Alain Lallemand – The Center for Public Integrity
DJIBOUTI CITY, Djibouti — Allow us to introduce you to Djibouti,
the United States’ new East African ally in its campaign against terrorists:
is slightly smaller than the state of New Hampshire. It is arid and torridly
hot, 9,000 square miles of volcanic rock sticking out like a sore thumb on
the Horn of Africa. It exports practically nothing that is locally produced
and has almost no arable land. Once a French colony, its post-colonial trajectory
has been wobbly and worse, including a civil war between ethnic groups that
ended only five years ago.
think of Djibouti as a nation in the Western sense would be deeply misleading:
Its institutions are at best weak and at worst nonfunctioning; its budget
is a confusing, unreliable mess. And its strongman president,
Ismail Omar Guelleh, seems to care little about economic development despite
the deep poverty that afflicts his people.
has going for it is a strategic location that Western military powers, especially
U.S. terrorist hunters, crave: It’s at the mouth of the Red Sea, directly
across a narrow strait from Yemen, the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden’s
father and a country with a history of Islamic extremism.
south lies the disintegrated state of Somalia — seething with warlords and
Islamists — which the U.S. says is home to al-Qaida training camps. So there’s
little surprise that the United States made a deal with Djibouti to lease
a former French Foreign Legion outpost for what the Central Intelligence Agency’s
Factbook describes as « the only U.S. military base in sub-Saharan Africa »
and moved in special operations teams as well as troops to carry out humanitarian
International reported last year that CIA jets known to have participated
in « extraordinary renditions » — the kidnapping of terror suspects
who are then transported for questioning, outside of any legal process, to
friendly countries that may permit torture — had landed in Djibouti. The
report tells of a former « ghost detainee, » Muhammad Abdullah Saleh
al-Assad, who thinks the aircraft that took him from Tanzania to Afghanistan
(or possibly Pakistan; al-Assad wasn’t sure) stopped over at Djibouti, where
he was interrogated.
in all walks of life say they have no idea what goes on inside the 88 acres
known as Camp Lemonier. The camp houses the U.S. Combined
Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, about 1,500 civilians and military troops
whose primary mission is « detecting, disrupting and ultimately defeating
transnational terrorist groups operating in the region — denying safe havens,
external support and material assistance for terrorist activity. »
may help fuel rumors among Djibouti’s population — Muslim, ethnic Somalis
angered by the war in Iraq — that U.S. intelligence agents use Djibouti to
make deals to support secular warlords who fight Muslim militants in Somalia
and to serve as a secret detention and interrogation center.
guard at a building outside of France’s military installation near Camp Lemonier
described for a reporter from the International Consortium of Investigative
Journalists how prisoners came and went from the building, including three
Arab prisoners, accompanied by Americans, in 2005.
source told of seeing two Somali warlords and five of their fighters spend
a week of rest and relaxation at a middle-class downtown hotel during the
height of the Somali civil war in 2006. At the end of the week, a car from
the U.S. Embassy dropped off one of the warlords with an envelope full of
U.S. dollars to pay for the rooms and to give to the fighters to pay their
airfare back to the fighting in Somalia.
reporter, one of the first Western journalists to explore Camp Lemonier and
to interview President Guelleh, was unable to confirm these stories and rumors
he heard but found both Islamism and anti-Americanism to be rampant in Djibouti.
CJTF-HOA humanitarian assistance projects in Djibouti and surrounding East
African countries, from building schools to drilling wells, have done little
to cool the anger.
States paid little attention to Djibouti before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist
attacks, although it leased Camp Lemonier for a modest amount of money earlier
that year. After the attacks, things changed fast.
million from taxpayers
take of U.S. taxpayer money in the three years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks
stood at more than $53 million, a more than 30-fold increase from the $1.6
million in the three years prior. Last year, the Lemonier lease was again
renegotiated, this time to expand the base to almost 500 acres. The lease
had been costing the U.S. about $30 million a year; the new terms were not
disclosed. The State Department has not responded to an ICIJ Freedom of Information
Act request seeking details.
on the outskirts of the capital, next to the Djibouti-Ethiopian railway, Camp
Lemonier is close to Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport and the French
military’s current base in Djibouti. It looks like a typical U.S. military
camp that happens to have been dropped in the middle of the desert. The U.S.
barracks serve as home for a group that is composed of roughly half of soldiers
and half — at the back of the camp — of employees of military contracting
giant KBR (a subsidiary of Halliburton soon to be spun off). Today, the compound
boasts a large restaurant, a large athletic facility, a swimming pool, a hairdresser,
a shopping center and even a local handicraft market. The camp, where more
than 400 local Djiboutians work, is one of the largest employers in the impoverished
pre-Sept. 11 aid was mostly State Department money for removal of land mines
and counterterrorism training. In the three years after Sept. 11, Economic
Support Fund, a catchall funding source Washington uses to funnel aid to key
allies, shot up from zero to $25 million.
Military Financing increased from $100,000 total in the three years before
the attacks to more than $21 million in the three years after. Djibouti
was also the recipient of more than $5 million of the Pentagon’s new post-Sept.
11 Coalition Support Funds.
how a government works, it generally helps to follow the money. But reviewing
Djibouti’s annual budgets doesn’t help much. They don’t even mention some
important revenue streams like port income.
much income does the government get? No one seems to know except, perhaps,
Guelleh. The president has said that after splitting the revenue with the
company operating the port, his government gets 7 billion Djiboutian francs,
a little more than $40 million.
is credible in terms of the volume of port traffic, but it exceeds the entire
« non-fiscal income » shown in the official budget. Not even the Djiboutian
Parliament has received an accounting.