Waugh and the Horn

Another article has appeared contrasting Evelyn Waugh’s dismissive attitude toward Djibouti in the 1930s with the bustling activity there today. This is entitled “Scramble for the Horn” by Oliver Miles in the London Review of Books:

Evelyn Waugh, who passed through Djibouti on his way to the coronation of Haile Selassie in 1930, when it was still a French colony, said that no one voluntarily spends long there.

Miles finds Waugh’s view (probably having in mind Remote People) quaintly out of date when so many countries (including the USA, China, France, Japan and even UAE and Saudi Arabia) are building facilities there because of its uniquely strategic location:

…it’s the only major trading port on the 4000 miles of coastline between Port Sudan to the north and Mombasa to the south, as well as being strategically situated on the Bab al-Mandab Strait, the narrow entrance to the Red Sea and a choke point on one of the world’s major shipping routes.

Miles conveniently overlooks the qualification on Waugh’s statement that no one voluntarily spends more time there than necessary. The personnel manning the facilities he enumerates probably receive hardship duty pay but are unlikely to have much choice in whether they or not they are assigned there for duty. And they probably are given R&R leave in Dubai on top of their allowances. He does not suggest that any more tourists are going to Djibouti to have a good time today than was the case in Waugh’s day.

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