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Issue 434 -- May 22-28, 2010
Ismail Omar Guelleh: "The Country Still Needs Me"
Djibouti, May 22, 2010 – The Head of State of Djibouti has decided to play extra time in favor of revising the Constitution allowing him to represent. He explains in a lengthy interview. And also talking about his country's relations with France, the "business" and a Horn of Africa under high voltage.
At 62, the head of state of Djibouti, Ismail Omar Guelleh, is an ambitious man who cherishes a priori impossible dream: to make his country an economic hub International, a sort of Dubai or Singapore of Africa. The challenge is daunting. Stuck on the edge of the East Africa beset by multiple crises between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, the Republic of Djibouti is a land of paradoxes, many worlds in one. The sentry posted between Africa and the Middle East, which has fascinated many men, poets, adventurers and scholars, swept by hot winds from Arabia or Egypt, not too much resources Mining and oil and water scarcity and resources. The topography and soils reflect the moods of the Earth groundwater, vegetation is scarce, and human activity subject to the burning sun and scorching temperatures.
But Djibouti is also a miniature government attracts investors, mainly Arab and Chinese, as honey attracts bees. A garrison state, home bases French, American and Japanese soon, a haven of stability in the Horn of Africa still live. Its geographical position, unique among Red Sea and Indian Ocean, it takes advantage of the exponential growth of maritime trade between Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. The projects and achievements are multiplying, the modern container terminal in Doraleh FEZ neighbor through marinas, a casino and five star luxury hotels designed to accommodate businessmen from around the world and tourists seeking escape.
In power since 1999, reelected in 2005, theoretically, a final term, Ismail Omar Guelleh has decided to play extra time. On April 19, Djiboutian Parliament adopted a constitutional reform allowing, inter alia, to represent in 2011. He explained in the following interview, conducted in late April in a room of the presidential palace. And also responds to awkward questions: the virtual absence of opposition, business Boreh and Borrel, the criticisms of the organizational conditions for elections in 2011 and the often complicated with the former colonial power, considered too cautious in terms of investment. Finally, it examines the consequences and lessons of the global economic crisis on his country back on the recurring tensions with neighboring Eritrea, Somali pirates on or about China.
Jeune Afrique: In an interview with Jeune Afrique in February 2008, you said you do not want to "get bogged down in routine, the flattery of the courtiers, and not the type to rip a Constitution because it did [you] like it." At the time, you exclude represent you in 2011. The Parliament voted Djibouti, April 19, a constitutional reform abolishing lock limiting the number of mandates and you have announced your candidacy ... Why did you change your mind?
Ismail Omar Guelleh: I vividly remember this conversation. At the time, I really believe that two terms suffice and it is time, then to hand. I need rest, to do something else. But since last year, I am under pressure friendly, given the regional context for the less worrisome, lead me to continue. I resisted, I assure you, but I finally made that sacrifice. Because I can assure you that my job is not easy ...
The absence of the Opposition in Parliament [it boycotted the 2008 parliamentary editor's note] do not institute does not have the legitimacy and credibility of this constitutional reform?
Five parties are represented in the Assembly who belong to the presidential movement. One of them, the National Democratic Party (NDP), has refused to support this reform and will present even a candidate against me in the next presidential election. It proves that even among allies, we can express disagreement and to assert their differences. Regarding the opposition, it is absent because she wanted this. I'm sorry but I am not responsible for their choices.
That same April 19, the president of Mali, President Amadou Toumani Toure, announced it would not change the Constitution order to seek a third term. Do not you think, like many Africans, it embodies a model of democracy?
Each of his way of seeing things. The contexts are different and we must also listen to those who think that limiting the number of mandates is not necessarily democratic. If your people want you to continue to lead the country, because you got results and they are satisfied with your work, why stop them since it will be an election?
Your opponents will say that being in power and have far more resources than your opponents, you will not struggle to get elected, that the ballot is arranged in advance ...
The elections were supervised by international observers, and many who travel the country. If the population is mobilized against me, you believe sincerely that no one will notice? Seriously: there will be an election to be held in full transparency. Djiboutians choose their president, whoever he is. I've got a country to build and feed a population. I want to be judged by my results. It's easy to criticize, especially when one does nothing ...
Since the death of Ahmed Dini, the boycott of the 2005 presidential and legislative elections of 2008, the opposition barely exist. Is not it embarrassing?
It's true. All power must have its cons-power, any nation can take advantage of a genuine debate within the political class, provided it is constructive. But to do politics, we must work, propose, not just criticize. The opposition has made choices, she must bear them.
What weight does it really?
I do not know, but in my opinion not much ... At least not enough to influence the future of this country.
Djibouti experienced tragic events in the 1990s, with serious ethnic clashes between the Afars and Issas. Could it begin again?
If we do not care if we do not ensure national unity, it is not excluded.
You still consider yourself as an Isa?
No, I'm Djibouti.
According to you, the Republic of Djibouti is a democracy?
There is no death penalty at home or political prisoners. Journalists do not go to jail for their writings. We can demonstrate, to strike. The elections are proceeding normally. Yes, Djibouti is a democracy.
But your party has ruled the country for over twenty years ...
And then? The alternation is not an end in itself nor an absolute guarantee of good governance, as I know.
Your former financial adviser, the opponent and businessman Abdurahman Boreh, filed, Feb. 24, a complaint in Paris against you for murder and extortion. He denounced the maneuvers on your part to prevent his run for the presidency in 2011. How did you react to this new legal episode in France?
This gentleman is among those who, in the shadow of power, felt to grow wings and then experienced the greatest difficulty to restrain their personal ambitions and their "appetite". He fled to France, took the same lawyer that Ms. Elisabeth Borrel and accuses me, too, of all evils. Funny coincidence, do not you think? The case is before the court, he will have to provide evidence for his contention. But I fear that all this will backfire against him. The rhetoric is one thing, the facts and the truth is another.
He announced his desire to stand against you at the next presidential election. Are you concerned about it?
Instead, he does. He will be welcome. We'll see what it represents.
Since the peace agreement in May 2001 between the government and the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy [FRUD], where the rebellion appears blurred. Apparently, some irreducible continue the fight, sporadically, of course, but still. Where are we?
In northern countries, some who participated in the negotiations of 2001, signed the agreement and have been incorporated into the army, and compensated. Then they said they had is a potentially lucrative vein to make peace, take up arms, renegotiate for new allowances etc.. And as they have the ear of our neighbors Eritrean never miss an opportunity to destabilize us ... But I do not worry: the rebellions that have the support of the population have no chance to survive.
Your country is very dependent on foreign investment and maritime traffic. What was the impact of the global economic crisis on the economy of Djibouti?
The crisis has hit hard, like everyone else. We have registered a sharp decline in foreign direct investment, a number of projects have been deferred until better days. Worse, all this was combined with a rising cost of energy and rising food prices. Thanks to support from our brothers in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwaiti and Indian, we were able to resolve the crisis and difficulties. And we continue to advance. Major new projects and structuring will be created: a shipyard 250 million, two new roads, including one to four lanes, a new port in Tadjoura, which will be connected by road north of Ethiopia, etc.. This is paramount for us, because it will develop this region of Djibouti and stem the exodus of people who, for lack of opportunities and facilities on site, an affluent town. In truth, this crisis was a blessing in disguise because it forced us to organize ourselves better and find immediate solutions but inventive, as our initiative for social development, acquisition of land in Ethiopia or Sudan produce our own grain we need, or the cultivation here in Djibouti, a Japanese variety of rice that supports very large salt concentrations and high temperatures. The worst enemy of a leader is the comfort and routine.
Among your key partners, Dubai is probably the one that has been most affected. Have you been worried when the emirate had a brush with bankruptcy?
Of course, even if we imagine that the UAE would not let down Dubai. Especially Nakheel, the company that operates in the tourism and real estate, which was most affected. DP World [port activities, Ed], less. Somehow, this has enabled Dubai to stop certain abuses, to be less generous and more rational.
Who is now your main external partner?
The volume is unquestionably of China. But these are essentially loans. If we stick to the help we can provide a country, I would mention Japan, which is extremely generous with us.
The economic offensive on the mainland China raises a number of criticisms, particularly from Europeans and Americans, who accuse Beijing, among others, to Lend Africa when they have made significant cancellations debts. Legitimate concerns or false accusations?
Africa has more than ever necessary infrastructure. Debt to establish what makes us so desperately not to be a problem, however. This is the sine qua non of our development. The DR Congo could generate electricity for the entire continent, but we need dams. The Chinese themselves, lend money to the construction of these infrastructures and realize. Nobody does the West to do so, I know. But they have not a long term vision, they want return on investment and immediate excessive. I would add that the Chinese themselves, do not fix the prices of our raw materials, unlike the Europeans or Americans ... So some moral lessons make me smile.
Where is the proposed bridge across the Bab el-Mandeb, between Djibouti and Yemen?
This project is part of those that were postponed because of the crisis. The Bin Laden family is very interested. The Chinese too. But this bridge will have no value if Saudi Arabia joins the project and if a rail network linking the Middle East to Africa is built.
Energy is, with water, a major concern of Djibouti. Do you really think that alternatives to oil such as solar, wind and geothermal energy can provide solutions?
I bet a lot about geothermal energy, whose potential is huge here. Some projects are very advanced. Again, we benefit from using our Kuwaiti partners, Icelandic and Chinese. We are also finalizing the construction of a tidal power plant and develop a wind project with Alstom and Suez.
The emergence of modern piracy in the Horn of Africa she is a serious threat to Djibouti?
Is obvious. We stood in a country at risk just because of this scourge. Hackers post themselves at the entrance to the Gulf of Aden and potentially threaten all types of cargo passing through Djibouti, Jeddah and Suez Canal. The insurance wing, which ultimately discourage some owners. And despite all the mechanisms set up by Europeans, Americans or Japanese, Somali pirates are still there. I would say they are becoming stronger.
How do you explain that?
Since that piracy exists, it has never been defeated at sea The heart of the problem is down. And Westerners refuse to set foot in Somalia, where pirates are these refugees, in a relatively small area from Puntland in northern Mogadishu. Currently, we spend billions of dollars to nothing, or almost.
What should you do you think?
I told you: to act in Somalia to end the chaos that prevails, restoring state authority, restore order, train and equip security forces of Somalia, preventing people from joining the ranks of pirates. I'm not saying it's simple, but it will start one day. As long as peace and security will not be insured in this country, nothing will change.
Since April 2008, a part of your territory, the border area of Ras Doumeira is occupied by Eritrea. The United Nations has adopted several resolutions condemning your neighbor, demanding the withdrawal of troops, set an ultimatum exceeded more than a year, and nothing happens ...
Surprising, no? The sanctions adopted by the UN are beginning to produce their effects. The Eritrean president, Isaias Afewerki, multiplies travel in search of support, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Libya, among others. It sends messages across to put pressure on us. But we maintain our demands: the withdrawal of its troops and the liberation of our prisoners.
Do you personally Isaias Afewerki?
Sure. I phoned him in April 2008, the night of the incursion of Eritrean troops. As usual, he tried to convince me that my information was false and that no soldier of his army was here. So I went and saw a plainclothes army ...!
This conflict could escalate it?
Neither party has an interest there. Eritrea still less than we. His army is a mere shadow of what it has been so desertions are increasing. Ethiopia, in turn, increases the pressure on in Asmara. But Afewerki is thus: he lives happily in the present situation, no government, no parliament, no political parties. He does what he likes, does not recognize anyone or anything. What do you cope with such a personality?
Do you think the United States of Africa?
No, not in the short to medium term anyway. It's the fantasy of Mr. Qaddafi. We already are struggling to establish a Common Market or to operate our regional and continental institutions, so ...
Your relations with France alternating between chills and warming ...
This is not specific to Djibouti. It is the same for many African countries, Senegal, Algeria, through the Côte d'Ivoire, Rwanda ...
The case of Judge Borrel still long poisoned your relationship with the former colonial power. The acquittal, in May 2009 by the Court of Appeal of Versailles two Djiboutian officials [Djama Suleiman and Hassan Saeed, tried to bribe witnesses in the investigation into the murder of Judge in 1995, Ed] and the removal of international arrest warrants that have they sought an end to tensions between France and you?
When President Sarkozy came to Djibouti in January, he assured me that the story belonged to the past. We are currently negotiating a new agreement on defense and hope to turn the page Françafrique for a real partnership with Paris. We have historical affinities, cultural and linguistic. But we must note that the cooperation of France was reduced to a trickle. France can give us much in terms of academic, scientific or military for example. But today, our students are increasingly in Morocco or Tunisia, and less and less in France. The advisers of Françafrique is finished. But nobody has replaced.
Do we know one day the truth about the Borrel case?
I hope so. The French have been manipulated by some judges. In which country justice and she sits on a case for fifteen years? Either the file is closed, or it is sent there for a trial. Two Djiboutian say whatever, I am accused without any evidence, judges favor a thesis, others to another, in a context where judges do not dare to challenge some of their colleagues in solidarity ... But we are calm. What reason did we have to assassinate an advisor of the Minister of Justice to Djibouti?
It is rumored that the French want to get a lower rent for their military base located in Djibouti ...
The agreement does not include a financial component, since the base rent is fixed until 2012. And frankly, I do not think 30 million euros a year paid is expensive ...
The United States paid less, they ...
Yes, 30 million dollars. But they invest much more. Just go to the airport to see the many facilities they have put in place.
How would you describe your relationship with Nicolas Sarkozy?
Between us, the power is very good. Although I'm not going to the same speed as him [laughs].
Interviewed in Djibouti by Marwan Ben Yahmed