by Saad I. Samatar
Sunday, March 27, 2011
“I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving: To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it, but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor”. Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table, p.93 (1891).
Visit Djibouti, and the huge banners in the capital prominently display the words, “Nous Croyons en Djibouti,” meaning, “We believe in Djibouti.” Indeed, many Djiboutians believe in their country’s drive to work with the international community and to meet its commitment for a stable democratic government.
In April of last year, the Djiboutian parliament passed a constitutional amendment that allowed President Ismail Omar Guelleh to run for a third term. The amendment was passed unanimously, as the opposition held no parliamentary seats since boycotting elections in 2008.
The recent youthful revolutions for the highly educated North African men and women would undoutable gave great expectations for the copycat Djibouti opposition, but achieving Guelleh’s vision may prove harder for the divided and despondent opposition. There is no one- size fits all templates for a revolutionary outcome, for one reason, many oppositions leaders in most African countries, including Djibouti have nothing to offer to their citizens but endless political promises. Once they are in power, they completely forget their political bearings.
Many prefer to oppose in the marketplace, instead of offering concrete suggestions to the ruling government to improve the lives of their compatriots. What are the practical demands for the average Djibouti citizen? Suitable jobs, improve living conditions, electricity, clean water, schools, hospitals and human respect for all. The Guelleh administration is achieving these services and more, but remember Africa is not a clean cut continent and has its share of political grievances and corruptions. Do you think the bogus argument from the armchair politicians of the opposition will guarantee the Djibouti public for a squeaky clean government and economic and social development? Successful rulers want to do more than rule, they want to be remembered positively for all times.
Allow me to shed some light what President Guelleh’s achievements are so far:
He inherited an economy at the bottom of the rock. Major institutions like the Djibouti port, airport, Sheraton hotel and the Ministry of Telecommunication that were expected to come up with sufficient funds for the state were on the contrary begging for government monthly subsidies. Salary arrears for government and semi-government institution were six-month overdue. A fratricidal war was ragging, destroying life and property beyond what a country like Djibouti could shoulder.
· Guelleh had to start from scratch to come out of the deficit, he had to end the civil war with FRUD the Afar movement and prove he was a man of peace.
· Guelleh refused to go to a full blown war with Eritrea. Instead he brought his case to International quorum and defeated the aggressor on whom condemnations and sanctions were laid.
· Higher education was at it pitfalls in the country.
· Somali and Afar languages curriculum in the mother tongue, and encouraging language literature, drama and music. Helping the displace Somali artists, poets and writers.
· Djibouti hosted several high level conferences and workshops in which Somali leaders and intellectuals discuss cultural, economical and political issues.
· Women’s empowerment & other civil societies. (Thanks to the First Lady for her initiative).
On the economic front, he encouraged development based on a number of services and
activities. Djibouti’s strategic location and its position as a free trade zone is an added
· Its proximity to the large Ethiopian market and a large foreign expatriate community
· The cutting edge Port of Djibouti & the Free zone of Doraleh
· Regional banking hub, with approximately $600 million in deposits
· Private sector capital investment inflows that now tops $200 million annually
· Djibouti Franc was linked to the dollar and the gold
· A new national carrier, Djibouti Air with investors from UAE
Because of President Guelleh’s leadership skills and his proactive position against terrorism, and piracy, Djibouti is fast become a preferred place for foreign military bases.
Indeed Djibouti as a small country needs to protect itself too. President Guelleh is using the presence of US troops to demand increased financial compensation for basing rights. This has succeeded France, the other NATO power agreed in 2003 to almost double the amount paid to Djibouti for basing rights, _18 million Euros to _30 million Euros. This amount does not include the approximately _25 million Euros for French force Djibouti personnel, dependant civilians and expatriate French civilians spend in Djibouti. It adds to the economic and job opportunities in the country.
European Union naval units have a permanent military presence in Djibouti too. Now, here comes Japan. Ostensibly, the $40 million base planned by Japan will be the Headquarters for Japanese forces involved in counter piracy operations.
In April 2010, the Japanese navy confirmed that it expected to open its new base in Djibouti. This will be the only Japanese base outside of Japan and the first in Africa. Japan is a maritime nation and the increase in piracy in the Gulf of Aden, through which 20,000 vessels sail every year is worrying Japan. Japan has chosen Djibouti for its suitable air and seaports as well as political stability.
The history of Djibouti plays a part in its current developments. The French colonial power had an interest in the Somali coastline since Rochet d’Hericourt’s exploration into the Shewa, Abyssinia in 1839. After a treaty of friendship and assistance was signed between France and the Afar Sultans of Tadjoura, Gobaad, and Raheita, a harbor was purchased from the Sultan of Gabaad in 1862, beginning a permanent French presence in the Horn region.
French interest in the area increased with the British activity in Egypt and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. In 1896 the French administration capital for the French Somaliland protectorate was moved from Obock south across the Gulf of Todjoura to Djibouti, which had a natural deep water harbor with ready access to the Ethiopian highlands. In 1897 the Franco-Ethiopian railway was begun, reaching Addis Ababa in 1917 to further link the Ethiopian highlands to the French terminus on the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Boundaries of the protectorate marked out in 1897 between
France and Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia, were affirmed by Haile Selassie I in 1945 and 1952. In 1967 a directive from Paris changed the name of the region to French Territory of Afars & Issas, also reorganizing the governmental structure of the territory, turning the senior representative, formerly the governor-general into a high commissioner. In 1976, in response to increasingly insistent demands for independence, the territory’s citizenship laws that had traditionally favored the Afar minority were revised to reflect more closely the weight of the Somali Issa. In May 1977, a referendum was held in which a majority of the electorate voted for independence and on June 1977, the Republic of Djibouti was born. Hassan Gould Aptidon became the country’s first president till he stepped down in 1999.
In 1991, civil war erupted in Djibouti between the government and a predominantly Afar rebel group, the Front for the Restoration of Unity & Democracy (FRUD). The civil war dragged on with no end in sight. However, Guelleh realized that the civil war is a cancer destined to kill rather than cure. The old master, France masquerading as a negotiator between the two parties was not at all an honest broker. However, determined to end this fratricide with no third party involved Guelleh decided to literally walk alone extra miles to the FRUD rebel’s headquarters in the Dikhil region.
The FRUD signed a peace accord with the government in December 1994, ending the conflict. As a result a PM and four ministerial posts were permanently allocated to the Afar nationality. Thus the Afars in the Republic trust President Guelleh for keeping the promises and the agreements reached with FRUD in the wilderness, because of this they are his staunch supporters ever since. His landslide wins in the last two elections are testaments to the above contention.
President Ismail Omar Guelleh (a.k.a IOG by the locals) was elected to the presidency as the RPP candidate in 1999. He received 74 percent of the vote, with the other 26 percent going to opposition candidate Moussa Ahmed Idriss, of the Unified Djibouti Opposition (CDU). For the first time since independence, no group boycotted the election. President Guelleh is set for yet another victory in April elections this year.
As a strategic NATO ally and Ethiopia’s peaceful neighbor and business partner in the
Horn’s regional conflicts, he can also count on continuing French and United States
As an intellectual I feel ashamed that most of us who belong to this category have thrown away objectivity and clung to myopic tribal feelings that have blinded us totally. Honestly speaking, who is the intellectual who can deny at least two cheers to a truly Djibouti head of state who has turn his tiny Republic as a safe haven for all ethnic Somalis and relentlessly struggling to resurrect Somalia. As the old Africa adage goes “you cannot awake to reality anyone who is deliberately sleeping”.
Such opposition lies will deny the marvelous progress made by Djibouti under the leadership of Ismail Omar Guelleh. I urge my fellow countrymen to vote for the man they believe he can bring progressive change and stability in the country.
Indeed, “We Believe in Djibouti.” Wish you all free and fair election.
The writer Saad I. Samatar is a Librarian & Archivist and who lives in Robbinsdale, MN. USA
E-mail: [email protected]
Agence France –Presse (April, 2005). France hopes to keep “long – Standing” Ties with Djibouti as a
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Remnek, Richard B. (Dec. 1990). The Strategic Importance of the Bab al-Mandab & the Horn of Africa
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