Africa

“The Country is Booming”

H.E. Aden Mohamed Dileita, the Ambassador of Djibouti in Berlin Talks to Berlin Global

June 28th, 2016
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On June 17th 2016, our ICD Team had the opportunity to meet H.E. Aden Mohamed Dileita, the ambassador of Djibouti in Berlin at the embassy in Kufürstenstrasse. We started the interview by asking him to give us an overview of his academic and professional career.

“I finished my studies in France because at that time there was no university in Djibouti. I stayed and studied in France for 9 years and came back to my country with a PhD in International Law. I prepared my thesis on the starvation and famine in Ethiopia in 1984. I went on the field and was very motivated in humanitarian action. At that time there was a very big mobilization for support in Ethiopia. (...)
When I came back in Djibouti, I worked with an NGO for economic and social development and then I got a job as a program officer with the UNICEF. I worked ten years on the field with UNICEF in many programs such as immunization programs, diarrhea and social mobilization programs. It was very interesting!

After that, I started with public administration in Djibouti, I was lucky to be the director of the biggest hospital in Djibouti, Hôpital Général Pelletie. It was a big challenge for me. I had around 400 staff people. Managing people is a very big challenge but a very good challenge for being a diplomat and in life, to manage human resources is a challenge but a good opportunity. (...) I stayed six years in this hospital and then the government decided to send me as a diplomat because my background was also International Relations. I went in India for six years. India is a very good training for diplomat. I was really lucky to have all these experiences.

You have been the Ambassador of Djibouti to Germany here in Berlin since 2011, how have you enjoyed the position so far and what has been the main focus of your work since you started?
In my life, I am always facing challenges and the embassy in Germany was a challenge because before me, there was no embassy.
So I opened the embassy. I had to look for the office and the staff so it was another challenge in a country that I didn't know. It took me some time to understand Germany and the German way of thinking. But I had some really good support from the people of Foreign Affairs to settle this embassy in Berlin.
Now concerning the achievements; we started only four years ago. We can say that we give visas to all the people going to Djibouti. The first year it was a bit difficult, we had to explain where Djibouti is. But now, we make more and more promotion for the country. We participate in every conference here, with Afrika Verein, and in every activity. My main objective is to highlight Djibouti for the public of Germany that don’t know. I like it because they are really curious when they come to my residence and see that there is a botschafter of Djibouti. They go on Google, they want to understand the flag of the country, it is good.
I felt very welcomed by the people here. I lived here with my family for three our four years, we are very happy. (...) When I opened the embassy, it was not easy to discuss with the people, with the owner of the house, to convince him. Because at that time, in 2011, there were parasi problems and the border to Somalia was closed, so they asked if the embassy could pay the rent every month. I faced some problems but it was okay.

How have the relations between Germany and Djibouti changed over the years and in what ways is the Embassy of Djibouti in Berlin promoting its culture? b. What kind of remarkable achievements the Djiboutian Embassy in Berlin has made over the years? How do you evaluate the relations of the two countries?
The relations are very good because Germany wanted to open an embassy in Djibouti as well since 2011. First, they saw the importance of Djibouti in the region. There are natives of Germany staying in Djibouti now. We also have military forces; there is the German navy in Djibouti because of the operation Atlanta, the European military forces as you know. The cooperation between Djibouti and Germany is from 1978, one year after our accession to independence. Initially, efforts were not concentrated on the cooperation but since 2002, cooperation has increased and will continue to increase with the embassy.
Now, we have two big social projects in Djibouti, we opened in 2014 the first /camp/ in Tadjoura the second city of the country and a big e-learning center for young people. Unfortunately, Djibouti is not in the priority partner list of Germany. There are 54 countries on the list but Djibouti is not on it. We make advocacy to put Djibouti on that list. It's a big process because it has to go through the Bundestag.
My objective is to learn from the experience of the Germans. We have to focus on economic sectors; this is why we organized the first big German-Djiboutians conference there in 2014. I brought around 25 companies from Germany with journalists and politicians to organize a conference. I want to show the potential of my country because organizing a conference in Berlin would not make sense. It is better if they see how the country is booming especially because investors and businessmen have a different view. We have some companies that settled in Djibouti from that time. As well, this year we will organize a conference on logistics.
Djibouti is booming because we have Ethiopia as a neighbor who is booming as well with a two numbers increase. Djibouti is the gateway of Ethiopia. Therefore, we have to develop our infrastructures at the same time. Momentarily, we have three ports and four others under construction, two railways under construction and highways for Ethiopia. We also have agreements we South Sudan. We want to be this sub regional hub for the locked countries.
Now with this ambition, you have to be competitive in the region. We need good, efficient, worldwide known, equipment. This is why we need to work with Germany and German companies. Many of our equipment ports are from German companies. We also want to ensure the future of the country and the way to do this is to prepare the young people and train them. We are working on this. We have already started with companies to host young people there. My duty is to have German companies participating in this booming.

Would you say that you are helping Djibouti to show its culture in Berlin? Do you take part or organize some events, how do you promote the culture of your country here?
We participate to every event to show that we are from Djibouti. I am with the group of Arab ambassadors but also with the group of African ambassadors. We try to highlight the potential of Djibouti. We are working very closely with many NGOs here. We organize many table rounds or “salon diplomatique”, especially in Hamburg because the city is a harbor, like Djibouti, and I want to improve the relations between the two cities. I tried to meet with the Mayor of Hamburg and the Director of the Harbor when I visited the port of Hamburg. As you know, things are very slow here. Germans are very difficult to convince but once they are convinced that we are honest people, they will warm up to us. However, you need to convince them first, which can be very hard.

We organize many events on Djibouti in Hamburg but also in Munich and Berlin. Last month, I opened our embassy to a school visit by young Germans. For me, it was a good occasion to show Djibouti’s culture. It’s funny because last Sunday I was in Tegel Airport and I saw a child that was looking at me and the mother came to me to tell me that her son was one of the children who came in the embassy. For me it was really good opportunity to show them that Djibouti exists, and that those young people are going to talk about it with their friends.

If we have an opportunity to discuss with businessman or a company, we try to see what we can take from here to Djibouti. It is what we call economic diplomacy. Culture, economy and politics have to come together.

You showed us the importance of dialogue between culture to promote its own culture and also to know the other part. Would you have another example of successful dialogue?
We organized a day of Djibouti in the ICD in 2014. We had also one delegate with the Minister of culture and communication in 2014 participating in the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

When I was director of the Hospital in Djibouti, I tried to create a partnership with a French hospital, the Hospital of Troyes. The first year, they sent 12 nurses in Djibouti to practice for one month. It was very fruitful experience and we learnt from that. We can apply this kind of cooperation to many fields because it has a good impact on the dialogue between culture and communal living.

How would you define cultural diplomacy?
Your Institute is doing a very important job; it is very important to have this cultural diplomacy. Diplomacy is usually between two countries, normally between authorities. However, cultural diplomacy refers to exchange between people. It is really something I learnt with your Institute and it is very interesting.

Cultural diplomacy aims to promote dialogue between people. I used to say that if there is a problem in some area, it is because of ignorance. When one person learns about the other, then he knows he is not afraid and it is easy to live together. When there is a wall between the two cultures, it is really hard and we have to break this wall.

Would you say that thanks to your humanitarian work you helped breaking the wall between your country and the neighboring countries?
Since our independence, we have faced a lot of refugee in Djibouti. They come from Somalia or now from Yemen. We grew up with refugees and humanitarian problems, not only in the camps but also in the city. We help all the people in Djibouti by the food and everything with the refugees.

I am not surprised to see refugees here in Germany and I want to thank German authorities for opening the borders to them because it is very important. You also have some refugees who come here for economic reasons. When you see the situation in Syria or Libya you cannot close your door to that. German government and German people welcomed the refugees and we have to congratulate them. But now we have to prepare for the integration of the refugees who will stay here for long term. I am referring of course to the integration between the populations. For that, we need to break the wall between the two cultures so there will be more tolerance.

Djibouti is a Muslim country with many different churches on the main road. We have a big catholic church, an Orthodox Church, and a protestant church. We never have problems with the different religions because Djibouti is a “terre d’échange et de rencontre” (place of exchange and meetings).

Djibouti can be a good example for others. A Muslim country can also be tolerant of other cultures and religions. We have a French community that has been here for more than one century. We live in this tolerant community. We have to break the stereotype on countries. This is also your role at the ICD and you do it very well. I thank you for that.

The media is playing an important role in that, in the way they depict Africa- always conflict, famine, political problems. But Africa is not one country. It is a continent of 54 countries. Some are moving, some are booming like Ethiopia like Rwanda; even my small country is booming. However, you never see something positive about those countries.

In the building where your embassy is, there are also several other embassies. Do you collaborate with each other?
Yes, it is a mini United Nations. We have consulates from Colombia, Mauritius, Lesotho, Liberia and Egypt. But we see each other more during events than here in this building. I have a good relation with Mauritius, the ambassador is a good friend.

Lastly, do you have an advice for young people who wants to work in the diplomatic field?
My advice for young people is to start with NGOs after they finish their studies. For me it was a very good carrier because when you are in the field, you are in contact with the population. You understand their needs; you are not closed in an office.

News from Berlin
Julie Essertel & Gaspard Fontaine, Berlin Global