Sea region, and if there are joint efforts present in security, trade, and energy, Guelleh said: “Djibouti, given its strategic location at the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, plays a pivotal role in safeguarding Red Sea security.”

“With balanced relationships and a strong reputation for stability and peacekeeping in a tumultuous region, Djibouti stands as a key player.”

“Saudi Arabia, being a fraternal state, holds significant religious, political, and economic influence,” he added.

“The two brotherly nations cooperate in various fields, including security, trade, and energy.”

“Undoubtedly, this bilateral cooperation plays a vital role in achieving stability in this critical region,” asserted Guelleh.

The Sudan Crisis

Djibouti, as an IGAD member, is actively working to end the conflict in Sudan, stressed Guelleh, highlighting that Sudan, also a key IGAD member, is crucial for regional stability.

“Since the conflict erupted in April 2023, Djibouti has been urging an immediate ceasefire and negotiations between the parties involved,” said the president.

“As the current head of IGAD, Djibouti is working closely with member states and the global community to find a solution to Sudan’s crisis,” he added.

“We’ve hosted talks with representatives from all sides of the Sudanese conflict, all expressing a strong desire to end the war due to its severe impact on the country and its people.”

“We’re hopeful that our efforts will lead to a lasting ceasefire and solutions to Sudan’s challenges.”

“It’s essential to prevent Sudan from descending into civil war, given its significant regional influence. We urge everyone to support international calls for peace in Sudan,” reaffirmed Guelleh.

Military Bases in Djibouti

While Djibouti maintains a neutral policy in the Horn of Africa, it hosts several military bases.

According to Guelleh, these bases aid his country’s efforts to fight terrorism and piracy.

When asked how Djibouti manages hosting both US and Chinese bases nearby, Guelleh said: “We maintain balanced relations with major powers, cooperating or making agreements with any party within the framework of national sovereignty and interests.”

“This approach demonstrates that coexistence is possible if there’s a willingness to do so,” noted Guelleh.

“International military bases in Djibouti primarily aim to cooperate in maintaining security in the Red Sea region, the Gulf of Aden, and Africa as a whole.”

“Many countries with military bases in Djibouti emphasize protecting their commercial and investment interests.”

Considering Djibouti’s stance on China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the president reaffirmed that his country supports Chinese investments, seeing them as boosting economic growth in the region.

“China’s Belt and Road Initiative is primarily commercial in nature, and Djibouti’s strategic location places it at the heart of this massive project,” he explained.

“We appreciate Chinese investments in our country, including the high-speed train linking Djibouti City and Addis Ababa, and Beijing’s contribution to Djibouti’s International Free Trade Zone, the largest in Africa.”

Source: Asharqi Al-Awsat

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