Look carefully at Djibouti: Many of the indictors are present showing it to be a dictatorship- It’s essentially a single-party state (the opposition has boycotted the last two elections)- and thePresident-dictator, Ismail Omar Guelleh won 100% of the votes and has been in power since 1999, having succeeded his uncle. In 2010 he changed the constitution to allow himself the opportunity of running for a third (and then fourth) six-year term of office, as he had completed his allotted two terms.
The only national broadcaster, Radio-Television Djibouti, is the mouthpiece of the ruling party, slavishly reporting on the president’s visits and appointments. There are almost no independent civil society organizations, and, with almost all possible employment controlled by the state, criticism of the regime is a bad career move. What is his regime like, and why is he allowed to continue?
Well, Djibouti is wedged in between Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia, on the Horn of Africa. Guelleh has very strong Somali ties, and the country is currently the only way neighbouring Ethiopia can reach the sea, and does a lively amount of business as a trade corridor. For this reason, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia has also offered military protection to Djibouti against attempts of Eritrea in taking over the country.
The French Connection
That’s not all. Djibouti has very strong relations with France, as a former French territory, and through various military and economic agreements with France, it receives continued security and economic assistance. In fact, France’s largest overseas military deployment remains in Djibouti.
Guelleh trained as a secret service officer in Somalia, and also received training from the French Secret Service; it’s said that this is where he picked up his taste for authoritarian-style leadership: As the head of Djibouti’s security agency under his uncle’s regime, Guelleh gained an intimate knowledge of the country’s political forces and has used it to practice a politics of divide and rule, supplemented by repression and intimidation when expedient.
Protective Wings of the American Eagle
The tiny country is the operating base of U.S. Africa Command, Djibouti’s Camp Lemonnier is a friendly piece of real estate in the Horn of Africa, which includes Eritrea, Somalia, and Yemen. Approximately 2,000 U.S. troops are based at Lemonnier, in addition to the naval forces that periodically call at the port of Djibouti. With the nearest friendly African port located in Mombasa, Kenya — 1,700 miles away — the United States, NATO, and the European Union have no alternative to using Djibouti’s harbor as a sanctuary to conduct anti-piracy operations.
The anti-piracy stance has won Djibouti the support of other nations such as Japan, Germany and Russia.
As the only U.S. military toehold on the continent, Djibouti is also a vital link in the war on terror. Unmanned anti-terrorism drones are deployed from Lemonnier against targets in the Arabian Peninsula and Somalia. The CIA is rumored to maintain facilities in country.
What Human Rights?
Despite the strategic geography of Djibouti, the countries using the ports and airspace are overlooking other evidences of a dictatorship: Human Rights Watch has noted that the government has imposed an unconstitutional ban on public assembly, criminalizing any gathering in public. Rather than subjecting the electoral process to independent scrutiny, the government of Djibouti has jailed human rights activists and expelled international observers. An unconfirmed number of political activists remain in custody and held without charge.
In addition, Djibouti is in general believed to be host to a several kinds of human rights abuses, including: poor prison conditions; denial of fair public trial; interference with privacy rights; restrictions on freedoms of the press, assembly, and association; lack of protection for refugees; corruption; discrimination against women; female genital mutilation; discrimination against persons with disabilities; and restrictions on unions, according to the U.S. State Department.
“He takes all the money”
Apparently Guelleh is regarded as a “friendly” dictator by the US, although this didn’t prevent demonstrations during the Arab Spring by people fed up with his regime. An opposition leader said: “Guelleh has been president for 12 years and he wants to continue, but we are saying we don’t want you. It is because he doesn’t do anything for the people or the country. He takes all the money.”