From Imperial Port City to Logistics Hub: The Production of Strategic Space in Djibouti (1859–2020)

In: Crossroads
Grace Easterly Program Coordinator and Research Assistant, South Asia Program, The Stimson Center Washington D.C. USA

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This article examines what I call the production of strategic space, or the process whereby a particular place, the Republic of Djibouti, and its capital, the port city of Djibouti, became strategically valuable to different states over time, including the French Empire, the United States, and China. Throughout the period from 1859 to the present day, Djibouti’s strategic value has fluctuated as states reacted to different political and economic contexts. These events constantly shifted state interests, re-configuring their conceptions of the importance of Djibouti’s territory. As a result of this process, spaces within Djibouti became strategic relative to other spaces. In particular, the port has been more important to the French authorities and other outsiders than the desert hinterland, which was treated mainly as a useless wasteland. The various authorities organized space within Djibouti to reflect these government priorities, which had a profound impact on its inhabitants’ mobilities, economic opportunities, and political freedoms. The ordering of space within Djibouti reflected state interests, exposing the relationship between geography and power, strategy and spatial organization.

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