U.S. Wants to Help
Djibouti Develop Itself As a Nation
United States Department
of State (Washington, DC)
November 6, 2003
Posted to the web November 7, 2003
Charles W. Corey
The United States wants
to help Djibouti develop itself as a nation so it can better meet the needs
and demands of its people, U.S. Ambassador-designate Marguerita Ragsdale told
the United States Senate November 5.
In testimony before the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ragsdale said U.S. aid for Djibouti —
a nation of about 650,000 people — will probably approach $90 million during
each of the 2003 and 2004 fiscal years. Much of that aid, she told the lawmakers,
will help Djibouti in its campaign of nation building.
Democratic Senator Russell
D. Feingold, the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee’s African
Affairs Subcommittee, who attended the hearing, commended the newly enhanced
U.S.-Djibouti relationship as part of the worldwide fight against terrorism.
[Djibouti, as host to
the only U.S. military base in sub-Saharan Africa and headquarters for the
Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, which directs coalition counter-terrorism
operations in East Africa and Yemen, is working diligently to stabilize the
Horn of Africa.]
In his role as the African
Affairs Subcommittee’s ranking member, Feingold asked Ragsdale a series of
questions on Djibouti following delivery of her prepared remarks.
Feingold’s first question
was about the per-capita amount of aid flowing to Djibouti and whether that
much money could be used wisely and in a cost-effective manner.
to Feingold that the amount of aid to Djibouti is "quite high" relative
to the country’s population.
"We are always concerned
when you have an infusion of quite a bit of capital into a country that is
as impoverished as Djibouti, that that money might be misapplied," she
said. But she pledged that if she is sent to Djibouti, she will "work
closely with other donor countries" to ensure that the spending guidelines
for U.S. assistance are scrupulously followed and assistance goals and targets
Further addressing the
question, Ragsdale said, "You can argue the point that it seems to be
a great deal of money going to Djibouti, and one might wonder whether it is
a quid pro quo for something from the Djiboutians.
"What we are trying
to do is develop Djibouti as a nation. Because it is impoverished, it cannot
deliver the kinds of services to its population that its population demands
and deserves. That is why our aid money is going into the education and health
sectors and into training Djiboutians to be able to secure their borders."
Feingold asked Ragsdale
if she intends to foster open lines of communication between the U.S. Embassy
and the people of Djibouti — and especially with the nation’s Muslim communities.
Feingold told Ragsdale it is most important for all U.S. embassies to convey
the message that the United States is "not hostile to Islam" and
wants to foster a "genuine and ongoing dialogue" with the Muslim
community through enhanced two-way exchanges.
Ragsdale assured Feingold
that the embassy’s communications in Djibouti will be two-way, and she said
there are a number of ways that goal can be accomplished.
"I intend to have
the people that I supervise … go out and be very visible with the population,"
she pledged. "I think this is very important. It is not sufficient to
sit in our offices and try to understand what is going on in Djibouti. If
we make that first initial step, we are already halfway there."
Ragsdale also pledged
to use "all the public diplomacy resources the Department of State has
at its fingertips to advance these objectives." Exchange programs with
Djibouti, she lamented, "have not been utilized well" in the past
but can be quickly ramped up and enhanced.
Ragsdale added that having
served as a professional diplomat in the Middle East and Africa, she feels
she has a good understanding of the culture in Djibouti.
Asked about the withdrawal
of Djibouti from the Somali peace talks, Ragsdale attributed that move to
frustration. Citing a recent interview with President Ismail Omar Guelleh,
Ragsdale said the Djiboutian president expressed this frustration "not
directly but indirectly, and he seemed to blame the participants in the talks.
He thinks the Somalis — the warlords — do not have the interests of the
Somali people at heart and that their interests are very personal.
"He [Djibouti’s president]
is also very concerned about Ethiopia and Eritrea because he has a very good
relationship with Ethiopia," she said. "Until those two countries
can reconcile their differences, there cannot be true stability in the Horn
of Africa, and Guelleh recognizes this," she said. "But I believe
what you see now is just frustration that we hope will be temporary."
Asked if reports are accurate
detailing a rather poor human rights record for police and security forces
in Djibouti, Ragsdale said, "Djibouti does have a poor record on human
rights, as we have indicated in our human rights report."
Ragsdale pledged to "work
with all levels of the Djiboutian government," particularly the judiciary
and the legislative branch, to improve that record if she is confirmed by
She also acknowledged
that "there are already significant steps to make progress in these areas"
and speculated that Djibouti’s "close relationship" with the United
States is what is driving that process.
Asked how the people of
Djibouti feel about U.S. actions in Iraq, Ragsdale said, "Like much of
the Islamic world, there is a distinction between how they view us and how
they view our policy. Specifically, towards Iraq, there is concern that we
will be there for the long term rather than the short term.
"But," she cautioned,
"the Djiboutians, like other Arab League members, view our policy in
the Middle East as much broader than Iraq.
"Whereas they might
be very favorably disposed toward us as a nation, they are very concerned
about where we are going in the other Middle Eastern issue, which is the Palestinian-Israeli
conflict," she said.
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