Sunday, February 15, 2015


An igloo in the desert - the US contribution to Djibouti
One of the more politically significant geographical locations in the world, Djibouti sits on the Gulf of Aden (possibly the Gulf of Eden in a former life), at the point where the Red Sea opens up, with the Middle East on its right (Yemen, then Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel), and Africa on its left (Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt). Used by the French as a military base in the Gulf War, it represents one of the last outposts of Franco-colonialism in Africa; there is also Camp Lemonnier, which hosts several thousand US troops, and thereby symbolises the non-passing of Imperialism from the world, or at least the replacement of European Imperialism and Colonialism by its latest phase, that of the American (to understand why the Americans are building igloos in the desert, or eco-domes as they prefer to call them, click here).

Once known as French Somaliland, and the Territory of the Issas and Afars, the country became independent from France under the name Djibouti in 1977, though I have yet to find anyone who can explain what the name Djibouti means. Once the French were gone, the ethnic groups of course marched immediately into battle for power, the Somali Issa versus the Ethiopian Afar, with the Issa winning. Equally predictably the victorious first President, Hassan Gouled Aptidon, in the interests of peace and reconciliation, equality, fairness and justice, instituted a one-party state under his personal leadership, so that really it was a one-man state with an awful lot of vassals, on both sides of the ethnic divide. In 1992 residual French influence persuaded him to open up a kind of multi-party democracy, which meant in practice that a number of Issa factions were permitted to emerge, but none from the Afar community, who went on fighting with any other weapon besides the ballot-box that they could get their hands on.

We tend, in our naivety, to think of bad leaders and bad governments as bad, but people protesting or rebelling or even revolutioning against the government as good, and this generally proves foolish in the long run (this is, for example, the tale of American foreign policy since 1945, and absolutely disastrous in every instance). Rebels, protesters and occasional revolutionaries in Djibouti have yet to materialise sufficiently to be proven one way or the other, though the evidence of history is not in their favour. One of the many factions is known as the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy; observers like myself would like to see the concept of "Authentic Unity" included in the name, but understand that the acronym may mitigate against this, as is also the case with the as-yet-unfomed Front for Unity, Compassion, Kingship and Unlimited Power, which seems to be the predominant political force in about 75% of the world's nations, and the civilian wing of the military, which runs a large percentage of the remainder. The aforementioned FRUD won a power-sharing deal in 1994, and the rest of the Afar followed suit in 2000, though what exactly that means in real terms is anybody's guess, as current President Ismail Omar Guelleh is now on his third term in office, having made the necessary constitutional changes to ensure his throne for life and probably a dynasty as well.

Afar woman in traditional clothing
Djibouti is a Moslem state, entirely dependent on foreign aid and Ethiopian imports and exports, for which land-locked country it provides a port. There is little evidence of the worship of the ancient fertility gods in Djibouti, mostly because the terrain, climate and landscape would make that pointless. But there is the sea. What is surprising is that there are no Djibouti pirates in the way that, just further south, there are Somali pirates. But of course this does not mean that there are no pirates. Djibouti provides a place of transit and a destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking; which is to say, they bring them to Djibouti from elsewhere, and they take them from Djibouti to elsewhere, elsewhere being mostly East Africa, the Yemen and other countries of the Middle East. The majority of the victims are women, including young girls, who are forced into domestic servitude and/or prostitution, and then abandoned to petty crime and street-begging when they are no longer considered serviceable. Djibouti is on Tier 2 of the CIA's Watch List, which translates into legal-speak as "Djibouti does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so; outside of child prostitution, the government fails to investigate or prosecute any other trafficking offenses, including those allegedly committed by complicit officials; it has made no attempt to implement the protection or prevention components of its anti-trafficking law, and its working group on trafficking was inactive in 2012; a draft national action plan against human trafficking remains incomplete (2013)." It would appear that the Front for Unity, Compassion, Kingship and Unlimited Power has indeed been formed, and is reigning in Djibouti.

No comments:

Post a Comment