Playing maiden to America's war machine: not many people can spot it on the map, but Djibouti has increasingly become important in the American scheme of war. (Around Africa: Djibouti).
Tiny Djibouti, a former French colony, lies across the Red Sea from Yemen where Britain and America suspect members of Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network have hideouts.
America has a 9,000 strong military command called the "Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa", commanded by Maj-Gen John F. Sattler, in place in Djibouti. They have joined more than 2,000 French troops already stationed there. Another 1,000 Germans as well as a number of British forces have also been deployed, adding up to the biggest international military build-up ever seen on African soil.
In the past several weeks, as the preparations for war against Iraq have gathered momentum, America has deployed an additional 1,000 marines to Djibouti. The deployment followed private talks in December between the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and President Guelleh. Rumsfeld, then on a tour in the region, was accompanied by a large delegation of high-ranking military officials.
Since then, Djiboutians have been witnessing a great display of American military power and advanced weapons systems. The growing US influence in the country is also reflected in the opening in December of a Voice of America FM radio station in the capital, Djibouti City.
Elsewhere, Diego Garcia, "Africa's forgotten island" in the Indian Ocean, colonised by Britain and then handed over to America in a secret deal in 1965 (see NA, Sept 2002), will soon host the giant US Navy hospital ship, USS Comfort, which left its home port of Baltimore after the New Year. Diego Garcia acted as a critically important refuelling and launch base during the 1991 Gulf War against Saddam Hussein. On 17 December 1998, America launched nearly 100 long-range cruise missiles from there aimed at Iraq.
Meanwhile, African voices against a new war against Iraq are becoming louder and louder. In mid-January, African delegates to the Afro-Arab Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, expressed strong solidarity with Iraq.
The first salvo of the African anti-war voices had come last September in the shape of Nelson Mandela, accusing America of being "a threat to world peace" in an interview with Newsweek magazine. Mandela told the magazine that "Bush's decision [to attack Iraq] was motivated by his desire to please the arms and oil industries in the United States whose mouthpieces were found amongst the very 'dinosaurs surrounding him".
On 5 January, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace laureate and prominent antiapartheid campaigner, added his voice, telling a British ITV programme that Tony Blair's support for the US over Iraq was "mind-boggling".
"Many, many of us are deeply saddened to see a great country such as the US being aided and abetted extraordinarily by Britain to wage war on Iraq", Tutu added.
To him, "compassion not destruction" was needed to bring about change in Iraq. He accused the US of maintaining "a double standard" over weapons of mass destruction, which are also found in Israel, Europe and America itself, and said Washington was failing to listen to the concerns and fears of the world as it steam-rolled its way to war against Iraq.