In 2018, I began a new research project in the Horn of Africa with the goal of completing a manuscript whose working title is Showdown in Djibouti: How China is transforming the Horn of Africa. Although my research started in Djibouti, it extends to other countries in the Horn such as Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and includes visits to other East African nations that – for some – constitute the wider Horn region of the African Continent. In recent years, Djibouti, located at the entry to the Red Sea known as the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, a stone-throw away from the Arab peninsula had remain a largely forgotten arid slice of land until its geography made it one of the most critical global chokepoints for trade and energy. What caused this small country in the Horn of Africa to suddenly become a center of global geopolitics in the 21st century? Strategically, it made sense for global powers to build bases in Djibouti as it sits on a narrow and critical waterway for much of global trade and energy shipments. They could protect the trading routes from Somali pirates and ensure that the passage to the Suez Canal remains open for shipping. Djibouti worked well as a base from which to continue the war on terror, check radicalization efforts in the wider region, and provide logistical support for recurring humanitarian aid missions to Africa and Yemen.
Furthermore, its unique geography made it the ideal economically strategic entry point into the heart of Africa, where a growing resource rich continent of 1.216 billion people increasingly provides new possibilities for trade and investment. Djibouti’s naturally deep port and strategic geographical location at the mouth of the Red sea, 18 miles from the coast of Yemen has attracted investments from competitors from the UAE and China. Both have actively invested and upgraded infrastructure in order to modernize port operations there, and both view the Horn as an area for further regional expansion.
In this monograph, starting with Djibouti, I will be examining the socio-economic, political, and environmental transformation of the Horn as well as the impacts of geopolitical rivalries in light of the BRI and arrival of foreign military installations into Djibouti and the region. This project ties in with my previous body of work in which I have sought to examine Sino-European encounters in light of the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s rise, and Europe’s increasingly tired relationship with the United States.
I am grateful to the Rachel Carson Center, of LMU in Munich, Germany for granting me a fellowship in 2018 where I had the opportunity to develop and write a large part of this manuscript, analyze data and findings, and receive regular constructive feedback from my cohort of RCC fellows.