Monday, March 14, 2011

Middle East/African Revolution/Protest Series: Djibouti

The protests in Djibouti kicked off on January 28, 2011.
See the whole Middle East/African Revolution/Protest Series.
Djibouti is a country that I've heard of only on the Simpsons where I remember some character talking about the capital of Djibouti being Djibouti. Seriously, that's it. But now I get to learn because Djibouti is up next in chronological order. I wonder what will make their government and protests unique.

Basic History
Djibouti's official name is the Republic of Djibouti. The country's name is spelled different ways depending on the language, and in America, we go with the French spelling. Geographically, Djibouti is located in an area known as the Horn of Africa. Djibouti isn't actually bordered by any other countries involved in the current unrest sweeping Africa and the Middle East. The capital is Djibouti. The population is estimated at 864,000 people. The main languages are Arabic and French.

Djibouti's most recent leader is President Ismail Omar Guelleh. He's been president since 1999, and the way the system is set up, he can run for 6 year terms until he's 75. Djibouti is a semi-presidential republic, with executive power in the central government, and legislative power in both the government and parliament. The President is the head of state and the Prime Minister is the head of government. The current Prime Minister is Dileita Mohamed Dileita. He's been in office since 2001, and he'll stay in office at the discretion of the President since the Prime Minister is appointed by the President. Their current constitution has only been in effect since April 2010.

In terms of  independence, Djibouti has been independent of the French since 1977. They had pretty much been under French rule since 1896. Around the first World War, the people in charge varied (look up Vichy forces), but the people in charge usually spoke French. When they finally declared themselves as an independent republic, they did so without any major hassles from the French. Hassan Gouled Aptidon was the first President.

This first president setup one party rule, claiming his party was the only legal one. There were uprisings over the years, but his party maintained control. After he resigned in 1999, his nephew became the next President. In 2001, Guelleh signed a peace accord that ended the long civil way between his party and the main opposition party, Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD). The next election, in 2005, included the FRUD party as part of the pro-presidency coalition. Other opposition parties boycotted the presidential elections, as well as the first regional elections the next year that were an attempt to decentralize some of the power.

The country is majority Somali, which are overwhelmingly Muslim and minority Afar. The President is Somali and the Prime Minister is Afar.

The Protests
The main cause cited as the reason for the protests include: the major changes Guelleh made to the constitution that allowed him to run for another term of office .

The protests were led by the Union for Democratic Change. They demanded the the President step down from office. They felt that his intimidation techniques and divide and conquer way of doing business was detrimental to the country's well being. And example of this goes all the way back to 1999, when shortly after he was sworn into office, his one opponent in the election was arrested and detained.

On January 28th, hundreds of protesters gathered in a square in the capital city of Djibouti. This happened again a week later on February 3rd. Two weeks later on February 18th, they gathered at a stadium, saying they would stay there until their demands were met. Speeches were given by leading members of the Union for Democratic Change. That evening, clashes with police forces turned violent as the forces used batons and tear gas on the protesters.

The protest leaders were arrested as the clashes with riot policeman escalated over the next couple of days. Then the Djiboutian police, directed by Guelleh, arrested over 300 opposition people, pretty much all the leaders of the movement except a few. There was a major meeting scheduled for February 24th to plan a protest for February 25th. After 300 people were arrested, and the leaders were missing on February 24th, the protest movement seemed to lose steam.

On, March 4th there was another protest planned. The government ordered the opposition to cancel the protests, but they didn't. The government filled the streets with soldiers and police and prevented protesters from entering the stadium where the protest was planned. They effectively prevented the day's protest.

Since then, except for the occasional arrest, it seems organized protests in Djibouti have come to an end. This country stands out because foreign opinions never seemed to lean in favor of the opposition, which is kind of confusing to me. These people had the same grievances against their leader as in other countries, yet the UK called for the protests to stop. I kind of hope the people who aren't arrested are planning another protest. Wikipedia says this country's protests are done. I hope they're wrong.

More information can be found at,, and

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