AT 2pm in the tiny African state of Djibouti everything stops. As the sun burns high in the sky people retreat to their homes, save for a few men lying in the shade of colonial-era walkways, chewing qat leaves that bring on a hazy high. In the soporific heat you would be forgiven for thinking that time had forgotten the New Jersey-sized nation. Yet its quiet stability within the volatile Horn of Africa has made the country of just 875,000 people a hub for the world’s superpowers.
The stars and stripes flutters alongside the runway where military and passenger planes touch down: Camp Lemmonier, America’s only permanent military base in Africa, hosts 4,500 troops and contractors who conduct missions against al-Qaeda in Yemen and al-Shabab in Somalia. The outpost, leased for $60m a year, shares an airstrip with the international airport, although its drones now fly from a desert airfield eight miles away after one crashed in a residential area in 2011.
Djibouti also hosts France’s largest military presence abroad (it still has an agreement to defend its former colony);…Continue reading