African agency and Chinese power: The case of Djibouti

National flags of China (red) and Djibouti are seen in front ot Djibouti International Free Trade Zone (DIFTZ) before the inauguration ceremony in Djibouti on July 5, 2018. Image: Getty, Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP
National flags of China (red) and Djibouti are seen in front ot Djibouti International Free Trade Zone (DIFTZ) before the inauguration ceremony in Djibouti on July 5, 2018. Image: Getty, Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP

It seems unlikely that Djibouti – smaller than Belgium and with fewer than 1 million inhabitants – can expect to enjoy any agency vis-à-vis the Chinese behemoth.

Summary:

  • The significant strategic and economic power gap between China and African countries raises questions about the continent’s ability to pursue its own agenda via this relationship.
  • Djibouti presents a useful case study in this regard: while it is much smaller than China, it does not necessarily lack agency.
  • Djibouti has used its strategic geographic position to gain concessions from various powerful partners.
  • Chinese influence in Djibouti has grown significantly owing to large-scale infrastructure lending and the construction of a Chinese naval base in the country.
  • However, Djibouti has also worked to broaden its range of external partners and used the presence of China to gain leverage from other partners.
7 Oct 2020

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Research by
Series
SAIIA Policy Insights No 93, October 2020
Region
Asia Pacific, Middle East & North Africa
Country
China, Djibouti
SAIIA Programme
Foreign Policy
Tags
Economic Activity, Infrastructure

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