Protests have been going on in Djibouti now for several days. As with Bahrain, Djibouti is key to U.S. military presence in the area. In 2001, the Djiboutian government leased the former French military base Camp Lemonnier to the United States Central Command for operations related to Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA). In 2009, Central Command transitioned responsibilities in Africa to AFRICOM. Djibouti is extremely poor and depends upon foreign aid for much of its economy.
Investors from Dubai have leased the country’s main port in Djibouti City. Investors are also planning a bridge link between the country and Yemen in hopes to develop the area. Unemployment in Djibouti runs at a rate of 40 to 50 per cent providing a fertile ground for discontent. The country is in arrears on long term debt and struggles to meet conditions of foreign aid donors.
At least one person has been killed in recent demonstrations. More than 30,000 people protested Friday against the rule of president Ismail Guelleh. Guelleh last year changed the two term limit rule to allow him to run again for the presidency.
Ismael Hared an opposition leader was arrested and later released. He claims more protests are planned and that there have been protests in seven towns. Djibouti has about 850,000 people. Hared said:”The people are protesting against dictatorship, bad governance, lack of democracy and dynastic succession,”
Protests started peacefully but then the police moved in and violence ensued. The Minister of the Interior claimed there were only 500 to 800 protesters and said:”Protesters burned two trucks and stoned a policeman to death,” A former friend of the regime in exile in London said:”This president cannot get away with this, he has broken the constitution – that is not acceptable especially today with what we have seen happening in Tunis and Cairo,” . “The middle class is in meltdown – it doesn’t even exist any more. There is no need for any of us to be poor.”
Djibouti is of strategic importance for the U.S. and is the headquarters of its Africa military command. As is common the U.S. has strongly supported President Guelleh who has agreed to lease miliary bases both to the U.S. and France. Last year the U.S. doubled its aid contribution to Djibouti.. The actions of the police angered the crowd and may increase the protests as has happened elsewhere.