During a religious ceremony on December 21, close to the city of Djibouti, several people were killed, while many others were injured by security forces. Members of the opposition party, Union pour le Salut Nacional (USN) or Union for National Salvation were injured, including their President, Ahmed Youssouf. The USN claims that the police forces attacked them first, however the government has argued that gunmen provoked them by firing at their police officers first. As well, the government reported that only 9 people had been injured as a result of the incident, while the USN claimed that, at least, 19 were left dead. Nevertheless, neither of these assertions have been validated as of yet.
For instance, Minister of Interior, Hassan Omar said that early on Monday, after several individuals had gathered in the District of Buldhoqo, close to the capital, the insurgent forces launched an attack on the police. As a result, 9 people were injured. At the same time, the USN maintains that the police broke up a religious ceremony that caused the death of 19 people. Several individuals have been arrested in relation to the conflict.
Prior to these clashes in early December, members of the USN had been targeted with teargas canisters while they were on their way to a meeting in Ali Sabieh. According to the USN’s reports, before they were able to enter the town, police officers had stopped them at a checkpoint. During this stop, in an attempt to intimidate the opposition’s coalition members, the officers shot canisters in the air. As the situation escalated, Mohamed Abdallah Dabaleh, was hit in the chest by a canister, which left him unconscious
Meanwhile, Alkarama, an independent human rights organization expressed that “Targeting an individual voluntarily and thus violating his physical integrity characterizes an excessive use of force by the security forces.” In their press release about the events, Alkarama wrote the following: “In order to stop police violence and these arbitrary arrests of opponents, [we have] seized the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association (SR FPAA) to intervene with the Djibouti authorities so that they launch independent investigations into the events on this day and pursue the perpetrators.”
Moreover, the events that took place in Djibouti may be of special interest to other governments, since the U.S., France, and Japan have military bases in the country. Also, China recently announced that they will establish a navy base on the coast.
On another note, Djibouti’s President, Ismael Omar Guelleh, is running for his fourth term in April of 2016. Guelleh has been in power since 1999. As such, the USN called upon President Barack Obama to condemn the situation. The expectation was that he would, once again, confirm what he said in Ethiopia in July, where he expressed his concern about African leaders who fail to realize when their time in power has come to an end.
Furthermore, these types of political clashes or the notion of long-ruling presidents are not rare in Africa. For example, Zimbabwe’s President, Robert Mugabe has been in power since the early 1980s, and conflict with the opposition parties is a common occurrence for Zimbabweans. Similarly, recently, Burundian President, Pierre Nkurunziza ran for his third term in power, which resulted in an insurgence that has caused Burundi to be on the verge of committing atrocities, such as civil war and genocide.
With this in mind, it is difficult to imagine that the upcoming elections in Djibouti will pass by peacefully.
M.A. in African Studies