Human capital is our biggest advantage: Aboubaker Omar Hadi--Chairman, Djibouti International Free Trade Zone.

The ports complex of Djibouti is not only a critical throughfare for international shipping and trade, it is also very much part and parcel of the country's economic development strategy.

How did Djibouti become such a major logistical hub in the region?

Let me contextualise the answer to this question within history. The location of Djibouti is of primary importance. This strategic location cannot be underestimated. It has always been throughout history an important gateway and international crossroad for trade.

This route grew even more significant with the growth of shipping and the construction of the Suez Canal in 1869. This gave Djibouti a key role to play, effectively making the country an important hub for the movement of goods and exchange between Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

At the beginning, Djibouti was a bunkering platform, and used to refuel the ships travelling from Europe, especially Marseille, to Indochina, and there was a depot of coal, because at that time ships used to burn coal as fuel (streamships). The ships also replenished on water and food to enable them to continue their journey.

It is only later on that Djibouti was converted into a cargo hub. With the building of the railway line between Djibouti and Addis Ababa, between 1879 to 1917--the first railway on the African continent--that offered new perspectives for Djibouti to become a transit country for Ethiopia and the hinterland.

In the 1970s, we started adding to these activities relating to imports and exports, what we'd refer to as transhipment cargo, essentially transferring consignments on large vessels to smaller ships for them to distribute across the region. Today, transhipment activities represent almost 50% of our throughput.

In the last three or four years, we have developed a further transhipment activity between much larger vessels. That means the exchange and coordination of the movement of a much larger quantity of containers--using Djibouti as a logistics hub, not only between Africa and the world but East and West, and North and South, all being coordinated in Djibouti. This is transhipment but on a much larger and global scale. Djibouti Shipping for example has acquired a feeder vessel which will soon be ready to serve ports across the region.

As we grow, we are also now reviving our original business, which is that of bunkering. We are moving from what they call solid bunkering to what is now liquid supply.We have managed, in the...

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