Tribune. Ismaïl Omar Guelleh finally formalized his candidacy for a fifth term at the head of Djibouti in a telephone interview in Somali language granted to the BBC in early March. ” As a matter of fact, he said, I didn’t want to, but people forced me […] The youth told me “stay, don’t go” and that is why I represent myself one last time. “ Short of ideas and scenarios, the regime is repeating the same trick as in 2016. At the time, “IOG” was already claiming that it wanted to withdraw. His compatriots had made “Pressure” for him to represent himself, he had confided to Young Africa.
Weakened by twenty-two years of exercise of power, the outgoing president clings, like a monarch, to the head of the country. However, more than ever, the people are yearning for a profound change and have expressed it clearly. The end of IOG’s fourth term is marked by a freedom of speech especially on social networks, which have become the sole means of expression of the Djiboutian population. A population who also demonstrated with their faces uncovered despite the fierce repression of the regime.
Over the ballots, the boycott of opponents opened the way for pseudo-political opponents. Created from scratch, they reappear at each election, following a staging orchestrated by the presidency to validate and legitimize the electoral process. And this year again, with the approach of the deadline of Friday, April 9, the power in place has chosen an opponent. But rather than picking up the usual candidates, he favored an independent, unknown to the political scene and nephew of the president. A masquerade as surreal as it is absurd.
The “khat”, a tool for controlling youth
“ Let’s continue together ”, intimate the outgoing new campaign slogan. In other words, let us persevere in the violation of democratic freedoms, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, the instrumentalisation of justice, insecurity, corruption, embezzlement and public contracts by mutual agreement, to name just these examples. The public appearances of the president are so many diversions, between laying a stone and cutting a ribbon, accompanied by a din of songs and dances to the glory of IOG and his wife.
The power in place has always used fear and repression to avoid uprisings and revolts. The “Khat” – a plant whose chewed leaves have a powerful psychotropic effect – has become a tool for controlling youth. It is a scourge, particularly necessary for the survival of the regime during an election period. IOG says it wants to place its mandate under the sign of youth. It is about time: Djibouti is a country where 73% of the population is under 35 and where the youth unemployment rate exceeds 70% (60% in the whole population). What could Ismaïl Omar Guelleh do over the next five years for the young people he has not been able to achieve in twenty-two years?
In terms of employment, young people are the first victims of tribalism set up as a mode of governance. More than skills or meritocracy, it is a key asset for professional integration, but above all a source of frustration for young people who are blocked in their ascent and promotion within the administration. This tribalism, inherited from the French colonial system, had continued after independence, under the presidency of Hassan Gouled Aptidon, and was further accentuated under the reign of IOG. It structures the political game according to a logic of division and discrimination, where certain ethnic groups and / or tribes are entitled to several ministerial and parliamentary portfolios while others are only entitled to one.
Although they come from the ethnic groups and / or tribes of Djibouti, the elected officials are at the service of power and not of the common interest. The last two decades have witnessed the emergence of a ruling class detached from the populations it was supposed to represent. Helpful to the survival of the regime, this form of representation divided more than it unified, creating a political diversion aimed at the manipulation and opposition of community groups to each other.
A man ready to do anything to maintain his diet
By strengthening tribalism, the Guelleh regime established what should be called clan authoritarianism. He extended “mamasanization”, in other words the preferential treatment reserved for members of the president’s clan, the Mamasan. They are the ones who run the country’s main security organs and key sectors of the economy. This “Mamasanization” of positions of responsibility is particularly visible in the fields of security and defense. It is the main safety net of a man ready to do anything to maintain his regime and punish those who are resistant to his policy.
This “clanized” state has slipped into the clothes of the Republic, thus benefiting from its institutional supports. It is this ideology which destroyed the fundamentals of the country and slowed down its development. It has stifled the republican or patriotic aspirations of Djiboutians. By weakening the social fabric and national cohesion, it now carries the seeds of a deep instability, even a somalisation of the country, leading to rifts between tribes, clans and even sub-factions.
The failure of the power of Ismail Omar Guelleh to unite the Djiboutians around common and fraternal values is without appeal. The April presidential election promises to be a perfect barometer for measuring the extent of social division and disunity in society. It is essential to find solutions for better living together in Djibouti. It is time to set a course, by giving meaning to the Republic, and to “de-ethnicize” politics.
Roukiya Mohamed Osman, specialist in security and peace issues, is representative of the Thinking Africa research institute in the Horn of Africa.