Disaster Par Extraordinaire?
As the inevitable war on Iraq draws ever nearer, the situation in a tiny African nation of 600,000 people is taking on great importance – and not only for the Americans, but even for some Macedonians.
For the latter, America's War on Terror has been somewhat incomplete, as it has conveniently ignored the issue of imported Islamic fighters amongst the ranks of secessionist Albanian paramilitaries (America's former allies in the Balkans) in 2001. The new Macedonian government, on the other hand, is determined to let sleeping dogs lie, and has offered the US its airspace for the war on Iraq. Not that the American army will need it. The move is largely symbolic, and really only meant to curry favor with the Bush Administration. Like an insecure high-schooler, the Macedonian government would love to be included in the "New Europe" clique, alongside its new NATO and EU neighbors to the east.
Although the US Army has little direct use for the airspace, or for the helicopter pilots offered by the little Balkan state, it is indirectly taking Macedonian civilians to the Middle East. Brown & Root, the world's most famous military logistics support company, has been active for several months in Djibouti, where US Special Forces set up shop in June. Now that war is likely within a few weeks, this subsidiary of Halliburton is preparing by increasing its local workforce.
From Macedonia to Djibouti: A Brown & Root Odyssey
Now that American interests in the Balkans are diminishing rapidly, Brown & Root is finding itself with little to do in Macedonia. This would hardly seem a problem for a company whose modus operandi, according to one employee, is "not to make a profit, but to spend your taxpayer money." However, now that peacekeepers in Kosovo and Macedonia are steadily being reduced, the volume of labor has really become too negligible to justify staying. Over the past 4 months, most of Brown & Root's local Macedonian employees have been laid off, and the company is now down to a skeleton crew made up mostly of administrators.
Fortunately, the end of the mission in Macedonia is running more smoothly than in 1994 in Somalia, when UN troops had to use tear gas to disperse angry locals made redundant by Brown & Root. Now, the company's better-behaved Balkan workers are joining a US military mission, situated only a couple miles from the northern border of – Somalia!
Around 10 Macedonians have already arrived in Djibouti. More are on the way right now. Prior to coming, they are being flown by Brown & Root to Houston, where they enjoy a week of debriefing in a luxurious hotel. After receiving this "special treatment," it comes as somewhat of a shock to finally touch down on the parched plains of East Africa. Macedonian workers already there complain of "appalling" living conditions in tents. Incoming employees are being given malaria vaccinations, which have caused diarrhea and menstrual problems. Employees complain of the dust, heat and lack of privacy. While they are allowed to go into the town, they are told to drink only 3 beers. The inviting Red Sea is not far off, but the workers are "…forbidden to go swimming or even go near it."
Nevertheless, sacrifices must be made in pursuit of the almighty dollar. Ironically enough, the colonized Macedonians have now pledged allegiance to their colonizers. And they are even finding that colonizing can be fun. Judging by some of the contemptuous references they are privately making about the local Djiboutians, the Macedonians have already forgotten the disdain with which Brown & Root's American workers once viewed them.
The Task at Hand
When asked what their role would be, one departing Macedonian woman rather self-importantly replied, "I'm not authorized to say what we will be doing there." Nor would Brown & Root spokesmen make any comments. Yet while their task in Djibouti is unclear, the Macedonians will probably be doing nothing more covert than peeling spuds and playing with lumber. Although this in itself is not very exciting, the potential dangers are. In short, the Macedonian workers may soon find themselves closer to the action than they had hoped.
We will discuss this imminently. First, however, there is the question of why any of them would have wanted to go, leaving friends, family and country behind. This is especially remarkable when we consider that they knew of the working conditions in advance. Since the Balkan is not Bangladesh, it is difficult to understand why any Macedonian would want to slave away for 14 hours a day in an uninhabited, malarial country where temperatures can reach 130 degrees. Hopefully, they'll at least come back with more than a suntan.
Security Concerns: A Soldier Speaks
Now, Djibouti is a former colony of France, and America's archrival over Iraq still maintains a sizeable military presence there. However, the US has been muscling in since June, when soldiers rebuilt a former French base that had been abandoned several years ago by the Djiboutian authorities. Described as "a wreck" by arriving American soldiers, Camp Lemonier had been stripped of every useable component and turned into a barnyard for itinerant shepherds. The 900 arriving soldiers – and some contracted locals – have now rebuilt and expanded the base. Over the past 6 months, it has been providing logistical support for the USS Mt. Whitney, floating just off the coast in the Red Sea. But Camp Lemonier also has another, more important mission: to coordinate the hunt for al Qaeda-linked terrorists in the neighboring countries of Ethiopia, Sudan, Yemen, Eritrea, Somalia, and Kenya. And while an Army spokesman told me that the base's operations have "no direct link to potential operations in Iraq," it would not be surprising if Camp Lemonier becomes useful in the coming war.
First, we have one Marine's remarkable testimony – basically, a plea for help – that paints an extraordinary picture of life in the Horn of Africa. In a letter dated 15 January 2003, the soldier complains that he's not allowed to carry a sidearm for self-defense, and that, "…the folks here worry more about offending the perceived thin-skinned Djiboutians by fortifying the base than they do about ensuring that all our personnel make it back home in one piece."
The first problem, according to the Marine, is a lack of security:
"Camp Lemonier is horribly defended. The front gate has nothing higher than a 5.56mm covering it, and is only yards away from the base operations center. The only sandbags around are to hold the flaps of tents down. The Army MP Company that does security is lazy and doesn't coordinate with its other-service counterparts on the base. The perimeter is reinforced with concertina (barriers filled with rock and sand) in some places, but in others it is just a fence."
While some reports have stressed the Americans' successful interface with the locals (rebuilding schools, playing with kids, etc.), there is one aspect of local color that doesn't sit well with the author:
"The Djiboutians who work at the camp drive so horribly that the snake obstacles at the front gate were removed, thus allowing anybody plenty of room to drive a truckload of explosives into the camp."
Lurking Terrorism in the Horn of Africa?
Oh my! It looks like we have here just another paranoid grunt – and an ethnically intolerant one too! Indeed, if the American soldiers keep up such a benign presence, who on earth would want to drive "a truckload of explosives" through the camp? How could the Djiboutians have such a motive? Read on:
"Abdirahman Boreh, the primary contractor supplying our host-nation workforce for Camp Lemonier, is a known associate of Osama bin Laden. He is a friend of the president of Djibouti and one of the most powerful people in the region.
The entire local work force building Camp Lemonier has been hired by Brown and Root (yes, the company that Dick Cheney used to head), but they are hiring folks supplied by Boreh. The bottom line is that a known high-level associate of Osama bin Laden is supplying the work force for Camp Lemonier."
Upon learning this, the Marine and his comrades took the initiative.
"When we found out about this, we notified Central Command headquarters. Apparently in order to not offend the Djiboutians and Boreh, and cause a rift in relations between the United States and Djibouti, CENTCOM told us to forget about it."
Do you think Boreh's workforce is pacing out the locations of everything in the camp for mortar attacks? Probably so."
A Partial Rebuke
In response to these complaints, an anonymous MP from the base penned a retort that appeared on the same website, on the 20th of January. The soldier, who introduces himself sarcastically as "one of those lazy and incompetent" MPs denigrated by the Marine, states first that the bad drivers were not the Djiboutians – but the Marines! He then delivers this stinging rebuke:
"No one carries weapons on post because we have a "Cantina" that is open seven nights a week and serves beer. We have been arguing against having the "Cantina" and not carrying weapons since we got here.
Maybe if the Marines weren't too busy playing volleyball and getting drunk, they would see the changes that are happening every day. Maybe they should try to help instead of just complaining about it. We MPs have been here much longer than any of the Marines and have seen great improvements."
Whatever the case may be, the criticism still doesn't clear up the most intriguing detail: that Brown & Root – and indirectly, the US Army – may be cooperating professionally with al Qaeda-linked businessmen. A US Army public affairs officer for the base disclosed to me that, "…the contractor (Borah) was associated with the Bin Laden construction company, not bin Laden himself." Brown & Root spokesmen have not commented on this issue.
Understandably, it is not a controversy they would like to feed. As for the company's actual tasks at the base, however, other reports are more forthcoming. UPI cited an Army spokesman who revealed that, "…Lemonier will get a $16 million facelift over the next two years." How much of that will be eaten up by the contractor can be adduced from these details:
"Brown and Root military contractors will oversee building of new helicopter pads for Super Cobras, now parked on the airport tarmac, and expansion of some airplane runways. There will also be some homey touches like wood floors for the camp's tents and a renovated swimming pool.
Ping-pong tables, exercise equipment and Internet-ready computers have been flown in, (Army Spokesman) Connolly said. Troops are "locked down" at the camp, according to a Brown and Root worker who declined to be identified."
The contemporaneous AFP report of 12 December supplements this account:
"…the military contractor, which has built and serviced US bases from the Balkans to Central Asia, has taken over construction at the base from military engineers… its employees are building sturdier, more comfortable living quarters and serving soldiers four hot meals a day, a welcome change from the packaged field rations known as MREs, or meals ready to eat."
The article then proceeds to directly contradict the testimony of our cranky Marine, claiming that, "security is so tight that even the soldiers are kept in the dark about the base's special operations."
It is remarkable that this story, lauding the base's security, was released almost a month before the Marine's testimony to the contrary. Before dismissing his charges, however, we should remember that the AFP article followed an officially sanctioned trip by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The reporters tagging along (and their names aren't given) were, after all, accompanying him. Now what sort of reporters would be selected for such a trip? And would they contradict what the US Government wanted them to say? I don't think so. In future wars, journalists will be even more "part of the team," as a rather unsettling report reveals.
While it is possible that security had been improved, this is not the crux of the problem for the anonymous Marine. At bottom is the question of motive: a base would be safe without any walls at all, if it had no potential attackers. Therefore his beef over lack of security only becomes important in light of his second charge – that Brown & Root's local collaborators have terrorist ties. I was not able to find anything directly linking Abdirahman Boreh to The Big O, and in absence of such evidence, the official Army statement cannot be summarily discarded. However, on many other charges – cronyism, interventionism, and ties with fundamentalist militias next door in Somalia – much information does exist. Before looking into this, however, we should begin with a little state not too far away, one where the al Qaeda presence is definitely felt.
Yemen: The Tip-off
On 3 November 2002, on an open road in Yemen, a CIA-coordinated Hellfire missile took out the car carrying Abu Ali al-Harithi, a high-ranking lieutenant of Osama bin Laden's. What was instantly billed as an enormous success in the War on Terror also resulted in a flurry of perhaps unwanted media attention. Although the Pentagon had formally announced the Djibouti operation on 21 November, it was not for another 3 weeks that detailed reports about Camp Lemonier started to come out. This crop of journalists followed like groupies behind Donald Rumsfeld on his "Horn of Africa 2003" tour. The unmanned Predator drone plane that fired the missile in Yemen had allegedly come from Djibouti, just across the Red Sea.
Osama's "ancestral home," as one report put it, Yemen has long been a hotbed of Islamic radicalism. Like Pakistan or Afghanistan, it contains rugged, sparsely populated regions that are not state-controlled, and that live under the austere rule of clan chiefs. Anti-American feeling is widespread. The USS Cole was attacked off the coast of Yemen, Americans are occasionally killed there, and a French oil tanker in the Gulf was also attacked on 6 October 2002.
Yet however the proletariat may feel about things, the Yemeni authorities are not suicidal, and have pledged support for the War on Terror. In the aftermath of the al-Halirithi assassination, Yemeni president Ali Abdallah Salih made a televised appeal to the mujahedin among his electorate: "…we call on everyone from among our countrymen who have been entangled in membership of the al Qaeda organization to repent… and renounce all means of violence." Salih himself made the penultimate sacrifice when he turned in his wife (well, his youngest wife) for being a member of al Qaeda.
Presumably, Salih was trying to let them down easy. After all, America's new ally against terror couldn't be too harsh to the al Qaeda-linked fighters he had once used to stifle Yemen's Communist revolt. In fact, Salih's were the very same mujahedin that America armed to fight the Soviets, once upon a time.
Some entertaining details of the jihadi presence in Yemen jump out of a Washington Post article from 2000, which provides anecdotes about these imported veterans of the Afghan-Soviet wars. One bemused local describes the mujahedin's grand entry to Yemen:
"First, they broke every bottle of beer," said Mohamed Abdullah. As the mujahedin imposed their rule in following weeks, Christmas was canceled, the brewery blazed and couples strolling on the beach were interrogated about their relationships.
"They fired in the streets, beat you if you didn't fast at Ramadan," Abdullah recalled from behind the counter at a local Internet café. "Many stupid things. They had their own militia. They had guns. Very strong fighters, sir."
In the War on Terror, the US is being forced to cooperate with some pretty compromised characters. From rogue Afghan militias to the leaders of al Qaeda-linked banana republics, America's current allies tend to inhabit a gray area, somewhere between tolerable and terrorist. The same holds true for Djibouti.
"We need to be where the action is," said Donald Rumsfeld on 12 December 2002. "And there is no question that this part of the world [the Horn of Africa] is an area where there is action."
In the above report, Rumsfeld also referred to a new "formal access agreement" made with Djibouti's president, Ismail Omar Guelleh; the agreement will ensure an American military presence at Camp Lemonier "for some years to come." Recent estimates have the Americans as staying for at least 4 years. The real duration, of course, will depend on how the Iraq campaign transpires.
Reaping the Fruits of Empire
Before the terrorist attacks of 2001, tiny Djibouti was not of particular importance to Washington. Its leaders had ties with Somali warlords, and its limited resources and population made it of little interest to US businesses. But when their hour came, the Djiboutians answered the call – and were richly rewarded for their hospitality:
"…the government's new friendship with Washington is expected to mean about $10 million in aid next year. That's after seven years without any help, followed by $8.7 million in 2002."
By allowing American troops into his country, Djibouti's president seems to have turned on the funding faucet. He has a knack for spotting such opportunities. After all, immediately in the wake of September 11th, President Guelleh announced the formation of an anti-terrorism committee, to be comprised of "…the ministers of justice, finance, interior and foreign affairs, the army chief-of-staff, the governor of the central bank and the director of national security."
We will not have to look far to see where the "$10 million in aid" will end up going. In Djibouti, all the president's men, and the businessman providing "human resources" for Brown & Root, have murky enough backgrounds to make us wonder whether the US Government really understands what it is getting itself into.
All things considered, Abdirahman Borah's contract with Brown & Root comes as no surprise. He is rumored to be the wealthiest man in the country, with operations in a wide range of fields and plenty of foreign partners. Djibouti's top politicians are also well connected with the leaders, and former leaders of Somalia. This relationship is spiced up by the issue of Somaliland, a "breakaway republic" snug on Somalia's northern border with Djibouti.
It's All About Location
Like other media testimonies at odds with the inside word, the BBC also stressed (on 13 December 2002) that Camp Lemonier is heavily guarded. However, the most intriguing detail to emerge from this report is stated only in passing – that is, that Camp Lemonier is located only a few miles from the porous Somali border. Amidst unnerving images from Black Hawk Down, let us remember that Somalia hangs heavy indeed over the heads of American military planners. It is both the main reason for the American presence, and the main place where the operation may become compromised. For obvious reasons, the Americans have picked a location where they can keep an eye on all the antagonists: the Somalis, Somalilanders and Djiboutians – not to mention those Yemenis across the straits.
To understand this angle, we should consider the US's special friends in Djibouti. Abdirahman Boreh and President Guelleh have plenty of experience in Somalia – as interventionists in another round of African civil strife.
The Somaliland Situation
Back in March 2002, America's top commander in the region, General Tommy Franks, made his own East Africa trip, visiting Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea and Ethiopia. The general claimed that these governments (plus Somalia's) were planning to send delegations to CENTCOM headquarters in Tampa. According to the BBC, Franks said that he "…could not rule out the possibility of military intervention in Somalia." At the time, many thought the country would in fact bear the brunt of America's next full-scale attack. That the anarchic quasi-state has never been added to the infamous "axis of evil" probably owes to the fact that it is not a cohesive enough entity to deserve even such a derogatory title.
Yet what these reports failed to point out is that for some, Djibouti doesn't border on Somalia – but rather, on the unrecognized republic of Somaliland. Claiming to have a higher standard of living, human rights and livelihood than either the Djiboutians or other Somalis, the "Somalilanders" also have an articulate and widespread diaspora lobby. The Somaliland Forum is indeed both smooth and well organized. Having offices in the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia and even Finland, this group lobbies for its still unrecognized republic. A relic of the British and Italian colonial past, Somaliland has been independent and peaceful since May of 1991, says the organization. It also has no affection for Abdirahman Boreh.
Boreh's Investment: Up In Smoke
Animosity has traditionally existed between the leaders of Somaliland and Djibouti. A case in point was Djibouti's abrupt closure of their border and massing of troops (on 12 April 2001). Apparently, festering hostilities re-emerged with the seizure, and subsequent immolation, of $700,000 worth of cigarettes sent by Abdirahman Boreh. A court in Somaliland had ruled that the importing company, Red Sea International (Benson & Hedges' official regional distributor), did not have the correct license for importing tobacco to Somaliland. Even parties sympathetic to the latter thought the punishment to be unreasonably harsh – and suspected political motivations.
So did Boreh. The businessman attacked his as persecutors as a "gang" who carried out the "unauthorized" destruction of his imported products. He hinted darkly that it was the pro-Somaliland Ethiopian government behind it all.
The Logic of Interventions
The Somaliland authorities weren't satisfied with the bonfire alone. They also accused company managers of being "…involved in subversive political activities against Somaliland." According to the local analyst, this was a thinly disguised attack on the intervention of President Guelleh and his henchmen, sworn enemies of then Somaliland president Mohamed Egal (Egal died only recently). "The severe diplomatic warfare" that followed this incident saw Egal accuse Guelleh of biased intervention in Somalia's peace and reconciliation talks; for his part, Guelleh branded his Somaliland counterpart a "warlord."
Boreh's opposition to the Somalilanders has logically made him an opponent of their allies in Ethiopia. This country also accuses him of intervention, through "…having business relations with close contacts of Ethiopia's former Prime Minister Tamrat Layne, who was imprisoned in 1996 for corruption," and blames Boreh for an increase in port prices that led Ethiopia to reroute its shipping through the cheaper Somaliland port of Berbeisa. His intervention was also suspected here:
"The price rise in the port of Djibouti can be largely attributed to the Dubai Port Authority, which recently took over the port's management and increased prices. It was Abdurahman Boreh who introduced the Dubai company to the Djibouti authorities."
Boreh has connections with Dubai businesses across several vital sectors. The influence of Dubai's Arab businessmen on Djibouti, and Somalia as well, will most likely increase now that the Americans have brought him on board.
Did Djibouti's Government Helps Install Fundamentalists Next Door?
The Somalilanders also charge Abdirahman Boreh – and practically the whole Djibouti administration – with being complicit to former Somali president Siyad Barre's "genocide" and "total subjugation" of Somalilanders in the 1980's. Besides being accused of having extensive ties with Barre-era officials, Boreh and Guelleh are denounced as harmful interventionists. They are blamed by Somalilanders for their part in getting Abdiqassim Salad Hassan nominated as Somalia's interim president in August 2000. Hassan, previously an important minister in the Barre regime, is accused by Somalilanders of overseeing civilian "massacres." In September 2001, a report details incidents "…where most of the resident were either massacred or chased away by the so-called Islamic court militia terror cells and sub-clan militias." The article states that these "terror cells" had previously been broken up thanks to Ethiopian and internal military intervention, but were now "…recognized as (being) 'rehabilitated' government police forces" by the international community.
President Hassan was appointed to a 3-year term after a high-level conference of international luminaries and local officials with the Transitional National Assembly (TNA) held in Arta. Although the Somalilanders boycotted the conference, the result was amenable to most of the others:
"Abdiqassim's election received public backing from the UN, EU and League of Arab States. Abdiqassim, a Hawiye of the Habr Gedir sub-clan Ayr, was Minister of the Interior and Deputy Prime Minister under Siad Barre. He has received the support of business interests, Ali Mahdi (who had stood against him for the presidency) and the Islamic Shari'a courts, some of which have pledged the support of their militias to his new authority to enable it to establish itself in Mogadishu."
In other words, Hassan's appointment was propped up by the US, Djiboutian "businessmen," and Taliban-esque lawgivers/militias. Almost three years on, these same characters remain crucial for the success of America's latest adventure in Djibouti.
Borah's Business Connections With Hassan
The Somalilander allegation about Boreh's connections with Hassan appeared in an October 2000 press release. Here the dubious details of America's newfound business partner in Djibouti are laid out:
"Mr. Boreh, a relative and confidant of President Guelleh, and reputedly the richest man in Djibouti, has been promised reconstruction contracts, ostensibly to be paid for by the international community, by Mr. Hassan as a reward for the help he had received from President Guelleh. In fact, Mr. Hassan was in a state of total obscurity, laying low after the fall of the Barre regime in which he was a life-time minister, when he was introduced to President Guelleh by Mr. Boreh. Mr. Hassan himself has reportedly made quite some money in the millions of dollars when he (was) a minister in the Barre dictatorship and surely knows how to make deals with shadowy businessmen; hence the linkup with Mr. Boreh and Mr. Guelleh, two men whose interests in Somali affairs runs deeper than neighborly altruism."
The report goes on to quote the Indian Ocean Newsletter of September 2000, which alleges that Boreh is also tied to Somalia's prime minister, Ali Khalif Galyr, as a partner in the Dubai-based Somtel telecommunications company. Two months later, the same source announced that Boreh had begun to "activate his networks" in Somalia to win interests in sugar importing, as well as telecommunications and even oil:
"…Boreh is at present believed to be in contact with representatives of the oil companies Shell and British Petroleum, hoping to convince them to enter in the Somalian market."
At present, Brown & Root's civil engineering division – not its energy wing – is operational on Somalia's doorstep in Djibouti. However, should a post-war, "democratic" Iraq come to set the example, we can expect Halliburton's oil planners – led by Boreh and Co. – to set up shop in Somalia, which would first need "cleaning up." This is precisely what the Somalis were afraid of almost a year ago, when they were expecting to be the next Afghanistan. Although they missed out on the business end of winning that appellation, it would seem the Somalis already qualify, in that they are run by a motley assortment of warlords.
The Hazards of Dumbing It Down
On that note, we should consider how American alliance-building in East Africa is compromised by the extremely fluid and complex nature of the political scene there. Even more so than in Afghanistan, today's friends may become tomorrow's foes. Over the past decade, there has been little to suggest that America has ever kept substantially ahead of the curve – and for good reason. A detailed BBC survey, which lists sundry Somali warlords and politicians, makes one wish for the relatively simple and manageable Northern Alliance, Pashtuns and Pakistanis.
A case in point is the example of an Islamic group called al-Itihaad al-Islamiya. Its assets were frozen after the US government stated that this fundamentalist organization "…allowed Al Qaeda to train in Somalia before the August 1998 twin attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania." In August 2001, the group made the State Department's top ten most wanted list, though none of the charges were ever proved.
But al-Itihaad may just have been a victim of its domestic enemies. As an incisive BBC report avers:
"The warlords have a strong self-interest in fuelling stories of possible links between Somalia's transitional government and al Itihaad. By spreading rumours of an al Qaeda presence, Somali politicians are hoping to harm their opponents. It is clear that the factions are using the general anti-terrorist rhetoric to demonise each other."
American experts have also criticized their government for perhaps making an overhasty judgment in this case. In the aftermath of the blacklisting, Davidson College professor and Somalia expert Ken Menkhaus cited a failure to employ properly subtle and discerning analyses, calling al Itihaad 'more of a social than political movement,' Moreover, the group was "…not considered a highly organized or structured organization by most knowledgeable analysts." According to Ted Dagne of the Congressional Research Service, "…Al-Itihaad operates differently in different parts of Somalia. We should be navigating this very carefully… by lumping everyone together, we may wind up creating an organization that is truly anti-American and evil."
This, unfortunately, is precisely what the US is doing in the big picture. By targeting the ardently secular Iraqi government, for example, America is creating a power vacuum which Iran-backed fundamentalists will be happy to fill. That Osama bin Laden, sworn enemy of Saddam, is now talking about jihad in Iraq shows just how dangerous is this policy, which will create, rather than eliminate, more militant Islamic fundamentalism. Yet this policy has been followed so doggedly, so stubbornly that we have to wonder whether the perpetuation of endless terrorism, war and military contracts is not in fact the desired result.
Shutting Down Al-Baraakat: Who Will Profit?
In the above article, Dagne cites an even stronger example of Washington's "sledgehammer approach": the case of Al-Barakaat, blacklisted in November 2001 as a conduit for terrorist funds. One of the largest corporations in Somalia, al-Barakaat has (or had) 29 subsidiaries in fields such as telecommunications, banking, postal services and beverage sales, according to the official State Department list. The action against al-Barakaat had a radical effect on Somali business and society:
"…the company has had to close services throughout Somalia, after British and American business partners terminated their relationship with the group. The move has greatly limited telephone contact between the country and the outside world and cut off a channel widely used by Somali expatriates to send money back home."
When an economy is destroyed, or a country bombed, there is always a need for rebuilding. For example, there are Boreh's expected construction contracts in Somalia. To shut down a company the size of al-Barakaat is to create a tremendous opportunity for "businessmen" who end up on the winning side. America's support for the Djibouti government will not only mean a windfall for local contracts and military-related profit. It should also open the way for Djibouti businessmen like Boreh – and his Arab connections in Dubai – to own the telecommunications (and perhaps oil) markets in the post-Iraq Somalia.
The French Connection
There are other looming issues stemming from Iraq, however. Most immediate for the US – and its ambivalent alliances – is the presence of almost 4,000 French and German troops in Djibouti. Europe's "big two" have been at loggerheads with the US for months over the issue of Iraq, and in the last few weeks tensions have really risen – mostly due to American intransigence. It seems a bit harsh that, just for opposing the war on Iraq, Germany is now being compared to Libya, and France is in danger of (good heavens!) suffering a boycott on wine and cheese exported to the US. The Pentagon is now beginning a massive pullout of troops stationed in Germany. According to the Pentagon, "…we're doing this for one reason only: to harm the German economy." World War II, it seems, is finally ending – just as its sequel is set to begin.
When NATO pulls out of Macedonia next month, it will hand over peacekeeping duties to a French-sponsored EU military force. This is a sign of how little the Balkan seems to matter to America today. However, when it comes to the neighborhood where France maintains its largest foreign military presence – well, that's another story. According to an AP report of 30 September 2002, the swashbuckling French Foreign Legion keeps up a colorful presence in Djibouti:
"…France still maintains 2,850 military personnel in Djibouti, 25 years after independence. Foreign Legionnaires in tight khaki shorts and white 'kepi' caps amble through town when they're not out on grueling exercises. French soldiers with shaved heads and tattoos pack the bars and restaurants at night. They're often joined by some of the 1,000 German soldiers who have been in Djibouti since January as part of the U.S.-led war on terrorism. The Americans seem to stay home at night."
The fact that there's no nightly "Djibouti call" for the American grunts probably owes to the perceived importance of their mission – one which may well change as the situation develops. Their European counterparts, on the other hand, are not eager for a war over Iraq, one that would certainly increase the chances of terrorist retribution. If the US troops are all like the epistolary Marine cited yesterday, chances are that they – and their Brown & Root servants – are hunkered down in the bar back at Lemonier.
The American move to Djibouti can therefore be interpreted as an attempt to undercut, and perhaps eliminate French political and military influence – a tactic that has been used in other theaters, notably in Georgia, where last spring the US sent military trainers. There, the move was perceived as a challenge to Russia – again, the formerly dominant regional power.
In Djibouti, also, the former colonial masters aren't there just for show. French generals have been known to issue stern warnings to neighboring states, particularly Eritrea, regarding France's commitment to the territorial integrity of its tiny protectorate. According to military buffs, the Foreign Legion contingent in Djibouti is made up of experts in urban warfare and amphibious operations. Nevertheless, informed commentators believe that America's long-term goals are at odds – deliberately – with French interests. As Mustapha Hassouna, a political and diplomatic analyst with the University of Nairobi reminds, "…the US is taking over territory that was the political turf of the French. Whether it has France's tactical approval is open to question."
Coming Soon: Endgame in Iraq
As the US makes final preparations for war, the government is carefully taking account of all the countries who are "with us" and those who are "against us." The stakes are high. When the moment of reckoning comes (and it will come soon), will the Frogs and Krauts fall into line and support the war? If not, will this affect cooperation and political allegiances in Djibouti? President Bush has already declared that he is prepared to attack Iraq without Security Council approval. He could hardly do so from bases in Germany.
If he is forced to do so, Bush will have to take a different tack. Ambivalence in Turkey may yet scuttle plans for using Adana's Incirlik Air Base. Deployments from aircraft carriers and discreet camps in far-away places, such as the one in Djibouti, will be essential for both covert operations and rear logistics – with the added bonus of being far from the media spotlight.
After Iraq, What About Djibouti?
The exigencies of the situation help explain why the US has had to choose such sordid business partners. It is telling to note that, for all its might and hegemony, the Americans are still forced to play ball with corrupt and potentially dangerous local thugs in order to get things done. Brown & Root and the US Army are mixing with characters that have numerous ulterior motives and interests, both known and unknown. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems, and the US may well find that its clean and smooth operations in Djibouti come with a price: the unknown desires of Djibouti's leaders in a post-Iraq Somalia, where armed, US-approved fundamentalists are already in the ascendancy.
That is the best that can be said of the Djibouti "partnership" against terror. In the worst-case scenario, the US may be mixing with leaders who at any time can unleash the kind of terrorists that it is trying so hard to combat. As with the rest of its saber-rattling across the globe (and especially now in Iraq), the Bush Administration may well be perpetuating a problem that it claims to be stifling. And that is something that can only be good for defense contractors, logistics suppliers, and East African crime lords. I doubt that it's a healthy situation for the troops – and definitely not for the hapless Macedonians caught in the middle.
Previous articles by Christopher Deliso on Antiwar.com
Christopher Deliso is a journalist and travel writer with special interest in current events in the areas of the former Byzantine Empire the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, and the Caucasus. Mr. Deliso holds a master's degree with honors in Byzantine Studies (from Oxford University), and has traveled widely in the region. His current long-term research projects include the Macedonia issue, the Cyprus problem, and the ethnography of Byzantine Georgia. He just returned from a long stay in Turkey, near the Iraqi border.
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