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President Ismail Omar Guelleh leaving power in his words “In 2016, I will go. This time, I can swear”

Jeune Afrique
Saturday, December 03, 2011

Djibouti president, Mr. Ismail Omar Guelleh, has recently granted a long interview with the weekly Jeune Afrique. President Guelleh talks about succession, Somalia, Arab revolutions, the death of Qaddafi and his relations with France

When asked by Jeune Afrique if he will run for re-election , the President of the Republic  Djibouti said bluntly that he would not stand in 2016 and that this term was his third and final term.

Ismail Omar Guelleh also addressed many issues as diverse as domestic politics, press freedom, or the problems of the region and Somalia in particular. Here is the Exclusive interview given by the president of the republic of Djibouti.

Jeune Afrique: – Will the high winds of the Arab Spring in the form of citizen uprising have an effect on Djibouti? Talking about revolution, if that suits you best. You know, last February, there were people who were critical of your administration and called for your departure. Did you feel the wind pass the ball?

Ismail Omar Guelleh : No. This was the expression of a purely social unrest, some members of the opposition wanted to turn into a revolution, without success. They collected five to six hundred young and very quickly all this has degenerated into looting. One policeman was killed, another seriously injured. Ethiopian trucks loaded with grain were burned, windows broken. You know how the media is so biased and hype things up, for example look what happened in London in early August and if we are to believe the media, the British police would only restore order to face up the rioters, whereas if our police were to do the same thing we would be accused of brutally repressing peaceful demonstrations. It’s pretty ridiculous. Djibouti does not tolerate disorder, but Djibouti is a country open to dialogue and the palaver the opposition parties tell and they print what they want, including the most defamatory rumors, everyone can say everything and anything.

LONDON RIOTERS: If we are to believe the media, the British police would only restore order to face up the rioters, whereas if our police were to do the same thing we would be accused of brutally repressing peaceful demonstrations

Yet there is no TV or home independent radio and the press is hostile to you. This is not an issue of censorship, but about money. There are no investors in Djibouti or advertisers in this area, and the potential readership is very small.

Jeune Afrique: The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) released in early November a long statement denouncing the “all-out repression” and the existence of political prisoners in the jails Djibouti. What is your reaction?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: I’m shocked, but I am not surprised. FIDH undermines of the local NGO (the Djibouti League of Human Rights, Jean-Paul Noël Abdi, Ed) who has no credibility in our eyes. There are no political prisoners in Djibouti, look can we say all the thugs convicted in London after the riots were also political prisoners! The four people arrested in May while trying to go underground in Eritrea, with which we are in conflict, to fetch a support for their leader, Aden Robleh Awaleh, were not political prisoners. They were a threat to our national security, it is a matter for the security of the state.

Jeune Afrique: What about the sixty people arrested Sept. 16 at Ali Sabieh for shouting “death to dictatorship”?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: Lies! No arrests were made on that day at Ali Sabieh

Jeune Afrique: Regional elections will take place early 2012 and a year later legislation. Will the opposition take part?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: I hope. I invite the opposition to participate in the electoral commission. But I am not over excited about their participation


Because their understanding of the concept of democracy is that we either lead or we seek to overthrow the leader. They have neither the will nor the patience to be part of system, which is essential for democracy: build real party, convince people with real programs, etc.  It is good for democracy to have opponents who are responsible and I ask nothing better than to listen to them. Unfortunately there are those opposition groups who sabotage the democratic principle by boycotting the elections, it is always the same.

Jeune Afrique: Most of the opposition has at one time or another, worked with you. Aden Robleh Awaleh was your advisor and was one of your deputies. Ismail Gedi Ared was your colleague at the firm of your predecessor Hassan Gouled Aptidon He’s the most reasonable, the most moderate of them. Abdourahman Boreh was your financial consultant and you have placed at the head of the port of Djibouti …Why do you elicit such hostility?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: Ibn Khaldun said that there are two ways of governing the Arabs with the sword or by the Prophet. I am neither a prophet nor a dictator who would use the sword, but President-elect. It is a category that clearly still escapes the understanding of some of my compatriots.

Jeune Afrique: You have been re-elected in April last with just over 80% of the vote for a five year term till 2016, and you have said you will not run beyond 2016, are you certain that you will not change your mind?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: Absolutely, I will not change my mind this time. This is my last term, it is a mandate given by the people and I will finish

Jeune Afrique: So you will enjoy this five-year period to prepare for your successor once you complete your term?

Yes, I’ll try, discreetly, with the help of individuals chosen for their wisdom, their patriotism and we will of course try to identify who can best fulfill this difficult task. I think I learned how to live together with Djibouti and how to defend a country that was somehow born to die. It will continue to do so. But I’ll be careful; because once a person is perceived as my successor I know he or she will become a target.

Jeune Afrique: Can you give us an idea, a hint of who it will be?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: Yes, But I will tell you of course not. The profile will appear gradually.

Jeune Afrique: Will it be a family member? In any case in this context, a major French regional daily newspaper has reported at the end of October that your wife and your children have left to seek refuge in Saudi Arabia or Ethiopia. What can you tell us?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: How dare you ask me this question? My children and my wife are here. I find it pathetic, and if not racist, the ease with which it allows itself to print any gossip when it comes to Africa.

Jeune Afrique: After your departure from power, don’t you risk to hamper your successor by intervening when he makes decisions that you do not agree?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: This is a trend I am familiar with and when I became president my predecessor, President Gouled Aptidon never intervened. So why should I intervene.

Jeune Afrique: A battalion of Djibouti is preparing to join the African Union forces in Somalia, AMISOM. Why?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: Because the Somali Transitional Federal Government asked for. and because I do not want people to say one day that Djibouti has sat idly by while soldiers of Uganda, Burundi, Kenyans gave their lives for peace to return to our Somali brothers.

Jeune Afrique: Do you not fear that Islamist insurgents Shebab will retaliate by exporting terrorism to your turf? Fifty thousand Somali refugees living in Djibouti, and Yemen…

Ismail Omar Guelleh: It’s a risk I do not rule. We are very vigilant. On the other hand, I do not underestimate the harsh reality of Shehab. They have already hit in Kenya. There are six hundred thousand Somalis in Kenya, and Shebab are very established. They control the area of ​​remittances; they have their madras’s, their trade, manufacture of false documents, their physicians. Kenya is their support base. For this reason, the Nairobi government had to react.

Jeune Afrique: The Kenyan authorities have they informed the countries in the region of the military operation in southern Somalia, there is a month and a half?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: No. But they have consulted with the TFG in Mogadishu. Again, I understand them: the Shebab has multiplied their armed incursions for over three years and they lived in Kenya like fish in water. This could not last.

Jeune Afrique: This intervention is unlikely to get bogged down?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: It should be avoided. When I got here a few days ago the Chief of Staff and the Kenyan foreign minister, I advised them to limit their incursion into a buffer zone of one hundred kilometers and not seek to occupy the port of Kismayo. Kenya trained and equipped for over two years a force of about three thousand Somalis who were expected to form the backbone of the new security administration. It is this force to penetrate deeper into Shebab area. My partners have also agreed. Otherwise, the integration of the Kenyan contingent in AMISOM is a good perspective.

Jeune Afrique: The Somali transitional government that you support a reputation for being inefficient and corrupt. This does not bother you?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: Corrupted with what? They have nothing. They attempt to establish its authority over a country at war, the government has no income, it is to be constantly asked harassed by people, it is not easy. Instead, you should pity them …

Jeune Afrique: Djibouti is it affected by the phenomenon of piracy?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: Of course, even if the pirates have not struck off our coasts. Many boats refuse to come here and prefer to unload their cargo in Jeddah or Hodeidah. Insurance premiums continue to escalate. I repeat: the solution to this problem is not at sea, it is on the ground. It is essential to help the authorities of Somaliland and Puntland to develop units that prevent pirates boarding. If the international community does not, why would you want this activity, which has already generated more than $ 100 million (approximately EUR 74 million) just for the ransoms,

Jeune Afrique: What is your border dispute with Eritrea?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: Well it is a standstill. Qatar is pursuing its mediation, and the situation in Ras Doumeira is frozen, our respective troops are being separated by a small force Qatari buffer. And then there is the problem of prisoners of war. We granted the International Committee of the Red Cross permission to visit the Eritrean soldiers held here. But the government in Asmara refuses to recognize our own. We know that a score of Djibouti are locked in solitary confinement, north of Asmara, in appalling conditions.

Jeune Afrique: Why do you object to strengthen international sanctions against the Eritrean regime?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: Because with a character like Issayas Afewerki purely diplomatic sanctions have no effect, it must be hit to the portfolio. They collect from their diaspora upto 2% of its revenue: you have to freeze these transfers. They say they have discovered large deposits of gold at home: do not allow any foreign investor to come and exploit them. Djibouti is a casualty of the aggressive policy that leads Eritrea against Ethiopia, this is not tolerable.

Jeune Afrique: The Kenyan authorities accused Asmara of arming Somali Shebab clandestinely. It is also your opinion?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: I confirm. Nairobi has sent me the evidence of at least three very recent flights of Antonov cargo planes laden with arms and ammunition on the airport in Baidoa.

Jeune Afrique: President Afewerki has just lost an ally in the person of Muammar Gaddafi …

Ismail Omar Guelleh: Yes. And it’s not us, Djibouti, who will cry for Gaddafi. He did everything to punish us to host military bases on our soil . However, the image of his body tortured shocked me. I thought he would die sword in hand, as he had announced. But it was out of a tunnel, and he humbled himself by begging Misrata rebels to spare because it could have been their father. He did not die a hero.

Jeune Afrique: Your friend, Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh, he may end up the same fate?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: I had the President Saleh by telephone on November 7, the day of Eid. He said, “Everything you see on television on Yemen, everything you read in the papers, take a 30% or 40%. The rest is propaganda. “I told him that 40% was already a lot. In fact, the Yemeni problem is more complex than saying that the media, who see a revolution like the other Arab. It’s basically a competition between people of the same clan in the background with the project of a disputed succession dynamics between the president and his son. If you add the tribal dynamics to that of Al- Qaeda and the latent tensions between North and South, we are far from the simplistic image of any democratic Arab spring. That is why this situation has persisted and why President Saleh gave the impression to make a step forward and one step back. The other day he told a delegation of the opposition: “Okay, I’m going. But know that tomorrow, Yemen will cut in half. So what do you suggest? “The opponents did not have an answer.

Jeune Afrique:Are you worried?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: Of course. We had the first wave of refugees in Yemen in 1968, then a second in 1994. These are people households who do not seek assistance. The risk is about the settling of scores, the export of violence.

Jeune Afrique: Now that Southern Sudan gained its independence, isn’t it to turn your neighbor Somaliland?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: It is not entirely comparable. South Sudan has reached this result after a long and difficult dialogue with the North. The Somaliland dilemma is different, and I fear they have put the cart before the horse. They hoisted their flag unilaterally declared independence and that they no longer discuss. I respect, I accept their passports and their representation in Djibouti. But I can not go further. They were too busy. I told them.

Jeune Afrique: Among the guests at your inauguration last May, included Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. He went to Djibouti and of course you did not arrest while your state signed the Rome Statute. Why this contradiction?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: I received my conscience because I believe he does not deserve to be dragged before the ICC. I’m sorry, but Bashir is not what is said of him. He is the only Sudanese leader to have had the courage to negotiate with the South, and accepted the amputation of his country in the name of peace. Remember how his opponents today, starting with Sadek el-Mahdi, treated in the southern Sudanese slaves! So, of course, she was launched in the case of Darfur legs by inventing the specter of pseudo genocide, a story concocted by the lobbies and pro-Israel evangelicals. Yes, Djibouti is a signatory of the Statute of the ICC. But that does not stop me to say that the practice of this court, which is only interested in African politicians is wrong.

Jeune Afrique: French and Americans each have a bases in Djibouti and they will pay an annual rent for it, 30 million euro for first, $ 30 million for the latter. Is it enough?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: In total, this represents just fewer than 12% of our budget revenue. But I’m not asking to increase. Paris and Washington have their financial problems, we are very understanding.

Jeune Afrique: However, you are in full renegotiation with France …

Ismail Omar Guelleh: Exactly. But rather than in monetary terms, we want Paris to help us build the capacity of the Djibouti army, with the objective that we are able to defend ourselves alone. When Eritrea attacked us, the question of the interpretation of our defense agreements arose, and I can admit that the French soldiers do not want to die for Ras Doumeira. The French presence here must be primarily a deterrent.

Jeune Afrique: Otherwise, all is well with Paris? More court records under the table?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: No, nothing. All is well.

Jeune Afrique: The possibility of an election of François Holland in May 2012 Are you concerned about it? …

Ismail Omar Guelleh: This is a French case.
Jeune Afrique: However, your sympathies are not particularly on the part of socialists …
Ismail Omar Guelleh: My sympathies do not prevent me to be pragmatic.

Jeune Afrique: You have four and a half years in office. What will you accomplish in April 2016 on the economic and social development?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: Djibouti has reached the threshold energy self-sufficiency, with the commissioning of four geothermal power plants – for which funding is completed – and the completion of a wind farm. Djibouti has almost solved the problem of water supply with the construction of two desalination plants, one financed by the French-OPEC Kuwait Fund, the other by the Chinese. Djibouti has significantly increased its port capacity, with the extension of the container terminal in the capital, the construction of those Doraleh and Tadjourah. Djibouti is more than ever the Ethiopian economy led to a growing, with the modernization of the railway Addis-Djibouti and the completion of the league-Tadjourah Mekele. Djibouti finally will be one of the beneficiaries of the road being built between the southern border with Sudan and Ethiopia which network we are connected, allowing us to meet the demand for import-export of this new country that is the Southern Sudan.

Jeune Afrique: And youth employment?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: This is another area I am working in my last term. The public service is not scalable; I want the maximum support for a vibrant private sector. I created a Ministry of SME, a development fund guarantees and credit lines for investment, I spent training agreements with Indian universities specializing in the fields of the sea, I explain tirelessly to young graduates that they can ever hope to become officials, and I tell them that if they share my vision of Djibouti and they stand up without help or crutches, Djibouti will prosper and they have to help me achieve it.

Source: Jeune Afrique