Small Country, Big Impact: The US Embassy in Djibouti Needs Help


A key outpost in America's diplomatic operations in Africa is suffering from "chronic staffing vacancies" that have kept "critical" positions from being filled for more than four years. Last year's State Department-wide hiring freeze isn't helping.

Those are among the findings made by the State Department Inspector General, who published last week the results of an inspection of the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti, Djibouti.

Overall, the IG praised U.S. officials there, especially the senior leadership, for their effectiveness and close coordination with the U.S. military's "only major" installation in Africa, the nearby Camp Lemonnier.

But the embassy has been having to make do with less than it needs, the IG said. An illustration of the problem is the post's new Management Officer, who "not only became the acting DCM [Deputy Chief of Mission] but assumed the Human Resource Officer, Post Occupational Safety and Health Officer, and Community Liaison Officer duties."

Another vacancy in the Assistant Regional Security Officer-Investigator position opened the embassy up to greater threat of fraud, and others extended to the embassy's drivers, who are working 17 hour shifts, the IG found. In that first case, State Department superiors agreed the position should be filled, but then the 2017 hiring freeze struck and the approvals stopped dead. The freeze also kept the embassy from hiring "eligible family members" of staffers.

It's a place where the U.S. can't afford to skimp. The IG report noted that Djibouti has emerged as an important strategic hub in east Africa for a number of competing powers.

"The Republic of Djibouti Government maintains longstanding ties to France, which has a significant military presence in the country," it says. "Russia has an active embassy, and China opened a naval facility, the first of its kind outside of China, in August 2017. At the time of the inspection, Djibouti was the only country in the world hosting both U.S. and Chinese military."

In the end, the IG made a staggering 25 recommendations, most directly to the embassy, to improve its operations, and the State Department agreed to each of them.

Primary Source: State IG Inspection Report for Djibouti (PDF)

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