What about democracy in Djibouti?

Just asking . . . in light of the “Egyptian Circus” noted in my last post.

Perhaps you will recall that in March of last year Djibouti ordered the U.S. funded election observation mission led by Democracy International out of the country and declared its activities illegal. The sort of conduct that we have seen for years from Egyptian autocratic leaders–although fortunately they stopped short of arresting assistance workers.

Is Djibouti an example of a place where other priorities override our priority for supporting democratic rights? See Democracy Digest: “Stark division” in Arab Spring underlies U.S. policy too”.

Here I noted the spotlight on Djibouti as host to a small but established AFRICOM forces contingent in the form of the Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa, CJTFHOA, with the recent special forces hostage rescue. see “U.S. sees Djibouti base as ‘central’ to its plans” in this week’s East African for further discussion.

How is Djibouti doing on democratic rights now? Here is a new report from Reporters Without Borders:

Reporters Without Borders roundly condemns radio journalist Farah Abadid Hildid’s abduction by the police yesterday and the threats and torture to which he was subjected during the 24 hours he was held. Hildid works for La Voix de Djibouti, a radio station that broadcasts on the shortwave from Europe and is now also available on the Internet.

He described his ordeal to Reporters Without Borders by telephone two hours after his release:

“I was in Djibouti City yesterday waiting for a meeting. It was 11:30 am. Two men in a car with tinted windows stopped next to me. It was a uniformed policeman and a man in plain clothes. They asked me to get in. I refused but they forced me into the car. They blindfolded me so that I did not know where they were taking me. I found myself in a cell. They removed my clothes and handcuffed me, and that is how I spent the night, sleeping on the floor.

“They beat my feet very violently with pieces of rubber. They also broke my glasses. ‘We’ve had enough of you,’ they said. ‘You must stop broadcasting information about us. You must stop bothering the police and the Department for Investigation and Documentation. It will be the worse for you if you continue.’ At midday today, they brought me my clothes and blindfolded me again. Then they drove me to a piece of waste ground in the Gabode 4 district and left me there.”

Reporters Without Borders has decided to refer this matter to the United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and will remain in regular contact with Hildid in order to be kept informed of his security situation.

“The physical mistreatment and psychological torture inflicted on this journalist are a disgrace to Djibouti’s authorities,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We call on them to put an immediate end to this sort of intimidation. If anything happens to Hildid again, we will know who is responsible.”

Hildid was detained twice in 2011 and was tortured and mistreated both times. This was confirmed by medical examinations after both periods in detention. The first time he was arrested, in February 2011, he was held for more than four months in Gabode prison on a charge of “participating in an insurrectional movement.”

The second time he was arrested, on 21 November, he was charged with encouraging an illegal demonstration and insulting the president. He was released four days later after being placed under the supervision of an investigating judge attached to the supreme court.

As a result of these and other events, Djibouti fell 49 places in the 2011-2012 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index and is now ranked 159th out of 179 countries.

Can we wait and take up the issue of democratic reforms later, sometime into the future? Take note of the “comment is free” op/ed in the Guardian from May 2009 about Obama being seen as continuing U.S. support for Mubarak:

Obama in Cairo is a blow to democracy; Obama’s decision to give a speech to the Muslim world from Cairo is an endorsement of Egypt’s brutal dictatorship

Wajahat Ali
guardian.co.uk, Monday 11 May 2009 15.30 EDT
Article history

By choosing Cairo, Egypt as the platform for his long awaited address to the global Muslim community, President Barack Obama predictably leans on a reliable dictatorship suffocating a country that is teetering toward religious and political irrelevance.

Indeed, modern Egypt resembles its ubiquitous tourist attraction, the Sphinx, the symbolic temple guardian adorned with a human head on a prostrate lion.

Similarly, the near-30-year, brutal autocracy of Hosni Mubarak weighs heavily on the immobilised body of an

exasperated, stifled and proud populace who’ve wearily observed their country, a former beacon for Arab nationalism, transformed into a loyal watchdog and stooge for anti-democratic, “pro-western” policies.

Perhaps Turkey, which Obama visited last month, served as a more ideal and dynamic location due to its successful marriage of secular democracy and Islam, as evidenced by the election of the AKP party, a moderate, pro-western political party with Islamic leanings.

Or Obama could have chosen Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation in the world, which recently held free elections and whose citizens roundly rejected rightwing, deeply conservative Islamic parties in favour of non-sectarianism and moderation.

Obama’s speech in Cairo on June will mark the third time he has addressed the Muslim world, seeking partnership and conciliation with Muslims jaded by George Bush’s unrelentingly belligerent and humiliating “war on terror” policies and his divisive, poisonous rhetoric. In his first major interview to Al-Arabiya, Obama proclaimed: “My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy.”

Yet, Obama’s choice of Egypt is an implicit endorsement and validation of Mubarak’s dictatorship, and it reiterates the oft-spoken but albeit true cliché in the Muslim world that US merely covets selfish policy interests instead of democratisation, autonomy and self determination by and for the Arab and Muslim people.

During a visit to Egypt last week, Robert Gates, the US secretary of defence, affirmed that America’s $2bn in aid to Egypt will continue, thus assuring Egypt’s perennial spot as one of US’s closest allies and recipients of monetary benevolence.

This charity flows annually despite the Egyptian government’s brutal crackdown on political opposition, the free press, dissidents and even critical bloggers whose punishment runs the ignominious gamut from harassment and arrests to torture and “mysterious disappearances”. For example, a Christian blogger, Hani Nazeer Aziz, turned himself in after the government’s security apparatus arrested two of his brothers and used them as hostages, forcing his surrender.

Mubarak’s Egypt also shares a lucrative outsourcing arrangement with the US. Instead of telecommunication and tech support services, Egypt, along with Syria, specialises in torture, so US can conveniently bypass laws, due process and international human rights. Mamdouh Habib, who was eventually sent to Guantánamo Bay, was outsourced by the US to Egypt, where he said he was “hung by his arms from hooks, repeatedly shocked, nearly drowned and brutally beaten”, according to the Washington Post.

Partaking in what is now a routine and convenient pastime for dictators of Muslim countries, Mubarak casually manipulates the constitution like Play-Doh. His government recently amended the document to outlaw opposing “religious parties” like the Muslim Brotherhood – an influential, extremely conservative Islamic political party that won 20% of parliamentary seats in 2005 elections – and neuter judicial supervision over future sham elections, thus ensuring the Mubarak dictatorship dynasty is passed on to his son, Gamal.

4 thoughts on “What about democracy in Djibouti?

  1. For a small country such as Djibouti to have that poor of a human rights record is very saddening. But this is a problem very prevalent in the Horn of Africa area in countries such as Ethiopia, Eritrea and the international community needs to address this.

    • I agree. It seems difficult to have influence with Eritria, whereas in Djibouti there could be opportunity. Steady and consistent support for democratic values with patience might be the way to progress, without the problems we have seen in Libya and Egypt.

  2. Pingback: Djibouti–what’s next in French Somaliland? | AfriCommons Blog

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