Djibouti is an impoverished, Muslim country, in the volatile Horn of Africa region, with fewer than one million inhabitants, recently “celebrated” its independence from France.
For many Djiboutians, have nothing to celebrate in the face of the deprivation of political and civil liberties and press freedom. The regime of President Ismail Omar Geulleh suppresses press freedom, internet access, and cracks down on journalists. Moreover, an independent internet radio station, La Voix de Djibouti, run by Djiboutian in the diaspora has been blocked by the government and the website’s editor, Maydanah Abdallah Okeih has been detained several times by the security forces. In fact, the state run media, which disseminate government’s propaganda, is the only communication outlets available for the Djiboutians.
In 2009, President Obama told the Ghanaian parliament, “History is not with those who use coups or change constitution to stay in power.”
Two years after Obama’s speech, Mr Geulleh, who has been ruling Djibouti for 16 years, changed the constitution, to run for a third term. And he won by 80% after the opposition boycotted the election. He is planning, again, to run in 2016 when his term expires. And Djibouti has only had two presidents since its independence in 1977. In fact, Mr. Geulleh was a handpicked successor of his uncle, Hassan Guleid Aptidon , the first president of Djibouti.
The foreign aid and income that Djibouti receives from the leasing of foreign bases, and the port has not improved the living conditions of its citizens. In 2014, the UN placed Djibouti at position 170th among 187 countries surveyed in its Human development index. Half of Djiboutians live in poverty, and they lack basic essentials such as water and healthcare.
While Mr Geulleh’s family/kinsmen and his supporters are not only enjoying good life, but also have a stranglehold on Djibouti’s government and its economy: They hold key government posts, and control government owned utility companies such as water, electricity, communications and the ports.
President Obama has an opportunity, on his upcoming visit to the region, on late July, to address the gross human rights abuses and the harsh repression of the Djiboutian regime
Djibouti is located on one the most strategic places in the world: Djibouti lies on the western shore of the Bal-el-Manded (Arabic for “gates of tears”), a strategic strait 18 miles wide, joining the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea. Djibouti serves as a regional port. All of the imports and exports of the landlocked Ethiopia, with 90 million people, go through Djibouti
Djibouti is also hosting numerous foreign military bases, including the only American military base in Africa, Camp Lemonier, 500 acre, former French legion Post.
In fact, Camp Lemonnier, which houses 4,000 personnel, is the hub of the US counter terrorism efforts against Al- shabab in Somalia and al-Qaida in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen, and elsewhere in Africa. The United States is paying the Djibouti government $700 million to lease the site for 10 years. Moreover, the pentagon is also spending additional $1.2 billion to upgrade the base
We know that it is difficult for the Americans to take any action against Djibouti’s despotic regime because of America’s security interests.
For 38 years, the Djiboutians have suffered under one-party misrule, and despotism. They deserve free and fair elections to decide their own leader and government without fear of repression. America must forcefully support the right side: Human rights, democracy and the rule of law, in Djibouti or elsewhere in Africa.
The consequences of not doing so are serious----political instability, uprising, and more extremism. That would be a dangerous for the Bab- el-Mandeb, one the world’s busiest maritime routes.
Ali Mohamed is co-founder of the Horn of Africa Freedom Foundation, Lewis Center, Ohio. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org