Egypt Vs. Sudan?


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Talks are stalled over how to deal with the impact of a $5 billion dam that could threaten Egypt’s lifeblood.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, currently under construction, on May 15, 2016. (DigitalGlobe via Getty Images)

A diplomatic spat between Egypt and Sudan is spilling over into the long-running dispute over a dam Ethiopia is building on the Nile River, which Cairo sees as an existential threat.

On Thursday, Sudan officially warned of threats to its eastern border from massing Egyptian and Eritrean troops, while Egypt has also moved into a disputed triangle of territory claimed by both Cairo and Khartoum. Late last week, Sudan abruptly recalled its ambassador to Egypt, the latest chapter in a fight that started last summer with trade boycotts and that has only intensified in recent weeks.

At heart, the bad blood is part of a broader regional conflict pitting Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other countries against what they see as Turkey’s meddling in the region. Ankara has supported Qatar in its diplomatic battle with other Gulf States, and it is now jumping squarely into the Red Sea, making Egypt increasingly nervous. Cairo was particularly incensed when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Sudan in December 2017 and won rights to Suakin Island, a port city on the Red Sea, raising concerns that Ankara could build a military base there.

That diplomatic dustup is making it much harder to deal with another potentially explosive problem in the relationship: Sudan’s support for Ethiopia’s construction of a massive $5 billion dam on the Nile River that could choke off vital supplies of water downstream. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has called the dam a matter of “life or death.”

All the regional rivalries around the Red Sea are intertwined, said Kelsey Lilley, associate director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, “but the dam itself is a big irritant among the three countries.”

And while the three countries have butted heads over the dam for years, the feud between Egypt and Sudan is escalating quickly.

“The tensions are significant and real and higher than they’ve been,” said Steven Cook, a North Africa and Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Things are starting to come to a head.”

The broader dispute has cemented a freeze in talks between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia on how to manage the impact of the dam, even as the clock is ticking. The dam is more than 60 percent complete, and Ethiopia could start to fill the reservoir as soon as this summer, leaving little time to find workable solutions.

“This should act as a political wake-up call for immediate action for joint decision-making on the filling issue, because 2019 will be a critical year,” said Dr. Ana Cascão, an expert on Nile hydropolitics, who has written extensively about the dam.

A dam at the head of the Blue Nile in the Ethiopian highlands has been a dream since the 1960s. But it was only in 2011 — when Egypt was rocked by the Arab Spring and facing domestic upheaval — that Ethiopia unilaterally decided to start work on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the biggest hydroelectric project in Africa.

Ever since, Egypt has been terrified of the potential impacts. The dam, a huge power project at the head of the Blue Nile meant to meet fast-growing Ethiopia’s need for more electricity, will hold a year’s worth of river flow behind its concrete walls. Depending on how quickly Ethiopia fills the dam, downstream flows to Egypt could be restricted — a potentially fatal threat for a country dependent on agriculture that is already facing severe water shortages.

How the Saudi purge will affect detained billionaires’ assets in Africa?

By SHEIKH SHAKEDOWN

The jitters surrounding the Saudi purge continue to reverberate both in Africa and across the world with companies and family holdings wondering how the shakedown would impact their businesses, assets, and long-term investments.

In early November, more than 200 people including princes, prominent businessmen, and former government officials were arrested in what officials said was a wide-ranging anti-corruption probe. More than 1,500 bank accounts of suspects were also frozen (paywall) according to the Financial Times, as the government sought to tackle “systematic corruption” and reclaim embezzled funds.

The unprecedented move is also seen as crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts to tighten his grip on power, even as he marshals the kingdom to stem its dependence on oil and encourage foreign investment.

At least two billionaire businessmen detained in the corruption investigation have extensive investments across Africa. One of them is prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, chairman of the Kingdom Holdings, which has sizable stakes in Twitter, Citigroup, and ride-sharing firm Lyft. The other is Mohammad al-Amoudi, son of a Saudi father and an Ethiopian mother, and one of the richest black people in the world. Together, Talal and al-Amoudi own investments across Africa in hospitality, agriculture, cement production, gold mining, real estate, and oil production.

The two businessmen’s venture into Africa preceded the wealthy Gulf nations’ recent interest in financing projects in African markets. Buoyed by fast economic growth, improving governance, and growing demographic and consumer trends, more Gulf money has been flowinginto the continent in the last decade—not only to North Africa but also in sub-Saharan Africa.

Between 2005 and 2014, Gulf firms provided (pdf) at least $9.3 billion in foreign direct investments in sub-Saharan Africa alone, according to a 2015 Economist Intelligence Unit report. The East Africa region was the main draw for Gulf investors, lured by the rise of Islamic bankinghalal tourism, retail in Kenya, manufacturing in Ethiopia, and the education sector in Uganda.

For al-Amoudi, Ethiopia became a source of food and arable land, as escalating food consumption and water scarcity presented a challenge for Saudi policymakers. Through his Saudi Star Agricultural Development, al-Amoudi invested in growing wheat, rice, and barley in 0.5 million hectares of land in the Gambella province in Ethiopia. The project has not been without its controversy with the US-based think tank Oakland Institute saying that communities were forcibly relocated, forests cleared, and farmland lost.

FILE PHOTO: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, attends the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia October 24, 2017.
Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. (Reuters/Hamad I Mohammed)

But his close relationship with the ruling party, which goes back to the 1990’s, safeguards his business interests says Henok Gabisa, a visiting academic fellow at Washington and Lee University School of Law in Lexington, Virginia. Besides agriculture, the Saudi-Ethiopian businessman is Ethiopia’s single biggest foreign investor and owns Midroc Gold, the country’s largest miner that brings in much-needed foreign currency. A WikiLeaks diplomatic cable from 2008 noted how “nearly every enterprise of significant monetary or strategic value privatized since 1994 has passed from the ownership of the government of Ethiopia to one of al-Amoudi’s companies.”

“Ethiopian ruling elites had no trouble doing business with al-Amoudi even when the investment process from its soup to nuts was infected with corruption and bribery,” Gabisa said. “It looked like they need al-Amoudi more than they hate the corruption.”

Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Kingdom Tower in Riyadh, May 6, 2013. A potential split-up of the operations of U.S. bank Citigroup Inc is now "completely dead," Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the bank's largest individual shareholder said in an interview on Monday.
Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.(Reuters/Faisal Al Nasser)

But the 71-year old al-Amoudi’s arrest could be cheered on in Egypt says Adel Abdel Ghafar, a fellow at the Brookings Doha Center. This is because of his $88 million pledge to finance the Renaissance Dam, which upon completion will be the largest dam in Africa. And even though the dam will increase the hydroelectric power in Ethiopia, it will significantly reduce Egypt’s share of the Nile water—a matter that is already controversial.

Yet Egypt also finds itself tangled into the Saudi purge given Alwaleed bin Talal’s investments in the north African nation. Talal owns about 40 hotels and resorts in Egypt, in addition to 18 others that are still under construction, according to Reuters. In August, he also promised to inject $800 million to expand the Four Seasons resort in Sharm el-Sheikh, in partnership with Talaat Moustafa Holding Group (TMG). After his arrest, TMG denied that Talal, who also owns a chain of hotels in Kenya, was a company shareholder or had invested in any of its subsidiaries.

But even as family groups and businessmen look for ways to protecttheir assets abroad from the kingdom’s reach, Abdel Ghafar says Egyptian authorities will likely take the lead of the Saudi government. “If there are confiscations to be had, the Egyptian government is likely to follow through.”

Assertive reach

Besides the economic and financial investments, observers say we should also watch out for how the political assertiveness in Riyadh will manifest itself in African capitals. Along with the United Arab Emirates, the two nations have already been building ports and military bases along the Horn of Africa in order to expand their influence and tighten the noose on Houthi rebels in Yemen. This is happening as the TurksChinese, and the Americans all step up their engagement in the region.

“What you do see and what you will continue to see in the next couple of years is continuous interference as it pertains by what they [Saudis] perceive to be their long-term strategic interests,” says Harry Verhoeven, who teaches at the school of foreign service at Georgetown University in Qatar.

But as the kingdom’s multi-billion-dollar wealth fund looks to boost returns, Gabisa says that Saudis could use the opportunity for investment as a leverage against African nations. Countries like Kenya are in negotiations to export skilled and semi-skilled workers like nurses and technicians to the kingdom. In the long run, Gabisa said, this allows Saudis “to possess a juggernaut of political and economic leverage and influence over African nations.”

How the Saudi purge will affect detained billionaires’ assets in Africa?

By SHEIKH SHAKEDOWN

The jitters surrounding the Saudi purge continue to reverberate both in Africa and across the world with companies and family holdings wondering how the shakedown would impact their businesses, assets, and long-term investments.

In early November, more than 200 people including princes, prominent businessmen, and former government officials were arrested in what officials said was a wide-ranging anti-corruption probe. More than 1,500 bank accounts of suspects were also frozen (paywall) according to the Financial Times, as the government sought to tackle “systematic corruption” and reclaim embezzled funds.

The unprecedented move is also seen as crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts to tighten his grip on power, even as he marshals the kingdom to stem its dependence on oil and encourage foreign investment.

At least two billionaire businessmen detained in the corruption investigation have extensive investments across Africa. One of them is prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, chairman of the Kingdom Holdings, which has sizable stakes in Twitter, Citigroup, and ride-sharing firm Lyft. The other is Mohammad al-Amoudi, son of a Saudi father and an Ethiopian mother, and one of the richest black people in the world. Together, Talal and al-Amoudi own investments across Africa in hospitality, agriculture, cement production, gold mining, real estate, and oil production.

The two businessmen’s venture into Africa preceded the wealthy Gulf nations’ recent interest in financing projects in African markets. Buoyed by fast economic growth, improving governance, and growing demographic and consumer trends, more Gulf money has been flowinginto the continent in the last decade—not only to North Africa but also in sub-Saharan Africa.

Between 2005 and 2014, Gulf firms provided (pdf) at least $9.3 billion in foreign direct investments in sub-Saharan Africa alone, according to a 2015 Economist Intelligence Unit report. The East Africa region was the main draw for Gulf investors, lured by the rise of Islamic bankinghalal tourism, retail in Kenya, manufacturing in Ethiopia, and the education sector in Uganda.

For al-Amoudi, Ethiopia became a source of food and arable land, as escalating food consumption and water scarcity presented a challenge for Saudi policymakers. Through his Saudi Star Agricultural Development, al-Amoudi invested in growing wheat, rice, and barley in 0.5 million hectares of land in the Gambella province in Ethiopia. The project has not been without its controversy with the US-based think tank Oakland Institute saying that communities were forcibly relocated, forests cleared, and farmland lost.

FILE PHOTO: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, attends the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia October 24, 2017.
Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. (Reuters/Hamad I Mohammed)

But his close relationship with the ruling party, which goes back to the 1990’s, safeguards his business interests says Henok Gabisa, a visiting academic fellow at Washington and Lee University School of Law in Lexington, Virginia. Besides agriculture, the Saudi-Ethiopian businessman is Ethiopia’s single biggest foreign investor and owns Midroc Gold, the country’s largest miner that brings in much-needed foreign currency. A WikiLeaks diplomatic cable from 2008 noted how “nearly every enterprise of significant monetary or strategic value privatized since 1994 has passed from the ownership of the government of Ethiopia to one of al-Amoudi’s companies.”

“Ethiopian ruling elites had no trouble doing business with al-Amoudi even when the investment process from its soup to nuts was infected with corruption and bribery,” Gabisa said. “It looked like they need al-Amoudi more than they hate the corruption.”

Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Kingdom Tower in Riyadh, May 6, 2013. A potential split-up of the operations of U.S. bank Citigroup Inc is now "completely dead," Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the bank's largest individual shareholder said in an interview on Monday.
Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.(Reuters/Faisal Al Nasser)

But the 71-year old al-Amoudi’s arrest could be cheered on in Egypt says Adel Abdel Ghafar, a fellow at the Brookings Doha Center. This is because of his $88 million pledge to finance the Renaissance Dam, which upon completion will be the largest dam in Africa. And even though the dam will increase the hydroelectric power in Ethiopia, it will significantly reduce Egypt’s share of the Nile water—a matter that is already controversial.

Yet Egypt also finds itself tangled into the Saudi purge given Alwaleed bin Talal’s investments in the north African nation. Talal owns about 40 hotels and resorts in Egypt, in addition to 18 others that are still under construction, according to Reuters. In August, he also promised to inject $800 million to expand the Four Seasons resort in Sharm el-Sheikh, in partnership with Talaat Moustafa Holding Group (TMG). After his arrest, TMG denied that Talal, who also owns a chain of hotels in Kenya, was a company shareholder or had invested in any of its subsidiaries.

But even as family groups and businessmen look for ways to protecttheir assets abroad from the kingdom’s reach, Abdel Ghafar says Egyptian authorities will likely take the lead of the Saudi government. “If there are confiscations to be had, the Egyptian government is likely to follow through.”

Assertive reach

Besides the economic and financial investments, observers say we should also watch out for how the political assertiveness in Riyadh will manifest itself in African capitals. Along with the United Arab Emirates, the two nations have already been building ports and military bases along the Horn of Africa in order to expand their influence and tighten the noose on Houthi rebels in Yemen. This is happening as the TurksChinese, and the Americans all step up their engagement in the region.

“What you do see and what you will continue to see in the next couple of years is continuous interference as it pertains by what they [Saudis] perceive to be their long-term strategic interests,” says Harry Verhoeven, who teaches at the school of foreign service at Georgetown University in Qatar.

But as the kingdom’s multi-billion-dollar wealth fund looks to boost returns, Gabisa says that Saudis could use the opportunity for investment as a leverage against African nations. Countries like Kenya are in negotiations to export skilled and semi-skilled workers like nurses and technicians to the kingdom. In the long run, Gabisa said, this allows Saudis “to possess a juggernaut of political and economic leverage and influence over African nations.”

HOW THE NSA BUILT A SECRET SURVEILLANCE NETWORK FOR ETHIOPIA

The Intercept

“A WARM FRIENDSHIP connects the Ethiopian and American people,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced earlier this year. “We remain committed to working with Ethiopia to foster liberty, democracy, economic growth, protection of human rights, and the rule of law.”

Indeed, the website for the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia is marked by press releases touting U.S. aid for farmers and support for public health infrastructure in that East African nation. “Ethiopia remains among the most effective development partners, particularly in the areas of health care, education, and food security,” says the State Department.

Behind the scenes, however, Ethiopia and the U.S. are bound together by long-standing relationships built on far more than dairy processing equipment or health centers to treat people with HIV. Fifteen years ago, the U.S. began setting up very different centers, filled with technology that is not normally associated with the protection of human rights.

In the aftermath of 9/11, according to classified U.S. documents published Wednesday by The Intercept, the National Security Agency forged a relationship with the Ethiopian government that has expanded exponentially over the years. What began as one small facility soon grew into a network of clandestine eavesdropping outposts designed to listen in on the communications of Ethiopians and their neighbors across the Horn of Africa in the name of counterterrorism.

In exchange for local knowledge and an advantageous location, the NSA provided the East African nation with technology and training integral to electronic surveillance. “Ethiopia’s position provides the partnership unique access to the targets,” a commander of the U.S. spying operation wrote in a classified 2005 report. (The report is one of 294 internal NSA newsletters released today by The Intercept.)

The NSA’s collaboration with Ethiopia is high risk, placing the agency in controversial territory. For more than a decade, Ethiopia has been engaged in a fight against Islamist militant groups, such as Al Qaeda and Shabab. But the country’s security forces have taken a draconian approach to countering the threat posed by jihadis and stand accused of routinely torturing suspects and abusing terrorism powers to target political dissidents.

“The Ethiopian government uses surveillance not only to fight terrorism and crime, but as a key tactic in its abusive efforts to silence dissenting voices in-country,” says Felix Horne, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch. “Essentially anyone that opposes or expresses dissent against the government is considered to be an ‘anti-peace element’ or a ‘terrorist.’”

The NSA declined to comment for this story.

Addis Ababa is the capital city of Ethiopia. It is the largest city in Ethiopia with a population of 3.4 million. (Photo from March 2014) | usage worldwide Photo by: Yannick Tylle/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Addis Ababa is the capital city of Ethiopia.

Photo: Yannick Tylle/picture-alliance/dpa/AP

In February 2002, the NSA set up the Deployed Signals Intelligence Operations Center – also known as “Lion’s Pride” – in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, according to secret documents obtained by The Intercept from the whistleblower Edward Snowden. It began as a modest counterterrorism effort involving around 12 Ethiopians performing a single mission at 12 workstations. But by 2005, the operation had evolved into eight U.S. military personnel and 103 Ethiopians, working at “46 multifunctional workstations,” eavesdropping on communications in Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. By then, the outpost in Addis Ababa had already been joined by “three Lion’s Pride Remote Sites,” including one located in the town of Gondar, in northwestern Ethiopia.

“[The] NSA has an advantage when dealing with the Global War on Terrorism in the Horn of Africa,” reads an NSA document authored in 2005 by Katie Pierce, who was then the officer-in-charge of Lion’s Pride and the commander of the agency’s Signal Exploitation Detachment. “The benefit of this relationship is that the Ethiopians provide the location and linguists and we provide the technology and training,” she wrote.  According to Pierce, Lion’s Pride had already produced almost 7,700 transcripts and more than 900 reports based on its regional spying effort.

Pierce, now a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve and a lawyer in private practice, had noted her role with the NSA’s Ethiopia unit in an online biography. When contacted by The Intercept, she said little about her time with Lion’s Pride or the work of the NSA detachment. “We provided a sort of security for that region,” she said. The reference to the NSA in Pierce’s online biography has since disappeared.

Reta Alemu Nega, the minister of political affairs at the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, D.C., told The Intercept that the U.S. and Ethiopia maintained “very close cooperation” on issues related to intelligence and counterterrorism. While he did not address questions about Lion’s Pride, Alemu described regular meetings in which U.S. and Ethiopian defense officials “exchange views” about their partnership and shared activities.

Al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam militants take a break at a front-line section in sanca district in Mogadishu,  on July 21, 2009. Somalia's hard line Shabab militia yesterday raided the offices of three UN organisations hours after they banned their operations on accusation that they were "enemies of Islam and Muslims. The armed group stormed the United Nations Development Programme, UN Department of Safety and Security and the UN Political Office for Somalia in two southern Somalia towns and impounded office equipment. The above foreign agencies have been found to be working against the benefit of the Somali Muslim population and against the establishment of an Islamic state in Somalia," the Shebab said in a statement. AFP PHOTO/ MOHAMED DAHIR        (Photo credit should read MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/GettyImages)

Shabab and Hizbul Islam militants take a break at a front-line section in Sanca district in Mogadishu, on July 21, 2009.

Photo: Mohamed Dahir/AFP/Getty Images

Lion’s Pride does not represent the first time that Ethiopia has played a vital role in U.S. signals surveillance. In 1953, the U.S. signed a 25-year agreement for a base at Kagnew Station in Asmara, Ethiopia, according to a declassified NSA report obtained by the nonprofit National Security Archive. Navy and Army communications facilities based there were joined by an NSA outpost just over a decade later.

On April 23, 1965, the Soviet Union launched Molniya-1, its first international communications satellite. The next month, the NSA opened STONEHOUSE, a remote listening post in Asmara. The facility was originally aimed at Soviet deep space probes but, in the end, “[its] main value turned out to be the collection of Soviet MOLNIYA communications satellites,” according to a 2004 NSA document that mentions STONEHOUSE.

STONEHOUSE was closed down in 1975 due to a civil war in Ethiopia. But its modern-day successor, Lion’s Pride, has proved to be “such a lucrative source for SIGINT reports” that a new facility was built in the town of Dire Dawa in early 2006, according to a secret NSA document. “The state of the art antenna field surrounded by camels and donkey-drawn carts is a sight to behold,” reads the NSA file. The effort, code-named “LADON,” was aimed at listening in on communications across a larger swath of Somalia, down to the capital Mogadishu, the Darfur region of Sudan, and parts of eastern Ethiopia.

At a May 2006 planning conference, the Americans and Ethiopians decided on steps to “take the partnership to a new level” through an expanded mission that stretched beyond strictly counterterrorism. Targeting eastern Ethiopia’s Ogaden region and the nearby Somali borderlands, the allied eavesdroppers agreed on a mission of listening in on cordless phones in order to identify not only “suspected al-Qa’ida sympathizers” but also “illicit smugglers.”

“It is very troubling to hear the U.S. is providing surveillance capacities to a government that is committing such egregious human rights abuses in that region.”

From the time Lion’s Pride was set up until predominantly ChristianEthiopia invaded mostly Muslim Somalia in December 2006, the U.S. poured about $20 million in military aid into the former country. As Ethiopian troops attempted to oust a fundamentalist movement called the Council of Islamic Courts, which had defeated several warlords to take power in Somalia, Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter said the two nations had “a close working relationship” that included sharing intelligence. Within a year, Ethiopian forces were stuck in a military quagmire in Somalia and were facing a growing rebellion in the Ogaden region as well.

“While the exact nature of U.S. support for Ethiopian surveillance efforts in the Ogaden region is not clear, it is very troubling to hear the U.S. is providing surveillance capacities to a government that is committing such egregious human rights abuses in that region,” says Horne, the Human Rights Watch researcher.  “Between 2007-2008 the Ethiopian army committed possible war crimes and crimes against humanity against civilians in this region during its conflict with the Ogaden National Liberation Front.”

For the U.S., “the chaos” caused by the invasion “yielded opportunities for progress in the war on terrorism,” stated a top secret NSA documentdated February 2007.  According to the document, the Council of Islamic Courts was harboring members of an Al Qaeda cell that the NSA’s African Threat Branch had been tracking since 2003. After being flushed from hiding by the Ethiopian invasion, the NSA provided “24-hour support to CIA and U.S. military units in the Horn of Africa,” utilizing various surveillance programs to track Council of Islamic Courts leaders and their Al Qaeda allies. “Intelligence,” says the document, “was also shared with the Ethiopian SIGINT partner to enable their troops to track High Value Individuals.” The NSA deemed the effort a success as the “#1 individual on the list” was “believed killed in early January” 2007, while another target was arrested in Kenya the next month. The identities of the people killed and captured, as well as those responsible, are absent from the document.

As the Council of Islamic Courts crumbled in the face of the invasion, its ally, the militant group Shabab, saw Somalis flock to its resistance effort. Fueled and radicalized by the same chaos exploited by the NSA, Shabab grew in strength. By 2012, the terrorist group had formally become an Al Qaeda affiliate. Today, the U.S. continues to battle Shabab in an escalatingconflict in Somalia that shows no sign of abating.

The first batch of Ethiopian troops leaving the Somali capital Mogadishu hold a departure ceremony 23 January 2007 at Afisiyooni Air Base. Ethiopian troops began withdrawing from Mogadishu nearly four weeks after they helped oust Islamist forces from the Somali capital. A special departure ceremony was held for the pullout of the first batch of around 200 soldiers at the former headquarters of the Somali air force in the southern outskirts of the capital. AFP PHOTO/STRINGER        (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/GettyImages)

The first batch of Ethiopian troops leaving the Somali capital Mogadishu hold a departure ceremony Jan. 23, 2007 at Afisiyooni Air Base.

Photo: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

At the time the NSA set up Lion’s Pride, the U.S. State Department had criticized Ethiopia’s security forces for having “infringed on citizens’ privacy rights,” ignoring the law regarding search warrants, beating detainees, and conducting extrajudicial killings. By 2005, with Lion’s Pride markedly expanded, nothing had changed. The State Department found:

The Government’s human rights record remained poor. … Security forces committed a number of unlawful killings, including alleged political killings, and beat, tortured, and mistreated detainees. … The Government infringed on citizens’ privacy rights, and the law regarding search warrants was often ignored. The Government restricted freedom of the press. … The Government at times restricted freedom of assembly, particularly for members of opposition political parties; security forces at times used excessive force to disperse demonstrations. The Government limited freedom of association. …

A separate State Department report on Ethiopia’s counterterrorism and anti-terrorism capabilities, issued in November 2013 and obtained by The Intercept via the Freedom of Information Act, noted that there were “inconsistent efforts to institutionalize” anti-terrorism training within Ethiopian law enforcement and added that while the Ethiopian Federal Police use surveillance and informants, “laws do not allow the interception of telephone or electronic communications.” The readable sections of the redacted report make no mention of the NSA program and state that the U.S. “maintains an important but distant security relationship with Ethiopia.”

A 2010 NSA document offers a far different picture of the bond between the security agencies of the two countries, noting that the “NSA-Ethiopian SIGINT relationship continues to thrive.”

In an after-action report, a trainer from NSA Georgia’s “Sudan/Horn of Africa Division” described teaching a class attended by soldiers from the Ethiopian National Defense Forces and civilians from Ethiopia’s Information Network Security Agency. He praised the Ethiopians for “work[ing] so hard on our behalf” and wrote that his students were “excited and eager to learn.”

According to the documents, analysts from the Army’s 741st Military Intelligence Battalion were still detailed to Lion’s Pride while the Ethiopians they worked beside had increased their skills at analyzing intercepted communications. “More importantly, however,” the American trainer noted, “is the strengthening of the relationship” between NSA and Ethiopian security forces. NSA Georgia, he declared, was eager to continue “developing the relationship between us and our Ethiopian counterparts.”

The NSA refused to comment on whether Lion’s Pride continues to eavesdrop on the region, but no evidence suggests it was ever shut down. There is, however, good reason to believe that U.S. efforts have strengthened the hand of the Ethiopian government. And a decade and a half after it was launched, Ethiopia’s human rights record remains as dismal as ever.

“Governments that provide Ethiopia with surveillance capabilities that are being used to suppress lawful expressions of dissent risk complicity in abuses,” says Horne. “The United States should come clean about its role in surveillance in the Horn of Africa and should have policies in place to ensure Ethiopia is not using information gleaned from surveillance to crack down on legitimate expressions of dissent inside Ethiopia.”

———

Documents published with this article:

HOW THE NSA BUILT A SECRET SURVEILLANCE NETWORK FOR ETHIOPIA

The Intercept

“A WARM FRIENDSHIP connects the Ethiopian and American people,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced earlier this year. “We remain committed to working with Ethiopia to foster liberty, democracy, economic growth, protection of human rights, and the rule of law.”

Indeed, the website for the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia is marked by press releases touting U.S. aid for farmers and support for public health infrastructure in that East African nation. “Ethiopia remains among the most effective development partners, particularly in the areas of health care, education, and food security,” says the State Department.

Behind the scenes, however, Ethiopia and the U.S. are bound together by long-standing relationships built on far more than dairy processing equipment or health centers to treat people with HIV. Fifteen years ago, the U.S. began setting up very different centers, filled with technology that is not normally associated with the protection of human rights.

In the aftermath of 9/11, according to classified U.S. documents published Wednesday by The Intercept, the National Security Agency forged a relationship with the Ethiopian government that has expanded exponentially over the years. What began as one small facility soon grew into a network of clandestine eavesdropping outposts designed to listen in on the communications of Ethiopians and their neighbors across the Horn of Africa in the name of counterterrorism.

In exchange for local knowledge and an advantageous location, the NSA provided the East African nation with technology and training integral to electronic surveillance. “Ethiopia’s position provides the partnership unique access to the targets,” a commander of the U.S. spying operation wrote in a classified 2005 report. (The report is one of 294 internal NSA newsletters released today by The Intercept.)

The NSA’s collaboration with Ethiopia is high risk, placing the agency in controversial territory. For more than a decade, Ethiopia has been engaged in a fight against Islamist militant groups, such as Al Qaeda and Shabab. But the country’s security forces have taken a draconian approach to countering the threat posed by jihadis and stand accused of routinely torturing suspects and abusing terrorism powers to target political dissidents.

“The Ethiopian government uses surveillance not only to fight terrorism and crime, but as a key tactic in its abusive efforts to silence dissenting voices in-country,” says Felix Horne, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch. “Essentially anyone that opposes or expresses dissent against the government is considered to be an ‘anti-peace element’ or a ‘terrorist.’”

The NSA declined to comment for this story.

Addis Ababa is the capital city of Ethiopia. It is the largest city in Ethiopia with a population of 3.4 million. (Photo from March 2014) | usage worldwide Photo by: Yannick Tylle/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Addis Ababa is the capital city of Ethiopia.

Photo: Yannick Tylle/picture-alliance/dpa/AP

In February 2002, the NSA set up the Deployed Signals Intelligence Operations Center – also known as “Lion’s Pride” – in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, according to secret documents obtained by The Intercept from the whistleblower Edward Snowden. It began as a modest counterterrorism effort involving around 12 Ethiopians performing a single mission at 12 workstations. But by 2005, the operation had evolved into eight U.S. military personnel and 103 Ethiopians, working at “46 multifunctional workstations,” eavesdropping on communications in Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. By then, the outpost in Addis Ababa had already been joined by “three Lion’s Pride Remote Sites,” including one located in the town of Gondar, in northwestern Ethiopia.

“[The] NSA has an advantage when dealing with the Global War on Terrorism in the Horn of Africa,” reads an NSA document authored in 2005 by Katie Pierce, who was then the officer-in-charge of Lion’s Pride and the commander of the agency’s Signal Exploitation Detachment. “The benefit of this relationship is that the Ethiopians provide the location and linguists and we provide the technology and training,” she wrote.  According to Pierce, Lion’s Pride had already produced almost 7,700 transcripts and more than 900 reports based on its regional spying effort.

Pierce, now a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve and a lawyer in private practice, had noted her role with the NSA’s Ethiopia unit in an online biography. When contacted by The Intercept, she said little about her time with Lion’s Pride or the work of the NSA detachment. “We provided a sort of security for that region,” she said. The reference to the NSA in Pierce’s online biography has since disappeared.

Reta Alemu Nega, the minister of political affairs at the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, D.C., told The Intercept that the U.S. and Ethiopia maintained “very close cooperation” on issues related to intelligence and counterterrorism. While he did not address questions about Lion’s Pride, Alemu described regular meetings in which U.S. and Ethiopian defense officials “exchange views” about their partnership and shared activities.

Al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam militants take a break at a front-line section in sanca district in Mogadishu,  on July 21, 2009. Somalia's hard line Shabab militia yesterday raided the offices of three UN organisations hours after they banned their operations on accusation that they were "enemies of Islam and Muslims. The armed group stormed the United Nations Development Programme, UN Department of Safety and Security and the UN Political Office for Somalia in two southern Somalia towns and impounded office equipment. The above foreign agencies have been found to be working against the benefit of the Somali Muslim population and against the establishment of an Islamic state in Somalia," the Shebab said in a statement. AFP PHOTO/ MOHAMED DAHIR        (Photo credit should read MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/GettyImages)

Shabab and Hizbul Islam militants take a break at a front-line section in Sanca district in Mogadishu, on July 21, 2009.

Photo: Mohamed Dahir/AFP/Getty Images

Lion’s Pride does not represent the first time that Ethiopia has played a vital role in U.S. signals surveillance. In 1953, the U.S. signed a 25-year agreement for a base at Kagnew Station in Asmara, Ethiopia, according to a declassified NSA report obtained by the nonprofit National Security Archive. Navy and Army communications facilities based there were joined by an NSA outpost just over a decade later.

On April 23, 1965, the Soviet Union launched Molniya-1, its first international communications satellite. The next month, the NSA opened STONEHOUSE, a remote listening post in Asmara. The facility was originally aimed at Soviet deep space probes but, in the end, “[its] main value turned out to be the collection of Soviet MOLNIYA communications satellites,” according to a 2004 NSA document that mentions STONEHOUSE.

STONEHOUSE was closed down in 1975 due to a civil war in Ethiopia. But its modern-day successor, Lion’s Pride, has proved to be “such a lucrative source for SIGINT reports” that a new facility was built in the town of Dire Dawa in early 2006, according to a secret NSA document. “The state of the art antenna field surrounded by camels and donkey-drawn carts is a sight to behold,” reads the NSA file. The effort, code-named “LADON,” was aimed at listening in on communications across a larger swath of Somalia, down to the capital Mogadishu, the Darfur region of Sudan, and parts of eastern Ethiopia.

At a May 2006 planning conference, the Americans and Ethiopians decided on steps to “take the partnership to a new level” through an expanded mission that stretched beyond strictly counterterrorism. Targeting eastern Ethiopia’s Ogaden region and the nearby Somali borderlands, the allied eavesdroppers agreed on a mission of listening in on cordless phones in order to identify not only “suspected al-Qa’ida sympathizers” but also “illicit smugglers.”

“It is very troubling to hear the U.S. is providing surveillance capacities to a government that is committing such egregious human rights abuses in that region.”

From the time Lion’s Pride was set up until predominantly ChristianEthiopia invaded mostly Muslim Somalia in December 2006, the U.S. poured about $20 million in military aid into the former country. As Ethiopian troops attempted to oust a fundamentalist movement called the Council of Islamic Courts, which had defeated several warlords to take power in Somalia, Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter said the two nations had “a close working relationship” that included sharing intelligence. Within a year, Ethiopian forces were stuck in a military quagmire in Somalia and were facing a growing rebellion in the Ogaden region as well.

“While the exact nature of U.S. support for Ethiopian surveillance efforts in the Ogaden region is not clear, it is very troubling to hear the U.S. is providing surveillance capacities to a government that is committing such egregious human rights abuses in that region,” says Horne, the Human Rights Watch researcher.  “Between 2007-2008 the Ethiopian army committed possible war crimes and crimes against humanity against civilians in this region during its conflict with the Ogaden National Liberation Front.”

For the U.S., “the chaos” caused by the invasion “yielded opportunities for progress in the war on terrorism,” stated a top secret NSA documentdated February 2007.  According to the document, the Council of Islamic Courts was harboring members of an Al Qaeda cell that the NSA’s African Threat Branch had been tracking since 2003. After being flushed from hiding by the Ethiopian invasion, the NSA provided “24-hour support to CIA and U.S. military units in the Horn of Africa,” utilizing various surveillance programs to track Council of Islamic Courts leaders and their Al Qaeda allies. “Intelligence,” says the document, “was also shared with the Ethiopian SIGINT partner to enable their troops to track High Value Individuals.” The NSA deemed the effort a success as the “#1 individual on the list” was “believed killed in early January” 2007, while another target was arrested in Kenya the next month. The identities of the people killed and captured, as well as those responsible, are absent from the document.

As the Council of Islamic Courts crumbled in the face of the invasion, its ally, the militant group Shabab, saw Somalis flock to its resistance effort. Fueled and radicalized by the same chaos exploited by the NSA, Shabab grew in strength. By 2012, the terrorist group had formally become an Al Qaeda affiliate. Today, the U.S. continues to battle Shabab in an escalatingconflict in Somalia that shows no sign of abating.

The first batch of Ethiopian troops leaving the Somali capital Mogadishu hold a departure ceremony 23 January 2007 at Afisiyooni Air Base. Ethiopian troops began withdrawing from Mogadishu nearly four weeks after they helped oust Islamist forces from the Somali capital. A special departure ceremony was held for the pullout of the first batch of around 200 soldiers at the former headquarters of the Somali air force in the southern outskirts of the capital. AFP PHOTO/STRINGER        (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/GettyImages)

The first batch of Ethiopian troops leaving the Somali capital Mogadishu hold a departure ceremony Jan. 23, 2007 at Afisiyooni Air Base.

Photo: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

At the time the NSA set up Lion’s Pride, the U.S. State Department had criticized Ethiopia’s security forces for having “infringed on citizens’ privacy rights,” ignoring the law regarding search warrants, beating detainees, and conducting extrajudicial killings. By 2005, with Lion’s Pride markedly expanded, nothing had changed. The State Department found:

The Government’s human rights record remained poor. … Security forces committed a number of unlawful killings, including alleged political killings, and beat, tortured, and mistreated detainees. … The Government infringed on citizens’ privacy rights, and the law regarding search warrants was often ignored. The Government restricted freedom of the press. … The Government at times restricted freedom of assembly, particularly for members of opposition political parties; security forces at times used excessive force to disperse demonstrations. The Government limited freedom of association. …

A separate State Department report on Ethiopia’s counterterrorism and anti-terrorism capabilities, issued in November 2013 and obtained by The Intercept via the Freedom of Information Act, noted that there were “inconsistent efforts to institutionalize” anti-terrorism training within Ethiopian law enforcement and added that while the Ethiopian Federal Police use surveillance and informants, “laws do not allow the interception of telephone or electronic communications.” The readable sections of the redacted report make no mention of the NSA program and state that the U.S. “maintains an important but distant security relationship with Ethiopia.”

A 2010 NSA document offers a far different picture of the bond between the security agencies of the two countries, noting that the “NSA-Ethiopian SIGINT relationship continues to thrive.”

In an after-action report, a trainer from NSA Georgia’s “Sudan/Horn of Africa Division” described teaching a class attended by soldiers from the Ethiopian National Defense Forces and civilians from Ethiopia’s Information Network Security Agency. He praised the Ethiopians for “work[ing] so hard on our behalf” and wrote that his students were “excited and eager to learn.”

According to the documents, analysts from the Army’s 741st Military Intelligence Battalion were still detailed to Lion’s Pride while the Ethiopians they worked beside had increased their skills at analyzing intercepted communications. “More importantly, however,” the American trainer noted, “is the strengthening of the relationship” between NSA and Ethiopian security forces. NSA Georgia, he declared, was eager to continue “developing the relationship between us and our Ethiopian counterparts.”

The NSA refused to comment on whether Lion’s Pride continues to eavesdrop on the region, but no evidence suggests it was ever shut down. There is, however, good reason to believe that U.S. efforts have strengthened the hand of the Ethiopian government. And a decade and a half after it was launched, Ethiopia’s human rights record remains as dismal as ever.

“Governments that provide Ethiopia with surveillance capabilities that are being used to suppress lawful expressions of dissent risk complicity in abuses,” says Horne. “The United States should come clean about its role in surveillance in the Horn of Africa and should have policies in place to ensure Ethiopia is not using information gleaned from surveillance to crack down on legitimate expressions of dissent inside Ethiopia.”

———

Documents published with this article:

Why did Qatar leave the Djibouti-Eritrea border?

The renewed Djibouti-Eritrea border dispute is the first ripple effect of the Gulf crisis in Africa.

Maintaining the 500-strong presence of Qatari armed troops in a remote area was a costly and largely thankless endeavour write Barakat and Milton [AP]
Maintaining the 500-strong presence of Qatari armed troops in a remote area was a costly and largely thankless endeavour write Barakat and Milton [AP]

by 

@BARAKAT_Sultan

Sultan Barakat is the director of Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies at the Doha Institute.

by 

@SansomMilton

Sansom Milton is a senior research fellow at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies.

The media has been quick to associate Qatar’s decision to withdraw its peacekeeping forces from the disputed Djibouti-Eritrea border with the Gulf crisis. This connection was most likely made because Qatar’s decision came only days after both Djibouti and Eritrea announced that they are siding with Saudi Arabia in the diplomatic rift and downgraded their diplomatic relations with Qatar.

The withdrawal of troops, if understood as a knee-jerk reaction, contrasts markedly with how Qatar has been operating since the start of the crisis. Qatar has not reciprocated the harsh, punitive moves of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in a tit-for-tat spiral of vindictiveness. Nor has it reacted to countries which have reduced diplomatic relations, such as Jordan, by taking retaliatory measures against its thousands of nationals working in Qatar.

While Qatar Airways offices have been sealed off in Abu Dhabi and its senior staff harassed, no such measures have been taken by Doha. Furthermore, while food supplies through Saudi Arabia and the UAE were cut, Qatar continues to supply the latter with around 57 million cubic metres of gas daily. This shows that Qatar continues to play the long game by taking the moral high ground – a strategy that looks to have paid off given the number of international diplomatic capitals that have refused to cave into the intense lobbying of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to vilify Qatar. 

READ MORE: Africa and the Gulf crisis: the peril of picking sides

Given what we know about how Qatar has operated during the crisis, the explanation that the troop withdrawal is purely a knee-jerk reaction to the downgrading of diplomatic ties does not add up. Doubtlessly, with downgraded relations, Qatar finds itself in a difficult position as a mediator and peacekeeper between the two nations. No mediator can operate effectively with reduced representation, both on a practical and reputational level. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that the decision has been made in a retaliatory manner. Rather, there are three less evident reasons for why the decision to withdraw has been on the cards for some time and why it is now impossible for anyone in Qatar to advocate for maintaining the peacekeeping force.

The potential fallout of the crisis could have ripple waves spiralling out of the border dispute to the much larger Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict and the rest of the Horn of Africa at a time when the sub-region is facing a massive humanitarian crisis.

First of all, a fundamental principle of conflict mediation is that any third party must maintain a credible threat to walk away if the conflicting parties are not committed to reaching a negotiated settlement. Qatari troops have, for the past seven years, been stationed in the dusty uninhabited border region between the two East African countries to monitor the implementation of the terms of a ceasefire agreement brokered by Qatar in June 2010.

Despite consistent attempts to turn the ceasefire into a peace agreement, little progress has been made. A minor breakthrough was achieved in March 2016 when, in a deal mediated by Qatar, Eritrea released four prisoners from Djibouti’s armed forces who were captured in June 2008 during border clashes. However, in the past year, the Eritrean negotiating team has disengaged from the mediation process despite the United Nations Security Council mandated-arms embargo on Eritrea being re-approved in November 2016, demanding that Eritrea release all missing prisoners and allow UN monitors to enter the country.

The two states, particularly Eritrea, have not heeded calls for border demarcation and have gone into denial by refusing to refer to the border conflict as a serious issue. The presence of the Qatari peacekeepers had allowed both parties to grow accustomed to the status quo of a mutually beneficial stalemate.

Second, Djibouti and Eritrea consistently engage in a geostrategic game of shifting alliances. When Qatar entered the fray, the Djibouti-Eritrea border dispute was a minor conflict with very few international actors showing an appetite for mediation. Since then Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti has expanded to become the largest US military base in the region, China has also entered Djibouti, while, in April 2015, Saudi Arabia and Eritrea signed a security cooperation agreement and the UAE is currently completing the construction of a military base north of the port city of Assab in Eritrea from where its armed forces have been operating in the military campaign in Yemen. This particular corner of the Horn of Africa is by now far too crowded for a small nation like Qatar to justify its military presence as a buffer.

READ MORE: Qatar-Gulf crisis: All the latest updates

Third, maintaining the 500-strong presence of Qatari troops in a remote area is a costly and largely thankless endeavour. While the withdrawal was doubtlessly hastened by the changes in diplomatic relations with Eritrea and Djibouti, this has more to do with the infiltration of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia into Eritrea. This military presence clearly renders Qatari troops stationed thousands of miles away in an isolated area a soft target for direct or indirect retaliation. Moreover, 500 troops represent a significant investment of military manpower for an armed forces of around 12,000 during the most urgent crisis the country has faced in its history.

With Eritrea moving its forces into the contested Dumeira Mountain and Dumeira Islands, the temperature of the conflict has been increased and the situation is now more explosive than ever before, for all actors involved. The rapid development of the situation demonstrates the important stabilising role that Qatar had played under the radar for many years.

Moreover, the potential fallout of the crisis could have ripple waves spiralling out of the border dispute to the much larger Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict and the rest of the Horn of Africa at a time when the sub-region is facing a massive humanitarian crisis. This should serve as a cautionary note for the potential of escalation in other places where Qatari assistance has been keeping the lid on conflict, in particular, the Gaza Strip, where as a result of the increased isolation of Qatar by its Gulf neighbours we may see the end of the single most important donor to the reconstruction of the besieged territory to date. This should focus the minds of world leaders on the need to resolve the Gulf crisis amicably as soon as possible.

Professor Sultan Barakat is the director of the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies and professor in the Department of Politics at the University of York.

Dr Sansom Milton is a senior research fellow at the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

China sends troops to Djibouti, establishes first overseas military base

By Brad Lendon and Steve George, CNN

Story highlights

  • “This base can support Chinese Navy to go farther,” Chinese paper says
  • Djibouti has become host to several foreign military powers

(CNN)China has dispatched troops to Djibouti in advance of formally establishing the country’s first overseas military base.

Two Chinese Navy warships left the port of Zhanjiang on Tuesday, taking an undisclosed number of military personnel on the journey across the Indian Ocean.
An editorial Wednesday in the state-run Global Times stressed the importance of the new Djibouti facility — in the strategically located Horn of Africa — to the Chinese military.
“Certainly this is the People’s Liberation Army’s first overseas base and we will base troops there. It’s not a commercial resupply point… This base can support Chinese Navy to go farther, so it means a lot,” said the paper.
The Global Times said the main role of the base would be to support Chinese warships operating in the region in anti-piracy and humanitarian operations.
“It’s not about seeking to control the world,” said the editorial.
Chinese People's Liberation Army-Navy troops march in Djibouti's independence day parade on June 27, marking 40 years since the end of French rule in the Horn of Africa country.

Chinese military presence

At a regular press briefing Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang described the base as part of ongoing efforts to help bring peace and security to the region.
“China has been deploying naval ships to waters off Somalia in the Gulf of Aden to conduct escorting missions since 2008,” said Geng. “The completion and operation of the base will help China better fulfill its international obligations in conducting escorting missions and humanitarian assistance … It will also help promote economic and social development in Djibouti.”
China has expanded its military ties across Africa in recent years. According to a report by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), cooperation with Africa on peace and security is now an “explicit part of Beijing’s foreign policy.”
In 2015 Chinese President Xi Jinping committed 8,000 troops to the UN peacekeeping standby force — one fifth of the 40,000 total troops committed by 50 nations — China also pledged $100 million to the African Union standby force and $1 billion to establish the UN Peace and Development Trust Fund.
More than 2,500 Chinese combat-ready soldiers and police officers are now deployed in blue-helmet missions across the African continent, with the largest deployments in South Sudan (1,051), Liberia (666), and Mali (402), according to the ECFR.
“Blue-helmet deployments give the PLA a chance to build up field experience abroad — and to help secure Chinese economic interests in places such as South Sudan,” said the ECFR report.
Africa is home to an estimated one million Chinese nationals, with many employed in infrastructure projects backed by the Chinese government.
“China’s involvement in African security is a product of a wider transformation of China’s national defense policy. It is taking on a global outlook … and incorporating new concepts such as the protection of overseas interests and open seas protection,” said the report.

US ‘strategic interests’

China joins the US, France and Japan, among others, with permanent bases in Djibouti, a former French colony with a population of less than one million residents.
Though small in both population and size, Djibouti’s position on the tip of the Horn of Africa offers strategic access to the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.
The strait, which is only 18 miles wide at its narrowest point, connects the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal and the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean beyond.
One of the world’s most important sea lanes, millions of barrels of oil and petroleum products pass through the strait daily, according to GlobalSecurity.org.
US Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the head of the Pentagon’s Africa Command, stressed Djibouti’s location during a visit to the US Camp Lemonnier garrison there earlier this year.
“This particular piece of geography is very, very important to our strategic interests,” Waldhauser said in joint appearance with US Defense Secretary James Mattis.
The US military has some 4,000 troops at Camp Lemonnier, a 100-acre base for which it signed a 10-year, $630 million lease in 2014, according to media reports.
Elsewhere in Djibouti, the US military operates the Chabelley Airfield, from which the Pentagon stages drone airstrikes, likely into Somalia and across the Bab el-Mandeb Strait into Yemen, according to the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College in New York. The Pentagon is investing millions in the base, and satellite photos show several construction projects, the center reported last year.
US Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys prepare to land at a landing zone during training conducted in Djibouti on January 10.

‘Get-rich-quick scheme’

Japan, which has seen tense relations with China over disputed islands in the East China Sea, has established what it calls an “activity facility” to support its anti-piracy efforts there.
A spokesperson for the Japan Self Defense Forces said 170 troops are at its 30-acre facility in Djibouti.
Lease terms would not be released, but Japan will spend about $9 million to operate the facility this fiscal year, the spokesperson said.
Edward Paice, director of the London-based Africa Research Institute, said a base in Djibouti makes a lot of sense for China, just as it does for Japan or the US.
“It (China) has cited its desire to play a greater role in peacekeeping, and it has combat troops in both South Sudan and Mali. It’s logical that it needs an actual base somewhere in Africa, which is really no different from the Americans saying that they need Camp Lemonnier as a headquarters for operations in Africa, whether in peacekeeping or counterterror or whatever,” Paice said on The Cipher Brief website.
Picture taken on May 5, 2015, shows work in progress on the new railway tracks linking Djibouti with Addis Ababa.
Paice points out that China made a substantial investment in Djibouti — about $500 million, according to reports — to build the Djibouti portion of a rail line to the capital of neighboring Ethiopia.
“It’s a confluence of these factors — trade, military, and stability in the host country’s government” that brought China to Djibouti, Paice said.
Meanwhile, for Djibouti, it’s all about money, Paice said. “This is a fantastic get-rich-quick scheme — to rent bits of desert to foreign powers. It’s as simple as that.”