The impact of young people in Burkina Faso rallying for democracy is spreading across the African continent. A few days after deposing President Blaise Compoaré following 27 years in power, it seems that the youth of another African country are ready to say enough to another long-standing ruler, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh.
Djibouti's strongman leader has been at the helm of the country since 1999 and is holding on despite several national protests asking for a new alternative in the country. The Republic of Djibouti is a former French colony of about 850,000 citizens located between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.
In 2010, Guelleh managed to pass constitutional reform so that he could have a third term in office. This was the exact strategy that provoked the demise of Compoaré in Burkina Faso. Guelleh has been president for 15 years, but his party has been in power for 34 years.
On November 3, the Opposition Youth Movement (Mouvement des Jeunes de l'Opposition, MJO in French) marched through the streets of Djibouti City to demand the application of transparent democratic elections in Djibouti. Here is a video of the protests:
Djiboutian blogger Houssein Ibrahim Houmed wrote the following regarding the events in Burkina Faso:
Vu de Djibouti, je peux dire avec certitude que les sympathisants du parti politique d’Uguta-Toosa (Djibouti) soutiennent le juste combat du peuple Burkinabé. J’invite la coalition USN (Union pour le salut National) de l’opposition djiboutienne d’exprimer leur indéfectible solidarité à l’endroit de la résistance que mènent les Burkinabés contre la dictature de Blaise Compaoré.
As seen from Djibouti, I can say with certainty that the members and supporters of Uguta-Toosa (Djibouti) political party support the just struggle of the people of Burkina Faso. I invite the coalition USN (National Union for Salvation) of the Djiboutian opposition to express their unwavering solidarity with the resistance waged against the dictatorship Burkinabe Blaise Compaoré.
Guelleh's regime is well known for its disregard for democracy. In 2011, prior to the elections, the government banned all demonstrations and arbitrarily arrested peaceful protesters and opposition leaders, according to Human Rights Watch.
Yet, the ongoing struggle for more democracy in Djibouti is intricately linked to the country's relations with its larger neighbors as well as its up-and-coming economy.
Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia have each had challenges of their own to incorporate a sustainable democratic process in their politics. The emphasis on the fight against terrorism in the region has enabled the rulers of those countries to generously benefit from US aid without much of the usual democratic requirements. Moreover, the potential for a quick rising growth in the region has solidified the grip of the Guelleh on its position of power. Malik Ibrahim, an expert in the Horn of Africa region, explained how Guelleh uses its international network to strengthen its leadership:
Americans, French, Germans, Chinese, Russians and even the Japanese have been vying for influence within the country’s government. As a result, Djibouti’s main source of income comes from the rents it charges its Western partners for the military facilities it hosts. While the exact sums are unclear, the U.S. pays some $60 million a year, while the French and the Japanese both contribute some $30 million. Most recently, the Djiboutian government signed a security and strategic defense partnership with China. Djibouti is offering China military facilities in exchange for training of their military forces
However, things can change quickly as the Burkina Faso events have shown. Blogger Houssein Ibrahim Houmed, again, offered his hopes for the country:
La disparition du régime de Guelleh sera effective, consommée et probante, que lorsque un Etat de droit sera instauré en République de Djibouti. J’ose espérer que les Etats-Unis d’Amérique, le Japon et la France favoriseront l’avènement de la démocratie et qu’ils ne cautionneront pas une prise de pouvoir par les héritiers haineux du sous clan.
The end of the Guelleh regime will be effective and consumed only when the rule of law is firmly established in the Republic of Djibouti. I hope that the United States of America, Japan and France will favor the advent of democracy here and that they will not condone an extension of the reign of this heinous clan.