Djibouti dreams of being ‘new Dubai’


For years the Horn of Africa nation Djibouti was seen by foreign powers as a far-flung military outpost overlooking the Gulf of Aden.
Now the strategic port wants to capitalise on its key position on one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, the gateway to the Suez canal.
Djibouti offers an African base across from the Arabian Peninsula at a crossroads for cargo traffic between Asia and Europe. It may be a tiny country of around 850,000 people, but it has a bold ambition to become the commercial hub of eastern Africa, building on its role as the main port for landlocked Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country.
To achieve that, the former French colony has embarked on a series of infrastructure projects expected to cost some $14 billion (12.6 billion euros).
Offshore from historic Djibouti city, the waters are crowded with a mix of hulking warships, giant container cargo vessels and the traditional wooden fishing dhows that have plied the seas here for centuries.
But a short drive away, Chinese workers are busy building a giant new terminal dedicated to container ships from Asia.
Work is concentrated on the first of six new specialised docking terminals — each one focusing on different commodities including minerals, livestock, oil and gas — to add to the two terminals already in operation.
“More and more shipping lines are interested in Djibouti, we are now making the way to be a Dubai, even Singapore!” said Suleiman Ahmed, a senior executive at Doraleh container terminal.
Cargo trade is booming. It has increased between six and 10 per cent each year, with Djibouti enjoying growth partly because other regional ports are struggling.
Kenya’s port city of Mombasa is already overstretched, while the secretive Red Sea state of Eritrea sees little if any traffic.
And Yemen’s once key port of Aden — just across the Gulf of Aden from Djibouti — is now a war zone. “Mombasa is congested, Eritrea is not a welcoming country, but Djibouti is a strategic and safe location — we rely on it,” said Ahmed.

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