By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Anti-government demonstrations have spread to the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti, where 30,000 people marched on Feb. 18 demanding the resignation of President Ismael Omar Guelleh. Two people were killed when police attacked protesters in this country’s capital, which is also called Djibouti.
The government detained and released three opposition leaders: National Democratic Party Chairman Aden Robleh, Djibouti Democratic Party Chairman Mohamed Daoud Chehem and Ismail Guedi Hared, whose Union for Democratic Change organized the massive demonstrations.
The former French colony, which still maintains close ties to Paris, has a population of less than 850,000, but serves as a strategic outpost in Western imperialism’s so-called “war on terrorism.”
Djibouti houses the only known U.S. military base on the African continent and is therefore highly significant to the Pentagon’s strategy aimed at dominating the Horn of Africa, the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Peninsula. The Financial Times reported that Washington’s camp is an outpost for the U.S. Africa Command, Africom. (Feb. 20)
Hared told the Financial Times that demonstrations have taken place in seven towns and that the opposition forces have formed an alliance to push for the removal of the existing regime. He said more demonstrations are planned despite government repression.
He said, “The people are protesting against dictatorship, bad governance, lack of democracy and dynastic succession. The opposition has formed a coalition, and we have decided to do everything to make sure the protests continue.”
State television reports showed thousands of people fighting the security forces, which utilized tear gas in an effort to break up the anti-government demonstrations. Images were shown of burnt vehicles and police welding batons against unarmed protesters.
The Guelleh regime changed the country’s constitution last year to extend the number of times that the president — who has been in power since 1999 — could run for office. A government ministry has accused opposition forces of wanting to seize power by force.
An opposition supporter from Balbala said, “The people don’t want this dictatorial regime. Our freedom is in our hands. We won’t stop until our dreams come true.” (Reuters, Feb. 20)
Authorities have detained Jean-Paul Noël Abdi, president of the Djibouti League for Human Rights. In his mid-60’s, he was investigating and reporting on student demonstrations calling for educational policy changes.
The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch’s letter to President Guelleh said, “Noël Abdi did not organize the protests, nor did he take part in the demonstrations. He did not condone any disorderly behavior or looting or stone throwing.”
U.S. base in the Horn of Africa
Since 2001, the Pentagon has aimed to establish a permanent military base in the Horn of Africa. After the September 11 attacks in Washington and New York, the U.S. Marines relocated the USS Whitney warship off Djibouti’s coast in the Gulf of Aden and eventually moved into the French-built Camp Lemonnier.
The camp is a U.S. naval expeditionary base located at the Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport. It is the home of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa of Africom. Navy Admiral Brian L. Losey is base commander.
Djibouti is bordered by Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea, making it a valuable asset for U.S. imperialism in its efforts to dominate the Horn of Africa region as well as the Arabian Peninsula.
U.S. imperialism faces increasing instability
The demonstrations in Djibouti could pose a grave threat to Washington’s overall strategy of dominance in the Horn of Africa, the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Peninsula. Although it is not clear in which direction these demonstrations will lead, if they result in the collapse of the existing regime, it could raise the specter of a new government demanding the removal of the U.S. naval base at Camp Lemonnier, Africom’s only known base on the continent.
The recent wave of popular uprisings throughout North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula is taking place amid an escalation of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. These Pentagon-directed campaigns have been overshadowed by the corporate media’s focus on the mass demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain, Algeria and other states.
U.S. and NATO attacks on civilian areas in Afghanistan resulting in massive deaths have fueled opposition and resistance to the ongoing occupation. Protests in southern Iraq are aimed at the U.S.-installed puppet regime over its poor delivery of services to the population.
With the U.S. being forced to respond to so many outbreaks of political unrest in North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, Washington is re-evaluating its foreign policy in these geopolitical regions. Pentagon Joint Chiefs of Staff head, Admiral Mike Mullen, is touring countries including Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.
U.S. anti-war and anti-imperialist forces must follow these developments closely and adopt political programs and slogans that express solidarity with the progressive character of the demonstrations, rebellions and uprisings sweeping these areas of the world.