Djibouti Diary, Part II

While I had often thought of making the short boat-trip from Aden to Djibouti while based in Aden in the late 90s, I first arrived in this Red Sea micro-state in December, 2011,  to oversee the production of a promotional video on the launch of the Dubai-Ports run Doraleh Container Terminal (DCT), a $300 million,  state of the art facility. The film included an interview with Djiboutian President Ismael Omar Guelleh (known in French political fashion by the three letter initials “IOG”), in which he thanked Dubai for having confidence in Djibouti over the previous decade, investing heavily when the country could count on no-one else. The un-cut version of the short began with a majestic over-water helicopter panorama of the Djibouti shore, blending into a shot of underfed, grazing camels, over which the President’s voice boomed in Arabic,  “Thanks to our friends in Dubai…”

It was during either this visit or a subsequent trip, that I had an opportunity to sit in on a talk given by Gail Goodridge of FHI, Family Health International, on the ROADS program at a conference of COMESA  held (no coincidence), at the Dubai-funded Kempinski Hotel.  USAID had developed ROADS within the Great Lakes States– Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, several years previous.  USAID and its implementation partner FHI were implicitly, if not explicitly, looking at that time for outside funding to supplement an ambitious, but underfunded initiative — this despite the large amounts of PEPFAR monies allocated by the Bush administration to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Goodrich’s compelling talk on the structure of the ROADS program and its target populations– transport workers, and vulnerable populations along the Ethiopia-Djibouti corridor),  deepened my thinking about the kinds of environments in which Dubai was increasingly active– desperately poor, post-conflict states, which had experienced some massive shift in its strategic and/or commercial relevance. In Djibouti’s case this was the sudden shift of 80% of Ethiopia’s exports and imports from the Eritrean ports of Assab and Massawa, following the 1998 Ethiopia-Eritrea war.  If one were to “base” a multinational corporate responsibility effort on some activity, linked to core business, and stakeholders in these “newly found” cash cows– Mozambique and Senegal were two other members of Dubai Ports’ portfolio, with Maputo (Mozambique) inherited from the company’s merger with the venerable P&O in 2006.