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Africa

France is a 'respectful' partner, Macron boasts during Djibouti visit

media French President Emmanuel Macron is greeted by Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh upon his arrival in Djibouti, 11 March 2019. Photo: Ludovic Marin/Pool/AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron has kicked off his tour of the Horn of Africa with a visit to Djibouti, home to one of France’s most important military bases on foreign soil. Macron spoke about how France was a “respectful” partner, in the face of increasing Chinese influence in the region.

“I wouldn’t want international investments to weaken the sovereignty of our partners,” said Macron during a joint press conference with Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh.

Macron said several French companies were exploring possible deals in Djibouti related to the country’s port operations and in the area of renewable energy.

The French president also pointed out that France wants to develop partnerships that make local employment a priority and do not lead to excessive debt.

“Our country is open, I haven’t lost hope that France can strengthen its investments in Djibouti,” said Guelleh.

Macron said he would like to see investment that is transparent and respects the sovereignty of the country in question. He did not specifically single out China, but alluded to a lack of clarity on the financial conditions of certain international investments.

China has extended its influence in the Horn of Africa in recent years and in 2017 opened its first ever military base on foreign soil in Djibouti.

Macron said it was important to start his Horn of Africa tour in Djibouti and highlighted the importance of military cooperation and the fight against terrorism.

He talked about Djibouti’s contribution to the Amisom mission in Somalia as well as the fight against piracy.

“The ongoing evolution in the region is an astounding opportunity – for sustainable stability, virtuous integration,” said Macron, referring to the election of Abiy Ahmed as prime minister in Ethiopia, where he travelled after Djibouti.

Guelleh thanked Macron for French support at the UN Security Council over a border dispute with Eritrea and the detention of Djiboutian prisoners of war.

Human rights and democracy

There was no mention of human rights or the state of democracy in Djibouti during the press conference with the two leaders.

The US State Department in a 2017 described human rights issues including, “excessive force, including torture, harsh prison conditions, arbitrary arrests and prolonged pre-trial detention”.

Guelleh, who has been in power since 1999, won a fourth five-year term in 2016 securing 87 percent of the vote, although the opposition criticised the integrity of the vote.

“I just hope that the poor record of Djibouti in human rights and democracy will at least be on the agenda,” exiled opposition politician Daher Ahmed Farah told RFI, speaking about Macron’s trip to Djibouti.

Q&A: Daher Ahmed Farah

“The opposition exists in Djibouti, but it’s stifled – there’s no space for opposition, civil society, trade union activities,” said Farah, head of the Movement for Democratic Renewal and Development party.

“There is in Djibouti, as many people know, a dictatorship – you have one party rule, the same since independence,” said Farah. “It’s hard to think they have much in common,” said Farah, referring to Macron and Guelleh.

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