Kenya is reaching out to Djibouti in a bid to benefit from the Horn of Africa nation’s strategic location for security and trade links.
On Wednesday, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Djibouti leader Ismail Guelleh signed a number of agreements, mainly centred on boosting trade, but also influenced by security concerns.
It is the second attempt by Kenya to woo Djibouti, a country which has traditionally not featured on Kenya’s trade links map.
President Kenyatta in January held a meeting with Mr Guelleh when the two met during the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa. At the time, they spoke of their readiness to improve trade and security ties.
The meeting in Nairobi was influenced by security concerns by both countries.
They both contribute troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) and have been targeted by Al-Shabaab terrorists. It came just two days after new Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed also visited Nairobi on a similar mission.
“We have talked about how to strengthen our cooperation and secure our nations. Both our nations are in a very troubled region and we talked about how to ensure the safety and prosperity of our people,” said President Kenyatta.
President Guelleh said: “We are in a troubled region, where we are confronted by extremism and violence. That is why our militaries are in Somalia to help it regain stability because what happens in Somalia has an immediate impact on all of us.”
The leaders supported for Somalia’s bid for stability in the wake of recent announcements by donors that they will cut funding to Amisom.
Djibouti, the third smallest country on mainland Africa, and with an economy of just $1.7 billion, has been the hub of major international military powers.
The US has a military base run by the Africa Command (Africom) and often uses it to monitor aerial attacks on militants’ bases in Somalia.
Other countries with bases there, include France, China and Japan. Spain and Germany also have troops, but are housed at the French base; in an arrangement meant to secure merchant ships.
With a population of less than a million, according to the World Bank, Djibouti’s strength is its location in a volatile area bordered by Somalia and Eritrea and across the sea to Yemen.
Djibouti is also strong in the livestock production industry, selling live animals, meat and leather to the Middle East.
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma has urged Kenyan investors to take advantage of the existing business opportunities in Djibouti to expand their markets. Addressing members of the business community drawn from Kenya and Djibouti at the Inter-Continental Hotel, Nairobi, yesterday, Dr Juma said Djibouti is strategically located, making it a prime destination for investments.
“I want to challenge the Kenyan business sector to visit Djibouti and set up companies there,” Ms Juma said.
She noted that trade between Kenya and Djibouti had been extremely low over the years, but expressed optimism that President Guelleh’s visit to Kenya would lead to the signing of a number of bilateral trade pacts to boost business.