[dehai-news] A Reality Check on Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti (Special Report for WDN))

New Message Reply About this list Date view Thread view Subject view Author view

From: Biniam Haile \(SWE\) (eritrea.lave@comhem.se)
Date: Tue Jul 19 2005 - 21:01:48 EDT

A Reality Check on Ismail Omar Guelleh
(Special Report for WardheerNews)
A. Duale Sii'arag
January 10, 2006
Djibouti perches strategically on the western side of the strait of
Bab-el-Mandab - one of the vital shipping lanes of the world that
connects the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. It is compactly squeezed
between Eritrea and Somalia, while Ethiopia covetously envelops the tiny
city-state from the west and south. It has a land surface of 22,980 sq
km with 0.04% arable land. Much of its hot, desolate, scorched terrain
is barren wastelands.
Djibouti is a classical city-state. More than two-third of its entire
population of 500,000 reside in the capital city, Djibouti. Its port -
an important transit and container transshipment seaport - is the main
source of revenue for the country.

The Republic of Djibouti, formerly known as French Somaliland, became
independent on 27 June 1977. With the blessing of France, Hassan Gouled
Abtidon, an elderly Issa politician (Issa's are ethnic Somalis and is
the major Somali clan in Djibouti) became the first President of the
newly created Republic of Djibouti.
 Coached by his colonial mentors - the French Secret Service agents -
Mr. Abtidon wasted no time in installing a repressive authoritarian
one-party state dominated by his own Mamaasan sub-clan of Issa. Mr.
Abtidon who ruled Djibouti with iron fist for many years had passed the
throne to Ismail Omar Guelleh, his heir-apparent and next of kin, in
1999. The balance between the Issa (Somali) and Afar, the two dominant
ethnic groups in Djibouti, was tipped over in favor of the Issa, by the
Mamaasan dynasty. The Afars were relegated to a second class status,
ever since.
Guelleh 62 was born in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia. He migrated to Djibouti in
the late sixties before finishing his high school and later joined the
Djibouti police forces as a junior non-commissioned officer. In the
aftermath of Djibouti's independence, Guelleh worked in his uncle's
office until he was appointed head of Djibouti's notorious secret police
and chief of cabinet for president Abtidon.
Trained first by Somalia's infamous National Security Service and later
by the French Secret Service, he was groomed for many years to replace
his ageing uncle, Abtidon. "The key to Guelleh's success is the skillful
way in which he has played the cards in his strong hand", writes PINR's
intelligence report on Djibouti . "As the head of Djibouti's security
agency under his uncle's regime, Guelleh gained an intimate knowledge of
the country's political forces and has used it to practice a politics of
divide and rule, supplemented by repression and intimidation when
Varnishing palatable sugar-coating to his infamous past identity as head
of a brutal secret service, Guelleh has succeeded in blending political
pragmatism with his Machiavellian dexterity. Exceptionally gifted with
malleable personality traits, his capacity to keep both his friends and
foes amused is second to none. A passionate advocate of Pan-Arabism, a
collaborator of United States in its "War on Terror", a fervent follower
of Islamist doctrine who flirts with shadowy Islamist movements, Guelleh
is a man with many faces. A tyrant ruler who tenaciously resisted
implementing democratic and economic reforms, Guelleh rules Djibouti as
a private fiefdom. According to his close friends, arrogant and
heavy-handed, Guelleh possesses restive disposition for creative
Guelleh's self-aggrandizement and flamboyance
Increasingly lonely in the splendid isolation of the seaside palaces
from which he reigns, Guelleh seems detached from the harsh
socio-economic realities prevailing in his tiny banana republic.
Djibouti has one of sub-Saharan highest infant mortality rate (110
deaths/1000 live births); Life expectancy at birth is 43.1 years, while
official HIV/AIDS adult prevalence rate is 3% (some estimates put the
prevalence rate over 12%). The country's health and education statistics
are among the worst in Sub-Saharan Africa. Unemployment rate exceeds
Virtually with no natural resources of its own and bearing with the
brunt of chronic embezzlement of the port revenue and bureaucratic
inefficiency, Djibouti is heavily dependent on foreign aid to offset its
growing balance of payments. Due to blatant pillaging of state coffers
by Guelleh and his cronies, poverty has become a permanent feature of
Djibouti. "Faced with a multitude of economic difficulties" states the
CIA World Fact Book, "the government has fallen in arrears on long-term
external debt and has been struggling to meet the stipulations of
foreign aid donors" .
The political system is virtually ossified. Nominally a democracy - in
reality a one-party system - a narrow ruling circle of cronies and
security officers reign the tiny state. Freedom of speech is virtually
curtailed; criticism of the President is unlawful and dissent is often
quelled with excessive brutal force. In fear of his own personal power,
Guelleh has not groomed a successor. Popular anger against Guelleh's
despotic regime is on the rise and his popularity is diminishing at
home. The amount of resentment and disillusionment in the country is
currently incalculably. Intelligence reports highlight brewing public
discontent and exasperation to Guelleh's regime. "Discontent among the
Afar and disaffection in the general population due to persisting
poverty and unemployment pose threats to Djibouti's stability in the
medium term" .
President Guelleh is known for his flamboyance and spendthrift (not to
mention his deeply ingrained passion for women, alcohol and Khat),
though 95% of his subjects live in abject poverty. He lives in a seaside
place that may have cost millions of dollars. He has just completed the
construction of a lavish six-storey high presidential retreat palace in
Dire Dawa, his birth place. He has built a lush retirement palace in
Djibouti for Somaliland's Dahir Rayale Kahin. Many of his high ranking
government officials are often accused of being involved in drug
trafficking and money laundering.
Though Guelleh denies any knowledge of the allegedly booming drug and
money laundering business in his tiny city-state, it is becoming clear
that Djibouti is run like a private gangland by Guelleh's filthy-rich
family and a host of cronies and debauched henchmen. Djibouti is awash
with rumors and telltales of Guelleh's secret bank accounts in France,
Switzerland, Malaysia, and UAE.
Despite the ever-deteriorating living conditions for most of the
Djiboutian people, the firmly entrenched and seemingly impregnable
Guelleh's debased family, sees nothing unethical with public
embezzlement. Their unbridled quest for self-aggrandizement and
accumulation of wealth is beyond compare. Guelleh's well-heeled and
all-powerful son, notoriously known as Mr. Isuzu, has the sole license
for car dealership in Djibouti.
 The governor of the National Bank of Djibouti is no other than his
brother-in-law, Mr. Jama Hayd. Abdirahman Borre, Guelleh's clansman and
manager of Guelleh's holdings, is described as the "wealthiest
individual in the Horn of Africa". Mr. Borre is an omnipotent tycoon who
owns everything from southern Somalia's charcoal export to Saudi Arabia
and the UAE to smuggling of African elephant tasks; from printing of
counterfeit Somali currency to importation of various brands of
cigarettes, sugar, and food stuff. In collaboration with Ina Daylaf,
another upstart Mogadishu tycoon and warlord and close affiliate of Mr.
Abdiqasim Salad Hassan, a Mogadishu-based Islamist leader and former
president of the Transitional National Government, Borre runs booming
businesses in telecommunication, construction, radio and TV stations and
fruit plantations in southern Somalia.

Messrs Borre and Ina Daylaf are allegedly involved in the lucrative
business of dumping Europe's industrial toxic waste in Somalia's
coastlines and in Afar inhabited coastal areas of Djibouti. In the past
several years, a number of Italian and Swiss companies involved in the
money-making business of toxic waste dumping have reportedly established
subsidiaries in Djibouti with the help of Mr. Borre.
A report of an Italian parliamentary commission that reviewed
allegations against the Italian and Swiss firms in 2000 has concluded
that "radioactive waste from Italy dumped in Somalia by "Eco-Mafia" run
companies may have affected Italian soldiers based there with a UN force
in the mid-1990s". "Somalia is one of the many Least Developed Countries
that reportedly received countless shipments of illegal nuclear and
toxic waste dumped along the coastline", states a UN assessment report.
The report further states that "the hazardous waste dumped along
Somalia's coast comprises uranium, radioactive waste, lead, cadmium,
mercury, industrial, hospital, chemical, leather treatment and other
toxic waste".
In mid 1990s, Mr. Borre was implicated in an Ethiopian political
corruption scandal involving jailed former Ethiopian Minster of Defense,
Mr. Tamrat Layne, which resulted freezing of his assets in Ethiopia and
Addis Ababa declaring him persona non grata.
Guelleh's Human Rights Abuses
At the home front, Guelleh has effectively quelled political dissent.
According to human rights groups, Djibouti has one of the most appalling
human rights records. Detention without trial, physical torture of
dissidents and various forms of mistreatment are the order of the day.
Stifled and defenseless, political prisoners are often abused and
harmed, cruelly molested, beaten and assaulted while languishing in
their compact tiny cells. The President's infamous security men can
arrest anyone at will and can keep suspects in jail indefinitely without
trial or due processes.
In a letter addressed to President Guelleh on July 30, 2003, Human
Rights Watch sought the unconditional release of journalist Daher Ahmed
Farah who has been convicted of defamation for criticizing the army
chief of staff in an article in his newspaper, Le Renouveau. "We
understand that Farah is being held in a tiny 2.5 by 1.5 meter cell
(number 13) at Gabode Prison", wrote Human Rights Watch . "A toilet
takes up half the space.
When a prisoner sits against one wall, his feet touch the opposite wall.
The cell is broiling at all times because of sunlight reflected from a
nearby wall. The water ration is inadequate, and the cell is
fly-infested during the day and mosquito-infested at night.July and
August are the hottest months in Djibouti and daytime temperatures in
the cell will climb above 40 degrees centigrade".
The letter further states that "Farah's conditions of confinement are
inhumane by any standard, and violate the ICCPR, article 7, which
states: "No one shall be subjected to . . . cruel, inhuman or degrading
treatment or punishment." Nor do they conform to the U.N. Standard
Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners".
In 1995, a French judge, Bernard Borrel, who was advising the ministry
of justice of Djibouti, was found dead at a beach outside Djibouti city.
Guelleh was incriminated on the death of judge Borrel, but refused to
cooperate with France on the investigation, "partly to protect himself
and his loyalists". In the trial that ensued in France, "Two witnesses
have said that Borrel, who had been advising Djibouti's justice
ministry, uncovered evidence that implicated Guelleh in arms trafficking
and that the judge might have been assassinated to keep him quiet" .
Guelleh and the "War-on-Terror
Despite the fact that his regime is one of the most repressive
authoritarian, surrounded by corruption, mismanagement,
money-laundering, drug-trafficking and political stagnation and
suppresses dissent with unsavory means, President Guelleh remained
relatively unscathed by the Bush Administration's quest for "regime
change" elsewhere in Africa and the Middle East. In the aftermath of
America's "War on Terror", Djibouti has become an important strategic
partner of Washington. The Bush Administration has positioned an eight
hundred strong force in Djibouti to keep an eye on war-torn Somalia and
the Red Sea waters facing Arabian Peninsula. In a presidential letter to
the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro
Tempore of the Senate, President Bush states that "The United States
forces headquarters element in Djibouti provides command and control
support as necessary for military operations against al-Qaeda and other
international terrorists in the Horn of Africa region, including Yemen".
As a payback to its collaboration with the United States, the Bush
Administration has included Djibouti into a list of 37 countries
eligible for economic and trade benefits under the African Growth and
Opportunity Act. This has indeed meant a new lease of life for the
despot who reigns supreme through fear and terror. As aptly depicted by
PINR's intelligence brief on Djibouti, Guelleh maximized the presence of
U.S. troops in his country as a means of consolidating his tyrannical
grip on his fateful fiefdom. "In securing his position internationally,
Guelleh has been free to use his hold on the capital city and the port
to pay off his machine, play upon Issa interests, and marginalize the
opposition" .
The U.S has an ignominious history of association with dictators. The
U.S. State Department sees Guelleh as a friendly dictator - one of the
likes of Mobutu Sese Seko, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Jean Claude
Duvalier, General Samuel Doe, Ferdinand Marcos, General Augustino
Pinochet, and Pol Pot. It is no secret that America has always been
friendly to the world's most notorious repressive dictators, tyrants and
corrupt puppet-presidents. A U.S. State Department official recently
described Guelleh as a "client of convenience". Despite United States
indifference to the devil that gripped the tiny city-state of Djibouti,
"the U.S. State Department has criticized the regime for "limiting
citizens' rights to change their government" and for creating a climate
in which opposition parties and media are intimidated into
Guelleh's political debacles
The least educated and the most talkative President of Djibouti has made
countless political debacles in the past decade. Guelleh's political
record is riddled with numerous instances of inconsistencies and
flip-flops and backstage manipulations. In early 1998, before ascending
to power, in a letter addressed to the Ethiopian Government of Meles
Zenawi, he proposed a confederation of Djibouti and Ethiopia, to the
surprise and chagrin of the Djiboutian public. His proposed merger "and
intention to seek an economic and political federation with Ethiopia"
was later rejected by Ethiopia. During the Ethio-Eritrea war in 1999 he
instantly sided with Ethiopia and severed his country's diplomatic
relations with Eritrea "on grounds that the latter provoked conflict
with Ethiopia". In 2000, in an absolute volte-face, Guelleh resumed his
relationship with Eritrea. In 2001, Eritrean President Isaias Afework
visited Djibouti and Guelleh made a reciprocal visit to Asmara to
normalize relations.
In early 2000, Guelleh snatched and "clanized" the Somali peace
initiative spearheaded by IGAD. In what seemed as a major departure from
the preceding peace and reconciliation conferences, Guelleh transformed
the nature of the Somali peace process from reconciliation of warring
factions to reconciliation of clans. This seemingly straightforward
proposition embodies a mystifying element of paradox. The civil war in
Somalia, as manifested in its ugly discourse over the past decade, has
been characterized by a power struggle between rival warlords vying for
influence over state structures and national resources. Though the
warlords rallied support from members of their clans, the factional
fighting that flared up in southern Somalia has neither evolved into an
all out inter-clan confrontation nor progressed into a country-wide
conflict. As a matter of fact, there has been more infighting within
each and every major clan, invalidating the superficial notion of a
cohesive, homogeneous clan.
With generous funds from Al-Ittehad Al-Islami (AIAI), an extremist
Islamic organization believed to have ties with al-Qaeda, and backstage
manipulations, Guelleh convened a large gathering of Somali politicians
and clan elders in Arta, Djibouti, in 2000. The Arta conference formed
an Islamist dominated Transitional National Government (TNG) for
Somalia, under the presidency of his firm favorite, Abdiqasim Salad
Hassan, a leading Islamist politician and a member of the leadership of
the Al-Islah wing of Al-Ittehad Al-Islami.
If the purpose of conceiving the TNG was to promote peace and
reconciliation in Somalia, as purported by its sole architect, Guelleh,
the performance of the TNG was to the contrary. From the onset, the TNG
has become a mouthpiece and sanctuary of Islamic extremist groups such
as the Al-Ittehad Al-Islami. At least, one-third of the 245-strong TNG
parliament was believed to have comprised leading members of Al-Ittehad.
It is also an open secret that Al-Ittehad's militia and Islamic courts
in Mogadishu rallied behind the TNG.
Subsequent to its formation, areas of relative stability and
self-governing regions became victims of a destabilization campaign
waged by the TNG. Guelleh and the Islamist dominated TNG coalesced for
the purpose of implementing a coordinated strategy aimed at undermining
the prevailing relative stability and functioning governance in Puntland
and Somaliland entities. Through concerted persuasive engagements and
pressure tactics, the shared strategy was to force these entities to
join the TNG, or to effectively destabilize and make them crumble from
Similarly, to prolong the hegemony of the Habar-Gidir clan - the clan of
the president of the TNG that form the backbone of the mushrooming
Islamist groups in chaotic Southern Somalia - on "conquered territories"
in southern Somalia and forcibly appropriated private estates in
Mogadishu, Merca, Kismayo, Juba Valley and in the inter-reverine areas,
Guelleh, Abdiqasim and AIAI espoused a coherent strategy aimed at
sustaining the Habar-Gidir occupation through the TNG channeled
Islamist-petrodollar. As Lewis aptly puts, "this policy has been coupled
with pursuing arms procurement, contrary to the official UN arms embargo
and TNG propaganda proclaiming its 'peaceful mission'". "The UN has
turned a blind-eye to these violations" says Lewis. "With these weapons,
such militia units as the TNG have been able to recruit, have been sent
to maintain the Habar-Gidir hegemony of farms, seized from their owners
along the lower Shebelle, and to assist clan allies in Merca and
Fear is the eternal company of authoritarian leaders. In repressive
regimes, paranoia and suspicion besieges the state machinery. The entire
citizens are viewed as potential enemies by the law enforcement
agencies, which continually scan the horizon for possible scapegoats.
Dictators have the tendency to coerce their subjects into absolute
obedience and capitulation; to stifle voices of dissent; substitute
merit with nepotism, and extort public confidence through perks and
patronage. Corruption and nepotism eventually overtakes and erodes the
basis for a legitimate system of government. As the system of good
governance vanishes gradually, the very legitimacy of the state ceases
to exist. Hence, the "Failed State" becomes its label of identification.

Djibouti is already a failed state. The prognosis is not promising. The
necessary ingredients are in place for state disorder. Djibouti's
disintegrating political system is patently marked by authoritarianism.
"Some African states have failed. Many more are fraying at the edges" ,
writes Nick Carter. The government continues to fail the expectations
and aspirations of its people; effective democracy, social justice and
respect for human rights have not been attained. Inequality, disparity
and preferential or detrimental treatment of ethnic groups within the
country continue to generate a simmering sense of discontent and
alienation. State-orchestrated marginalization has already pushed the
Afars into the periphery. Moreover, Djiboutians are prohibited to
exercise their basic democratic rights such as freedom of speech,
association and free press.
Guelleh's regime is highly repressive and corrupt. It promotes the
politics of division, distrust and manipulation, eroding the basis for a
legitimate system of government. The state machinery is largely
sustained through repressive security system, patronage and perks.
The destiny of all dictators is an ignominious downfall. Guelleh has
fatefully taken the familiar path of his likeminded predecessors - the
likes of Mobutu Sese Seko, General Samuel Doe, Ferdinand Marcos, and
General Augusto Pinochet. The day of deliverance is closer to the
downtrodden people of Djibouti who are yearning for a saint's
By A. Du'ale Sii'arag,
E-Mail: baxaal@yahoo.com

 President George W. Bush and President Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti
greet the press during a meeting in the Oval Office Jan. 21, 2003. White
House photo by Paul Morse


         ----[This List to be used for Eritrea Related News Only]----

New Message Reply About this list Date view Thread view Subject view Author view

© Copyright DEHAI-Eritrea OnLine, 1993-2008
All rights reserved