Putting nature at the heart of development

Amina Abdi Aden joined the Ministry in 1993. She was then appointed Minister of State in 2011, then Minister of the City, Urban Planning and Housing in 2021. African Business met this urban planner, who is in the process of balancing economic development and the natural environment in the service of the population.

Conversation with


“I’m here to solve problems and bring perspective,” says Amina Abdi Aden, Minister for the City, Town Planning and Housing. Since her entry into the ministerial sphere, she has gradually grown in stature, culminating in her appointment to her current post. She gives us her vision of urban planning, a sector that is enjoying great vitality in the country. 

African Business: Because of its strategic location, relatively small size and port activity, Djibouti has some similarities with a country like Singapore or a city like Dubai. How can you attract foreign investors in real estate, as these two examples have done, and so contribute to a country’s economic boom?

Amina Abdi Aden: Djibouti has more or less the same characteristics as these city-states. In terms of urban planning, we’re trying to draw inspiration from Singapore to develop our city in the best possible way. 

For the next masterplan, we want to involve the Asian city-state in our vision, while retaining Djibouti’s characteristics. We are aware that even if our economies and geographical position are similar, our countries are not the same and our cultures differ, but Singapore is a very good example for Djibouti, if only in terms of greenery.

Singaporeans leave plenty of room for nature in their landscaping. They have also solved the problem of mobility, which is a major concern for us. Today, most government offices are concentrated in the old city, and there is a migration, particularly in the mornings and evenings. So we’re thinking about redistributing administrative services and economic activities so that they’re better distributed across the territory. 

We have a workshop coming up just after the Djibouti Forum that is being held in conjunction with the South of France region and a number of partners including Rwanda, Singapore and Morocco, to reflect on the future of the city. 

We are asking “How can we transform the city to make it both resilient and dynamic?” One very important topic is: “How can the ports be integrated into the city?” The city needs to benefit economically from this infrastructure. There must be no physical divide between port facilities and the urban populations, who must benefit from these developments not only in terms of jobs but also in terms of creative spaces.

The property sector falls behind with crises like the pandemic or sub-regional instability. What can you do to stay on track for Vision 2035?

Amina Abdi Aden: We’re taking advantage of Djibouti’s economic vitality and what’s happening in the sector. We have some very large private-sector real estate projects underway and good prospects for the coming years, when many projects are being developed or will be delivered shortly. Even though construction products are imported, and those successive crises have had an impact on costs, activity in the sector remains dynamic and the needs are there.

How is Djibouti’s construction and property sector faring today? 

Amina Abdi Aden: There’s an adage that says, ‘when the building goes, everything goes’. Anyone who knows Djibouti will know that the construction sector has come a long way in recent years. There has been a lot of building, both in terms of public infrastructure and private construction, particularly in the housing sector, which has accounted for around 6% of GDP for several years now. 

This sector is driven by public institutions, but also by the private sector. A few years ago we issued implementing decrees to encourage the private sector to build private housing for the middle and upper social classes, and this has borne fruit.

How can we facilitate access to home ownership for the middle classes, and why is this a challenge? 

Amina Abdi Aden: Public institutions produce social housing, and to meet the needs of the middle class, private developers have benefited from incentives to build housing adapted to this group. 

In Djibouti, there is a huge demand for housing, particularly among first-time buyers, because the population is young. The roles had to be shared.

What role do local banks play in this? 

Amina Abdi Aden: In the past, banks didn’t play a very big role in housing finance. More recently, the government has encouraged such financing by, for example, taking steps to resolve the legal problems surrounding mortgages. The courts were slow to enforce decisions, so the government removed this obstacle. A law was passed, and since then things have changed. Recently, a programme was introduced to encourage banks to reach out to the lower social classes, and a housing guarantee fund was set up so that low-income households can also qualify.

What are the housing needs for the city and the country as a whole?

Amina Abdi Aden: According to our studies, we need to build between 3,000 and 4,000 new homes every year. But we’ve had a shortfall of 20,000 homes in recent years. The current pace of construction, both public and private, is not yet sufficient to meet demand. But all the conditions are in place to ensure that we can make up this shortfall year-on-year.

How will your masterplan support Djibouti’s economic and demographic growth over the coming decades? What about the country’s other towns?

Amina Abdi Aden: Djibouti has always had masterplans for urban development and planning. The most recent one dates from 2014. It covered a ten-year period. This year, we’re going to start drawing up a new masterplan that will be much more ambitious. Our aim is to transform this city.

It’s a city that, because of its geographical position, faces a lot of challenges, especially in terms of climate change. A large part of the city is built at sea level, so we have problems with rainwater drainage, and what’s happening around the world doesn’t reassure us. We also have masterplans for the towns in the regions. The planning is there, the regulatory measures also exist.

In terms of cultural habits, will the construction of new buildings change the way people live?

Amina Abdi Aden: Ten years ago, we started building social housing in the form of blocks of flats. At first, people were very reluctant, but economically it’s more profitable than building individual dwellings. It minimises costs for the households that will benefit from it. To make things easier, we’re building housing on four levels, with two flats per landing, and we’ve set up co-ownership associations so that people can learn how to manage communal areas. It’s an apprenticeship. We have also built this type of housing in the regions. It’s something that Djiboutians now accept, and demand is now constant.

Are there any plans to renovate, preserve and enhance Djibouti’s historic city centre?

Amina Abdi Aden: Djibouti’s historic centre has an architectural heritage preservation code. We are trying to implement it to revitalise the city centre. In recent years, more and more economic activities have sprung up, there has been a lot of restoration and the buildings have increased in value. 

Now, we have to reconcile the economic interest – for example, when people want to knock down an old building to turn it into a block of flats – with making people understand that a buildings may be historic. In the heritage preservation plan, there is a classification of buildings of historic interest and then there are the other buildings that people can destroy but which must be rebuilt in a certain spirit. 

It’s not just a conservation plan. It’s also a dynamic plan to transform the city centre and give it economic vitality, while preserving the heritage that bears witness to Djibouti’s history. The difficulty lies in reconciling economic activity with the need to preserve the cultural heritage.

Can the city be developed without altering the environment too much?

Amina Abdi Aden: This is essential, because the climate in Djibouti is quite hot and it doesn’t rain every day. The government is taking action and a tree-planting campaign has been launched, both in the city and in the regions. Djibouti needs more greenery, so a park will soon be opened in the city on the initiative of the President of the Republic. In all the housing estates we are building, we are including tree planting, and we are encouraging people to look after them.

How do you see the Djibouti of tomorrow?

Amina Abdi Aden: I imagine a city that is better developed, more resilient, that offers many facilities in terms of services to its inhabitants, and above all, a green city, because it is the dream of every human being to live in an area where nature is dominant. All the more so as, at the same time, with the consequences of global warming, we have increasingly high temperatures in Djibouti, which is already known for its high temperatures in summer. So we hope they won’t rise too much.

Want to continue reading? Subscribe today.

You've read all your free articles for this month! Subscribe now to enjoy full access to our content.

Digital Monthly

£8.00 / month

Receive full unlimited access to our articles, opinions, podcasts and more.

Digital Yearly

£70.00 / year

Our best value offer - save £26 and gain access to all of our digital content for an entire year!

Théo du Couëdic

Théo is a freelance journalist based in Senegal.