Playing to Strengths

H.E. Mr. Ismael Omar Guelleh, President of the Republic of Djibouti
H.E. Mr. Ismael Omar Guelleh, President of the Republic of Djibouti

When the President of the Republic of Djibouti, H.E. Mr. Ismael Omar Guelleh comes to Ethiopia for what is surprisingly his first official visit, more agreements are expected to be signed which will mean even stronger cooperation between the close neighbors. Capital had a chance to interview the President on the eve of his arrival.

Capital: Mr. President, your country is experiencing economic growth of 6.5% this year. Projections are 7% for next year; and double-digit growth by 2019. What is the secret of this growth?

President I.O.G: Several factors have contributed to the positive development of our economy. Everything stems from changing the mentality of people, starting from the top down. First of all, we wanted to stop being a nation that relied on assistance, living under the goodwill of the international community. We took time to reflect about the best course of action and we decided to use our geography to our best advantage. Then we took steps to develop ourselves as a maritime, logistics and commercial hub, which came naturally to us. That is why we soon acquired a series of High-tech Ports. These transformations immediately attracted foreign investors. In fact there has been a massive influx of these investors into Djibouti since we adopted many incentives including the one-stop shop and the concession of premises for their use within the Djibouti free zone.

Capital: With so many large projects underway, it’s possible that your country could run out of skilled labor. Have you taken steps to alleviate this situation?

President I.O.G: We were aware right away that the economic transformation of our country would lead to the emergence of many trades and qualifications unavailable in our country. In order to compensate for the imminent gap between market demand and available skills, we have carried out a professional reframing of our education system. We immediately worked to rehabilitate the technical professions. As a result, the Ministry of Education has changed its name, becoming the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training. This new situation has led to the emergence of a number of practical training institutions, including the Balbala Women’s Training Center.

More importantly, we have established partnerships with a view to greater synergy between private companies and the Djiboutian education system. Thus, recently, the China Civil Engineering, CCECC, which is very committed to Djibouti, and the Lycée Industriel et Commercial de Djibouti (LIC) signed a partnership agreement to hire 1,000 students upon graduation at the end of the current school year.

Capital: The relationship between Djibouti and Ethiopia is becoming more commercially intertwined. How do you see the future of this relationship?

President I.O.G: The interdependence between Djibouti and Ethiopia is such that the two nations today agree to share what is most essential to life, in this case water and food.

I remind you that our country has agricultural areas in Ethiopia, and our two nations are working together to serve drinking water from Ethiopia to Djibouti.

Partnerships between our two countries have now manifested themselves as investments in all sectors of activity, including the most strategic ones such as energy, logistics, transport and telecommunications.

I am pleased that our two nations are now serving as a successful model of economic integration for the entire sub-region. In my opinion, this momentum will continue and be strengthened further in the future.

In any case, African countries have no choice. With globalization, they must pool their efforts to meet the new challenges. The integration of economies is the step that must lead to a single market.

Capital: Djibouti and Ethiopia both are intervening regionally in the fight against terrorism. How do you assess the role of the two countries, particularly in Somalia?

President I.O.G: I am proud of the stabilizing role of our two nations. Our two countries are providing valuable assistance in securing this part of the world. They are both engaged militarily in Somalia, within the framework of the African Intervention Force in this country (AMISOM). They are also members of the ISAF, the integrated force of the East African region, which has a vocation to intervene in the theaters of conflict within this area. Conflict prevention and pooling efforts to marginalize political instability is an imperative on which our nations must show exemplary solidarity. As without stability there is no economic integration and development.

Capital: There are many military bases in Djibouti. What is the contribution of these bases to regional stability?

President I.O.G: It is true that our country is home to many military bases belonging to foreign powers. They chose to come to us for a number of reasons. First, Djibouti is close to several areas the international community considers very dangerous, notably Somalia and Yemen. It is also right next to one of the busiest maritime routes in the world. The security of the Bab El Mendeb and the need to fight the Nebulae terrorists are the reason these foreign bases have been installed in Djibouti. But our country does not merely offer bases to these friendly powers. We are fully involved in the integrated efforts against terrorism and maritime piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

Capital: What do you expect from your official visit to Ethiopia?

President I.O.G: I express my hope that my official visit to Ethiopia will be a source of greater fulfillment and strengthening in the already exemplary and privileged relations between our two countries and our two peoples. I also hope that it will serve as a new dynamic for the many economic integration projects between our two nations.