Like it or not, Africa will have to play a part in the looming war against Iraq. Djibouti's militarily strategic ports on the Red Sea, wanted by America since the September 11 attack, are going to be a vital staging post. Djibouti's president, Ismail Omar Guelleh, has agreed that America and Britain could establish military bases in his country. They may have twisted his arms with the argument that Djibouti was the ideal place from where they could monitor and pursue terrorists trying to transit, hide, train or organise in areas in or near the Horn of Africa. This area covers Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti itself, Sudan, Kenya (a theatre recently of terrorist attack) and Yemen.
Tiny Djibouti, a former French colony, lies across the Red Sea from Yemen where Britain and America suspect members of Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network have hideouts.
America has a 9,000 strong military command called the "Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa", commanded by Maj-Gen John F. Sattler, in place in Djibouti. They have joined more than 2,000 French troops already stationed there. Another 1,000 Germans as well as a number of British forces have also been deployed, adding up to the biggest international military build-up ever seen on African soil.
In the past several weeks, as the preparations for war against Iraq have gathered momentum, America has deployed an additional 1,000 marines to Djibouti. The deployment followed private talks in December between the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and President Guelleh. Rumsfeld, then on a tour in the region, was accompanied by a large delegation of high-ranking military officials.
Since then, Djiboutians have been witnessing a great display of American military power and advanced weapons systems. The growing US influence in the country is also reflected in the opening in December of a Voice of America FM radio station in the capital, Djibouti City.
Elsewhere, Diego Garcia, "Africa's forgotten island" in the Indian Ocean, colonised by Britain and then handed over to America in a secret deal in 1965 (see NA...