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

(more…)

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Rescue of kidnapped aid workers in Somalia highlights Camp Lemonier, Djiboutti

“Djiboutti Outpost Behind Somalia Rescue is Part of New Defense Strategy”, Thom Shanker, New York Times:

. . . “Djibouti is the central location for continuing the effort against terrorism,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said during a visit to Camp Lemonier last month.

The trend in favor of a small American footprint overseas is expected to grow as Mr. Panetta must cut about $487 billion from the Pentagon budget over the next decade, even as he shifts more forces to Asia while not diminishing American deterrence and influence in the Middle East.

This military math may require the size of American forces to shrink in Europe and elsewhere — and bases like Camp Lemonier will be expected to manage the risk at a modest cost.

Jennifer G. Cooke, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a policy center here, said the mission of the military’s Africa Command originally was to upgrade the abilities of local security forces — “so the U.S. would not be drawn into conflicts or crises.”

“But the United States may not have the leeway of waiting to build up partner capacities to take on these kinds of challenges,” she said. “So, being nimble and flexible with a light footprint in a place like Djibouti, the U.S. military may be required to tackle these crises immediately as they arise.”

Another important military mission that deploys a small force on the huge African continent is in Uganda.

In October, President Obama ordered 100 Special Operations advisers to Uganda to help train regional forces combating the Lord’s Resistance Army, a notorious renegade group that has terrorized villagers in at least four countries with marauding bands that kill, rape, maim and kidnap with impunity.

When Mr. Panetta visited Camp Lemonier, there were about 3,500 American personnel assigned there, up from the several hundred Marines and members of Special Operations forces that landed in 2003 when the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa relocated. It had been based on a warship when the mission was conceived a year before, dedicated to hunting for remnants of Al Qaeda in the wake of the Taliban’s ouster from Afghanistan.

The units include a headquarters staff, civil affairs teams that include doctors and veterinarians, as well as engineers and military trainers. Mostly invisible to the local population, the task force has responsibility for a vast area of Africa that includes Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, across the Gulf of Aden — almost 70 percent the size of the continental United States.

“U.S. Swoops in and Frees Two in Somalia Raid”, Jeffrey Gettleman, Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, New York Times:

KHARTOUM, Sudan — Around 2 a.m. Wednesday, elders in the Somali village of Galkayo said they began hearing an unusual sound: the whirl of helicopters.

It was the culmination of a daring and risky mission by about two dozen members of the Navy Seals to rescue two hostages — an American aid worker and her Danish colleague — held by Somali pirates since October. The commandos had dropped down in parachutes under a cloak of darkness while 8,000 miles away President Obama was preparing to deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday night. The commandos hiked two miles from where they landed, grabbed the hostages and flew them to safety.

For the American military, the mission was characterized by the same ruthless efficiency — and possibly good luck — as the raid on Osama bin Laden in May, which was carried out by commandos from the same elite unit. Nine Somali gunmen were killed; not a single member of the Seals was hurt.

One pirate from the area who seemed to have especially detailed information about the Seal raid said it involved “an electrical net-trap, flattened into the land,” which presumably was the parachute. “Then they started launching missiles,” said the pirate, who spoke by telephone and asked not to be identified.

Pirates operate with total impunity in many parts of lawless Somalia, which has languished without a functioning government for more than 20 years. As naval efforts have intensified on the high seas, stymieing hijackings, Somali pirates seem to be increasingly snatching foreigners on land. Just last week, pirates grabbed another American hostage not far from where the Seal raid took place. (more…)

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