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Djibouti's President Guelleh: - A giant among Dwarfs
By Abdikarim H. Abdi Buh
April 19, 2011

President Guelleh of Djibouti
President Ismail Omar Guelleh
 Republic of Djibouti
President Ismail Omar Guelleh was expected to win his third- term with outright majority due to the simple fact that he faced only one rival in the poll, independent candidate Mohamed Warsama Ragueh,   former head of the Constitutional Council.  Mr, Ragueh, an unknown quantity in the political circles of the country is universally assumed, by the Djiboutian masses, to have been pushed in to the ring by the ruling party activists to act as a window dressing for public consumption after the opposition parties chose not to partake.

A minority of the politicians in Djibouti were betting that Mr. Ragueh will attract the votes of the discontented which when pooled in one pot could give the incumbent president a bleeding nose. The same politicians were giving the independent candidate a percentage of no more than 32% which could have been a miracle, given the circumstances, had   it materialised. The count validated by the constitutional council on Wednesday was 19% to Mr. Ragueh which is a lion’s share for a novice who hardly campaigned a day let alone invested money or other resources during the run up to the elections.

Djiboutians “Don't try to get blood from a locust; God didn't put it in there.” An African proverb

Djibouti is a tiny barren mini state that has no natural resources and has the harshest weather in Africa and most probably the world. According to The World Factbook, Djibouti has a total land mass of 23,180 square-kilometres (sq. km.), of which only 0.04% is suitable for agriculture (arable land). In other words, less than 10 sq. km. of the total land mass in Djibouti is arable in the sense that it can support vegetable and some fruit trees but not staple foods that demand large tracks of fertile land and abundant water- food is 100% imported and potable water is very scarce in most of the times.

Adero Abdulla

Adero Abdulla, a mother of four, is one of thousands of pastoralists displaced by drought in Djibouti. Photo: Abdi Hassan/IRIN 

A combination of drought and high food prices has affected at least 120,000 people of the total population (860,000) of Djibouti, according to a joint rapid assessment of the impact of drought in rural areas by the government of Djibouti, UN agencies and FEWS Net.  An Unemployment rate of 59% to 60% coupled by high population growth rate (including immigrants and refugees) continues to be a major problem that is consistently testing Djibouti’s economic planners.

As a gesture of good intent  and to  warm-up  Ethiopia’s friendship with Djibouti;  PM  Meles Zenawi gave to Djibouti 3,000 hectares (ht) of prime farmland in western Arsi, near Serofta, Oromia, 3,000 ht is 30 sq.km., making the farmland that Djibouti owns in Oromia three times the size of the arable land found in Djibouti.

The economy of Djibouti is based on service activities connected with the country's strategic location and status as a free trade zone in northeast Africa.  The only source of revenue of Djibouti originates from the port and the basing fees generated from the western military bases. 

Does Djibouti has an effective Opposition Parties?

The two main opposition (UMD & UAD) leaders are yesteryear’s men with amble skeletons in their wardrobes.  Mr. Aden Roble Awale is often whispered in Djibouti as a traitor with no principles - deserted his FLCS comrades (the armed front, founded in 1960 by Mr. Harbi, which is recognised to have secured the independence of Djibouti) for a Ministerial post offered by RPP (ruling Party) in 1977. He was a member of the RPP coalition until thrown out due to internal power struggle but the bottom line is he never had a constituency at any time after his defection.

Mr, Ismail Guedi Hared was an RPP man too and was politically active during the era of the late president Mr. Guled and Prime Minister Mr. Deni but since then his political map and outlook went out of focus. He is believed to have failed to make any in roads in to the younger and educated generation’s world and is thus recognised, in the eyes of the youth, as an old man that can offer neither a solution to the current country’s multifaceted problems nor has a vision upon which the country can embark on to reap the benefits of today’s globalised world.  

Aden Roble Awale
Mr. Aden Roble Awale
Ismail Guedi Hared
Mr. Ismail Guedi Hared
Mr, Abdirahman Boreh
Mr, Abdirahman Boureh

Mr, Abdirahman Boureh a businessman based in London who was the right hand man of President Ismail Guelleh; announced his candidacy out of the blue but quickly withdrew from the race citing the old mantra – the fairness of the electoral commission and etc. Mr, Boureh, who prefers his newly adopted name, Charles over his Muslim name, is a wanted man in Djibouti for corruption – Tax evasion, employee medical insurance fraud and etc. Mr, Boureh’s friendship with the president became his Achilles heel; for he is believed to have benefited so much from a shady government contracts and the privatisation scheme of the nation’s assets.  His candidacy was interpreted by many as his vehicle to take revenge on his old friend rather than genuine desire to put forward an alternative leadership to his people.  
Mr. Boureh, unlike the others, is a young and educated man who could have sealed his print in the political history of Djibouti had he showed the courage to sacrifice his liberty to clear his name. His supporters in Djibouti failed to understand how one who can’t stomach to spend some months in prison can lead an opposition – no one leads opposition by remote control.   Some of his supporters at home say “Mr. Boureh might be a genius in the business world but is obviously a failure in the politician’s one   - his failure to master his mother tongue and his Christian name makes him no palatable than the average American or French businessman in Djibouti”.

The opposition’s foul play and the threat of an Ethiopian invasion! 

Djibouti's lacklustre opposition parties -- the Union for Democratic Change (UAD) and the Union of Democratic Movements (UMD) -- failed to field a consensus candidate and consequently boycotted the poll accusing the electoral commission of favouring the ruling party before the polls even commenced.  The weak opposition was emboldened by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt as well as the protests in Yemen and thus erroneously thought that the international community will force the president to resign and give them a shortcut to power. 

If the protests in Djibouti, orchestrated by the opposition, were not checked swiftly by the government; the likelihood of Ethiopia invading Djibouti was round the corner. Ethiopia, a country of 80 million, will not have watched passively when her lifeline is put in to chaos. Ethiopia would have initially taken over the port and the rail depots on the rational excuse of saving its citizens from mass starvation – a reason which needs no effort to sell to the UN.  If things go uglier then Ethiopia would have no choice other than to fall back to referring either to the colonial maps or the imperial treaties to justify its permanent annexation of Djibouti. Ethiopia could have achieved that goal without jeopardizing the interests of the base dweller – base tenants only care for the strategic geographical location but are blind to the landlord as long as they can conduct their businesses.  

The opposition put out of their mind that Djibouti is neither Tunisia nor Egypt but an African state that keeps pace with its peers in black Africa. TPLF/EPRDF of Ethiopia and Uganda’s NRM are no different to RPP of Djibouti to have the monopoly of power.  When it comes to amending the constitution to accommodate the sitting party’s candidate, Premier Meles Zenawi and Yuweri Musavani of Uganda used the same instrument to extend their term of office so what was the war cry over President Ismail Guelleh’s extension or was it the absurd Somali tribal stuff?

The Afars who constitute around 35% of the total population, the Arabs and the other minorities see President Ismail as a strong and unifying president that the country can hardly afford to dump at this juncture. The President has the International Community and the regional powers on his side and above all is locally attributed to have saved the country from total imminent collapse during his term in office.  

President Guelleh took over in 1999 a bankrupt country, a country in the midst of civil war, country encircled by bad and predatory neighbours, a barren country with no natural resources and in a relatively short period of time turned it into the only oasis of peace in the region. An oasis where both the region’s troubled citizens and the international community feel at ease to do business – Djibouti is the banker and trade hub of the horn. 

Sizable majority of Djiboutian admit that they have no alternative in place at the moment and they also reiterate that a President shouldn’t be judged by the number of years he was in Office but rather by what he has achieved in the said time

Abdikarim H. Abdi Buh
E-Mail: abdikarimbuh@yahoo.com


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