Seizing power in May of 1999, the current dictator, Ismail Guelleh has made sure to suppress any critical voices denouncing his regime inside the country. Supported by international backing, he changed the existing constitution in April 2010, ending the two-term limit that previously ruled the presidency, and therefore having the chance of staying in power for the rest of his life. The regime, led by Guelleh, has continuously been accused of neglecting the rule of law and the likelihood of the Djibouti population. Further allegations include how exiled activists have been silenced or paid off at some point, or the majority have been threatened when denouncing the precarious situation in Djibouti, and the lack of civil rights and freedom the citizens of the country have.
Do you have any confidence on the poles next April 9th? Do you believe there will be equal opportunities?
O: I think it is obvious for every Djiboutian that the election is rigged before it even happens. The whole system is structured to keep the president on. There is no distinction between the government institutions and the family in power. There is a lack of a proper governmental system working towards leading the country. It is definitely clear for everyone, even to the president’s closest allies, it is a reeked election, just as the previous ones were.
M: The opposition parties, including the military political party (FRUD), have boycotted the election. All eight political parties as a major coalition group against this election. It is the first time that they all come together, joined by activists and personalities from civil society… Others, like the MAGD, have not joined us but have refused to participate in the election. The president just wants the presidency for himself and his cousin, a fake independent candidate called from France who just appeared on the political scene two months ago.
Do you have legal papers showing they are related?
A: You should know, Djibouti’s population is divided into three major groups: Afar, Somali and a third one including a variety of mixed minority ethnics (Ethiopian, Sudanese…). In the Somali group, the majority belongs to the Issa Clan (60%). The country is controlled by a ruling 5% subclan, the Mamassan. the president is Mamassan, the head of his national security is Mamassan, the Coast Guard commander, the army commander, the Air Force commander, the Republican guard commander… 12 of the 14 CEOs of the ports of Djibouti are Mamassan. For more precision you can go on independence.org- explains how the power is ruled by these small groups.
So, how is it possible to change the situation if the dictator controls all the other tools of the state?
O: The CTD, the coalition, is representing different factions from the Djiboutian society. We are converging our struggle and putting all our efforts together to overthrow the dictatorship. We need to highlight that this initiative came from the FRUD and his president back in 2018. So the strategy is to bring all the activists, the opposition parties, the FRUD, which is the only one armed political party and to hit IOG from every corner.
We succeed to gather the major political parties ARD, the FRUD, the FBC, the UDG, and some Association like the MGO and many others. The dictatorship system in Djibouti is very afraid of this coalition because this is the first time that political parties in Djibouti are directly allying with the FRUD.
What is your strategy and action plan?
O: We are working on an escalation-based system. We are drafting a charter. This charter has 30 articles which will help the existing constitution to be updated during this transitional period of 2 years. We will start to structure our team with a transitional president, an alternative minister, and several sub- committees working on much-needed urgent reforms in order to help the Yibuti people during the first period.
How do you plan to avoid chaos during transition?
We are organizing our forces. We are converging our efforts and making this charter to avoid a new dictatorship. We are ensuring we will not fall into another authoritarian regime. For example, one of the articles empowers the seven members of the Transitional Council to impeach the Transitonal President is he is no respecting the charter.
But, you told me before that you will not be taking part in elections.
O: No, no one is participating in the election.
So, on April 9th, when the election takes place and the president wins, what can and will you do? You have left empty chairs they are going to fill in.
M: There is no participation, they all know this is not an election, it is just a play/show.
If you would like to, would the system let you to present your candidacy or the regime would not allow it?
M: No, they would not allow it.
So, anyway, it would not be possible for the opposition to participate in the election?
M: No they cannot present because the national election commission is under the control of the minister of interior, so the police and security agents are controlling the elections and the outcome of the elections. There is no way that there would be transparency. So since we are not participating in the elections, the nation is waiting, people are protesting, the streets are ready to come out. And there is a joint force between the armed opposition, which operates in the north and southern regions of the country, and we are going to offer the Djiboutian people, we are going to give them a proposition. Because they are waiting for an alternative way. We will facilitate people to come out to the street because there is something established and waiting to alternate to the current system. It will give hope. And the country is asking for this transition, people are impatient and waiting for it. We know that people are expecting the city to pronounce itself, and that will be a combination of international pressure, political pressure, internal political pressure, armed movement…
This regime is very vulnerable, very fragile. It still stands because of one man. 99% of the Djiboutian population is against the system and they are just waiting for a signal.
If the army supports the dictatorship there is a high risk of street violence, so what is that signal?
O: Thanks to FRUD, multipartyism came to Djibouti. Before FRUD came into play, there was only one legal political party. As former commander of the Rapid Intervention Battalion, which is sensitive assets.
Nowadays, the government is not counting on the army. They were forced to bring 800 soldiers from Somaliland, which we have proof of. So much that, we know for a fact that their relatives are claiming for their youth to come back. They don’t have anything to do with Djibouti. The 87% of the Republican
Guard is from the sub clan of the President. However, the majority of the military are against the dictatorship.
They are just waiting for the signal. This signal will be a structured and combined effort from all actors. We will join the pressure from the street, from the local political parties, FRUD’s pressure both in the North and the South, and the international pressure, showing all the human rights violations. Against women, kids...
Are people really aware of the situation there?
O: For example, my kids are being held hostages in Djibouti. The government refuses to deliver their passports. I haven’t seen my family in over a year. I have 4 kids, and they are all minors.
People only have one radio station, one TV station, one dairy production company owned by Guelleh’s son… A Director of the Port has an income of 8,000,000 francs, which equals the salary of 200 soldiers (47,000 francs, 300 US dollars).
We are starting to awaken people. We are running a podcast here, from the Development Centre in Minneapolis, denouncing the situation in Djibouti. We are raising awareness and we plan to contact politicians and notorious people to do so.
This is going to be a combined joint force hitting in the right place at the right time.
Our research shows that Kadra Mahamoud Haid, the First Lady, was the one pulling the strings and manipulating in the background. Also, with her half-sister being the wife of Somaliland’s president, being from the same ethnic group… She has a lot of financial power. Where does she get it from?
O: I am going to give you an excellent reference. LVD’s, La Voix de Djibouti, latest Tuesday episode (March 30th, 2021) shows everything this family owns, and I believe it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
How are they able to operate? And how can we cut off the money flow?
A: There is no democratic structure in Djibouti. There are no national working institutions. It is a one- man show. Because of the dictatorship we have in place, we know the results of the election beforehand. We may have the word “Democratic” but there is no such thing as democracy in Djibouti. The campaigns and the voting it’s just a show-off for the rest of the world. We brought a wind of democracy back in 1991 that has not been implemented.
But are things changing?
A: Yes, things have changed. The focus on the Horn of Africa has changed. More so in Djibouti. It no longer is a matter of ethnicity but a common struggle. At the time, the Afars sure were the oppressed group. Now, despite their ethnic, everybody is suffering under the rule of Ismail Omar Guelleh. People are lacking access to medical treatments, and it sure doesn’t matter whether you are Afar, Somali or Arab. They are been forced to flee to Europe, Etiophia, Kenia, India and even Turkey.
We must have the ability and capacity to come together as Djiboutians and create a nation that never existed. That is the aim of the CTD. Since 1977, it has been a one-tribe, one-man show.
This is a golden opportunity. We are trying to show the international community there’s an alternative. We can build one of the best democracies in the world. A government built for the people, by the people.
At this moment, the region is under highly strategic interests. Which countries are part of the international pressure? Are you having contact with the United States or other western countries?
A: Well, if we remember the Hosni Mubarak case, he had the support of the Western countries until the pressure of the streets changed the game. You know what they say, the United States does not have permanent allies, it has permanent interest. We believe that once we take a step forward, the support will follow.
How do you feel about China taking control over the banking system, ports and the free zone?
M: That is a really good question. For example, China is an alternative protection for the regime. They have invested without asking questions. They are good partners for dictatorships like Djibouti’s. There is no accountability. The regime called China after they were in a situation of pressure with the Obama administration where they were asked about their democracy standards. He felt threatened and decided to turn to China.
O: IOG has understood how to counterbalance the power and interests of the United States and China. However, they have come to realise that Guelleh himself has threatened both the chinese and american interests. China and the US see that Gulleh has to leave. But as we said, the only ones willing to make a change are the Djiboutians.
Do you think that China will shift its support towards a new system?
Actually, their weakest link for IGO is their relationship with the United States. The worst decision was to concede and relay so much on China’s protection.