Laventhal, William. and Tamura, Setsuko -- "Arab or African? Identity in the Horn of Africa: Djibouti’s role in regional and international conflict"
Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Northeastern Political Science Association, Crowne Plaza Hotel, Philadelphia, PA, Nov 19, 2009
This paper discusses the convergence of Arab and African geopolitical interests in the Horn of Africa. Using Djibouti as an example, it emphasizes how Afro/Arab identities shape interactions in the region. Djibouti’s internal dynamics are impacted by diverse political, cultural, and linguistic influences. French and Arabic are the official languages, but Somali is widely spoken and the country’s leaders have strong ties to Somalia. Djibouti is a member of the League of Arab States and the African Union, leaving questions about where its geopolitical interests are focused. Furthermore, because the United States and France maintain military installations in Djibouti, the country has become an important location in global military efforts to curb terrorism and piracy. Finally, Djibouti’s position along one of the world’s busiest trade routes has allowed its port to become a key part in global maritime trade. This leaves the country with a difficult balancing act in its international relations. It must respond to domestic constituents with interests that may be at odds with its regional neighbors, all while maintaining its role as a host for international military activities and trade. In this balancing act, the country’s identity is pulled in not only an Arab or African direction, but sometimes in both, and increasingly towards a new global direction.