Region: Eastern Africa
Population: 506,221 (July 2008 est.)
Surface area: 23,000 sq km
Currency: CFA Djiboutian franc (DJF)
GDP per capita: Purchasing power parity US $2,300 (2007 est.)
The French Territory of the Afars and the Issas became Djibouti, when the region gained independence from France in 1977. Following its independence Hassan Gouled Aptidon installed an authoritarian one-party state and served as president until 1999. During the 1990s, conflict among the Afars minority led to a civil war that ended in 2001 following the conclusion of a peace accord between Afar rebels and the Issa led government. In 1999, Djibouti's first multi-party presidential elections resulted in the election of Ismael Omar Guelleh; he was re-elected to a second term in 2005 and again in 2011 for a third term, when the parliament approved the removal of two-terms limits for the president from the constitution. Currently, the governing coalition includes all of the country’s major clans and ethnic minorities, although the Issas control the ruling party and dominate much of the political sphere and security services. The present leadership favors close ties to France, which maintains a significant military presence in the country. Djibouti also has strong ties with the US, hosting the only US military base in sub-Saharan Africa.
Despite its relatively stable political climate, Djibouti is a member of the Arab League, as well as the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
Djibouti occupies a strategic geographic location at the mouth of the Red Sea. Its prime location is the main economic asset for a mostly barren country and its economy is largely dependent on services linked to its location. Two-thirds of Djibouti's inhabitants live in the capital city; the remainder are mostly nomadic herders. Those in the rural areas work predominantly in subsistence agricultural farming. Low levels of rainfall limit crop production to fruits and vegetables, and most food must be imported. Unemployment in Djibouti is estimated in excess of 50% of the working-age population. Djibouti serves as an important transhipment location for goods entering and leaving the east African highlands. The country also serves as a regional and international refuelling centre. Nevertheless the country has very few natural resources, and is highly dependent on foreign assistance.
Djibouti, unlike many nations is privileged due to its geographical placement in East Africa, bordering the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. This strategic position has not only facilitated trade and served as a transshipment point for several landlocked countries inclusive of neighbouring Ethiopia, but also makes it feasible for the resource-scarce Djibouti to import goods imperative to its survival. Djibouti currently houses the only United States base (Camp Lemonier) in Sub-Saharan Africa, and also maintains historical alliances with France which currently has approximately 2900 troops in Djibouti – its largest base in Africa[i]. However, what is incongruous with the presence of these Security Council and G7 members-states in Djibouti is that there are still pervasive and prolonged human rights violations and widespread corruption. This fact has seemingly not tarnished its relations with its trading partners and those desirous of maximising their geopolitical interests. For realists, this is simply a reflection of the ultimate goal of anarchic states to fulfill their national interests. Due to the fact that the president (Guelleh) has altered the constitution to prevent the rescinding of his presidential term, the people of Djibouti have been subject to a government entrenched in power and reap the benefits of a highly stratified social and economic system. The stark fact is that not only has Djibouti greatly benefited from a significant increase in post 9/11 aid from the United States which culminated to $53 million only after three years, but the pecuniary value derived yearly from former French Foreign Legion Camp - Camp Lemonier is approximately $30 million. Past reports also indicate that the revenue derived from France’s rental of its base may be in the vicinity of $38 million while the revenue accrued from Germany amounts to approximately $10 million. Moreover, in response to queries from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in 2011 about the value derived from transactions via the Port of Djibouti, President Guelleh retorted that it amounted to more than 40 million.[ii] Such earnings are further contextualised by a receipt of Official Development Assistance of $132 million (2008-2012)[iii] as well as financial assistance from USAID and the European Union.
Such seismic financial returns have seemingly emboldened the current regime to commit acts of atrocity with impunity and to deny the right of citizens to ‘life, liberty and security of person’ as should be guaranteed according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to the 2013 United Nations Human Development Report (UNHDR), Djibouti was reported to have had aHuman Development Index (HDI) of 0.445 in 2012, positioning the country at 164 out of 187 countries and territories. Moreover, the country’s MPI [Multidimensional Poverty Index] value, which is the share of the population that is multi-dimensionally poor, adjusted by the intensity of the deprivations, was 0.139.[iv] Many have conceded that Djibouti did achieve fair economic progress during the past decade but the political stranglehold of power has threatened the stability of the people of Djibouti. However, Friends of Djibouti – a non-profit organisation founded in 2012 in an attempt to encourage peaceful change of the current political discourse in Djibouti - still expressed the hope that “the Western leaders will put pressure on the Djibouti Government encouraging democratic process, the rule of law and the respect for human rights, and, in doing so, help Djibouti fulfil its real potential.” This is especially given the “worsening living conditions, human rights abuses and ... 30 years of one-party rule...”[v] The removal of presidential term limits in 2010was suspiciously correlated to the deaths of several high level personnel. These included the 2010 ‘suicide’ of Colonel Abdi Hassan Bogoreh (Chief of Staff of the Gendarmerie since 2005) and the succumbing of Lieutenant Colonel Abdillahi Mouhoumed (top official in the Department of Documentation and Security) to a heart attack in the same year.[vi] Such incidences are not a recent phenomenon as exemplified by the alleged assassination of French magistrate Bernard Borrel, former Counselor of the Djiboutian Minister of Justice in 1995.[vii]
With the country having sole ownership of broadcasting outlets, the government ownership of the main newspaper La Nation, and legislation which provides prison sentences for media offences, it is of little surprise that Reporters Without Borders described Djibouti as a "media black hole"[viii]. Such a decimation of media freedom has facilitated the veiling of the precarious situation of many women (and by extension children) who are prone to arbitrary detentions and have felt compelled to flee to neighbouring regions such as Eritrea and Ethiopia. It has been reported, for example, that between January and June, 2012, Lokki Mohamed was detained along with her children in barracks at Galela and consequently lost her son of six months.[ix] Such violations are juxtaposed with endemic inhumane practices such as female genital mutilation and the prevalence of marital rape and domestic violence. “Almost 93% of women have been subjected to some form of FGM, typically performed on girls between 7 and 10 years old (according to a 2008 estimate). Infibulations, the most severe form of FGM, are still widely practised despite being outlawed.”[x]Adherence to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women(CEDAW) and the Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women which it has ratified is obviously at the level of rhetoric, and without sufficient condemnation and pressure from the international community, the lives of many women would continue to be at risk. With a country of only 906,000 people (UN, 2011), Djibouti has much to do to ensure the inalienable human rights of all its people irrespective of ethnicity, gender, social status or political affiliations.
[i] Mesfin, Berouk. “Elections, Politics and External Involvement in Djibouti,”: http://www.iss.co.za/uploads/15Apr11Djibouti.pdf (accessed April 03, 2013).
[ii] Lallemend, Alain. “Profiteering on location: Djibouti’s repressive regime, not its people, has prospered since 9/11,” : http://www.publicintegrity.org/2007/05/22/5741/profiteering-location (accessed April 02, 2013).
[iii] The World Bank. “ Net Official Development Assistance Receives (current US$),” : http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/DT.ODA.ODAT.CD (accessed April 03, 2013).
[iv] Human Development Report 2013. “The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World,”: arabstates.undp.org/content/dam/rbas/img/docs/Djibouti.docx (accessed April 03, 2013).
[v]“Djibouti: Friends of Djibouti Association Campaigns for Free Elections in Djibouti,”: http://somalilandpress.com/djibouti-friends-of-djibouti-association-campaigns-for-free-elections-in-djibouti-39797 (accessed April 03, 2013).
[vi]Mesfin, Berouk. “Elections, Politics and External Involvement in Djibouti,”: http://www.iss.co.za/uploads/15Apr11Djibouti.pdf (accessed April 03, 2013).
[vii] Lallemend, Alain. “Profiteering on location: Djibouti’s repressive regime, not its people, has prospered since 9/11,”: http://www.publicintegrity.org/2007/05/22/5741/profiteering-location (accessed April 02, 2013).
[viii] BBC. “Djibouti Profile: Media,”: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-13231765 (accessed April 03, 2013).
[ix] Baldry, Tony. “Human Rights in Djibouti,”: http://www.friendsofdjibouti.org/wp-content/themes/azure-basic/pdf/Human-Rights-in-Djibouti-Report.pdf (accessed April 03, 2013).