Djibouti launches Chinese-built free trade zone

By Agencies

Djibouti on Thursday launched the first phase of a Chinese-built Free Trade Zone – hailed as being the biggest in Africa.

The nearly 50sq kilometer zone will house manufacturing, warehouse facilities, an export-processing area and a services center.

President Ismael Omar Guelleh officially opened the zone, flanked by other heads of state including Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Mohamed Abdullahi (Somalia), Omar al-Bashir (Sudan) and Abiy Ahmed (Ethiopia).

Also in attendance were the African Union Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat Chinese officials.

The zone is expected to handle trade worth US$7 billion within two years, and create 15,000 jobs when complete.

Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi hailed the free-trade zone as a “victory for East Africa”.

With a strategic location on the Gulf of Aden, Djibouti already handles most imports for neighboring Ethiopia and aims to become a gateway to South Sudan, Somalia, and the Great Lakes region.

A row of Djiboutian and Chinese flags fluttered side by side in the launching ceremony, a sign of the close relations the two countries enjoy.

China has been hailed as being behind the massive infrastructural growth in the Horn of the African country – which also hosts the only overseas Chinese military base.

Djibouti is seen as a critical cog in China’s ambitious Belt and Road project which aims to create transport links across the world to ease movement of goods and people to facilitate global trade.