Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Djibouti’s Presidential Elections: the Crackdown Continues

Paris.

On April 8, the voters of Djibouti go to the polls to elect their country’s president. There is little question that the current officeholder, President Ismail Omar Guelleh, will win a fourth term. However, allegations of fraud, violence, and abuse of judicial process have already irrevocably marred the upcoming election. In typical fashion, Guelleh’s usual despotic leadership has doubled down on its violent anti-democratic tendencies leading up to the election.

The latest sign that the election will be fraudulent is the fact that foreign reporters are being expelled from the country. The BBC reported on Monday that its reporting team in Djibouti was detained by plainclothes police after interviewing a foreign minister and an opposition presidential candidate. The team was held incommunicado, questioned for eight hours, then hustled aboard a plane out of the country the next morning. Although the BBC has written the government seeking explanation for its actions, there has been no reported response at the time of this writing.

Although Guelleh’s campaign officially kicked off on March 25, not everyone is following suit. The president’s main political rival, the Union for National Salvation (known by its French acronym, USN), is quickly fracturing in the run-up to polling, as three of the seven parties that make up the USN are declining to participate in the vote. In the words of one party leader, the exercise is nothing but a “sham election,” citing the fact that minimum requirements of transparency aren’t in place. After winning his last term in a highly suspect vote in 2013, IOG (as he is nicknamed) promised an independent electoral commission in exchange for an increased representation in Djibouti’s legislative body for his party, the Union for the Presidential Majority (UMP). Though some opposition leaders believed IOG to be sincere in his promise, the president has yet to meet his end of the bargain by failing to establish such a commission.

Although the only aspect of Guelleh’s leadership that is transparent is its corruption, opposing it is hazardous. A letter signed by fourteen experts in genocide and human rights describes the appalling situation in the country. Pointing out that NGO’s like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders all agree that Djibouti is among the most poverty-stricken and misery-ridden countries in Africa, the letter goes on to say that Guelleh has kept a tight grip on the reins of power through force and intimidation. Torture, extra-judicial killing, exile, and forced disappearance are all common fates for those who dare stand up to Guelleh’s power.

The Guelleh regime has used the judicial process to keep opponents in check as well. Earlier this year, terrorism charges against prominent Djibouti businessman Abourahman Boreh, a vocal critic of IOG, were dropped by an English court. The Djibouti government, which has already sentenced him in absentia to fifteen years in prison on terrorism charges, had Boreh hauled before English courts on twenty-three separate charges also relating to terrorism and had his assets frozen as well. Initially a supporter of and friend to Guelleh, Boreh had a falling out with IOG when he began demanding a greater share of the profits from the country’s port redevelopment project and declined to support Guelleh’s proposal to change the country’s constitution and scrap term limits.

Though terrible, the above pales in comparison to punishment experienced by some who oppose the Guelleh government. Djibouti expatriates in France began a hunger strike last month in protest of the ultimate violation of personal sanctity – the frequent, wanton, and usually officially ignored incidence of sexual assault by the Djibouti military against enemies of the regime. Ten women, victims of the kind of rape against which they protest, are striking to bring awareness to the problem. The rapes occur in “areas of resistance,” according to one of the women. Soldiers rape women in these areas at any opportunity, whether it be going to a police station to check on a detained relative, or going to a well to get water. Further, complaints of rape filed with the government of Djibouti are essentially ignored – an overseas committee formed to investigate the rapes has received almost 250 complaints, whereas the government of Djibouti claims only a tenth of that number in its files. Local doctors do not report incidents of rape for fear of having their offices closed, and French military doctors are urged to “reconsider” their findings after pressure from the Djibouti government.

The women chose France as a place to raise awareness as the Republic is one of several countries that maintain military bases in the strategically-positioned country. There has been a Gallic presence in Djibouti since it declared independence from its former colonial master in the 1970s. The United States has had military assets there as well after beginning its War on Terror. At the present time, several more European countries, Japan, and the People’s Republic of China have operations at Camp Lemonnier. Saudi Arabia is soon to follow as well.

These countries bring billions of dollars with them into the country. However, in the words of the International Monetary Fund, the investments are having “limited trickle-down effects” – two-thirds of the country lives in grinding poverty, and the unemployment rate is roughly fifty percent. Few skilled workers are available in-country, evidenced by the fact that China has to fly in its own skilled laborers. The destitute of Djibouti escape their misery thanks to the amphetamine-like effects of khat, a powerful and ubiquitous drug that some half-jokingly say prevent the overthrow of the Djibouti government. Most of the profits go to Guelleh and his cronies while the United States and Europe look the other way.

The rigged elections are mere hours away, but there is little hope that they will bring anything but a Guelleh “victory” and, along with it, more corruption, torture, rape, disappearances, deaths, poverty, and general misery to a benighted population with plenty of it to spare.

More articles by:

Allen Swenson a Paris-based international development practitioner and social entrepreneur with a focus on African life and society. 

May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
Amitai Ben-Abba
Israel’s New Ideology of Genocide
Patrick Cockburn
Israel is at the Height of Its Power, But the Palestinians are Still There
Frank Stricker
Can We Finally Stop Worrying About Unemployment?
Binoy Kampmark
Royal Wedding Madness
Roy Morrison
Middle East War Clouds Gather
Edward Curtin
Gina Haspel and Pinocchio From Rome
Juana Carrasco Martin
The United States is a Country Addicted to Violence
Dean Baker
Wealth Inequality: It’s Not Clear What It Means
Robert Dodge
At the Brink of Nuclear War, Who Will Lead?
Vern Loomis
If I’m Lying, I’m Dying
Valerie Reynoso
How LBJ initiated the Military Coup in the Dominican Republic
Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Wild at Heart: Keeping Up With Margie Kidder
Roger Harris
Venezuela on the Eve of Presidential Elections: The US Empire Isn’t Sitting by Idly
Michael Slager
Criminalizing Victims: the Fate of Honduran Refugees 
John Laforge
Don’t Call It an Explosion: Gaseous Ignition Events with Radioactive Waste
Carlo Filice
The First “Fake News” Story (or, What the Serpent Would Have Said)
Dave Lindorff
Israel Crosses a Line as IDF Snipers Murder Unarmed Protesters in the Ghetto of Gaza
Gary Leupp
The McCain Cult
Robert Fantina
What’s Wrong With the United States?
Jill Richardson
The Lesson I Learned Growing Up Jewish
David Orenstein
A Call to Secular Humanist Resistance
W. T. Whitney
The U.S. Role in Removing a Revolutionary and in Restoring War to Colombia
Rev. William Alberts
The Danger of Praying Truth to Power
Alan Macleod
A Primer on the Venezuelan Elections
John W. Whitehead
The Age of Petty Tyrannies
Franklin Lamb
Have Recent Events Sounded the Death Knell for Iran’s Regional Project?
Brian Saady
How the “Cocaine Mitch” Saga Deflected the Spotlight on Corruption
David Swanson
Tim Kaine’s War Scam Hits a Speed Bump
Norah Vawter
Pipeline Outrage is a Human Issue, Not a Political Issue
Mel Gurtov
Who’s to Blame If the US-North Korea Summit Isn’t Held?
Patrick Bobilin
When Outrage is Capital
Jessicah Pierre
The Moral Revolution America Needs
Binoy Kampmark
Big Dead Place: Remembering Antarctica
John Carroll Md
What Does It Mean to be a Physician Advocate in Haiti?
George Ochenski
Saving Sage Grouse: Another Collaborative Failure
Sam Husseini
To the US Government, Israel is, Again, Totally Off The Hook
Brian Wakamo
Sick of Shady Banks? Get a Loan from the Post Office!
Colin Todhunter
Dangerous Liaison: Industrial Agriculture and the Reductionist Mindset
Ralph Nader
Trump: Making America Dread Again
George Capaccio
Bloody Monday, Every Day of the Week
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Swing Status, Be Gone
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail