Editor’s Note: As the dust has settled in Djibouti and President Ismail Omer Gouleh embarked on a new third term in office; WardheerNews gained an exclusive access to the insides of the political life in Djibouti. WardheerNews has the pleasure to present to its readers an interview with Mr. Ahmed Rayale, the spokes person of Djiboutian opposition based in Europe and in Djibouti.
The interview covers political, social, and economic issues facing Djibouti.
WardheerNews (WDN): Could you please give us brief general background information about the political situation in Djibouti?
Mr. Ahmed Rayale: From independence till to date the country is run by a single party known as the People’s rally for progress (RPP). The African people’s league for independence (LPAI) party that took office soon after independence renamed itself as RPP in 1979 and in 1981 altered the constitution to make the country a single party state. In 1991, front for the restoration of unity and democracy (FRUD) started an armed struggle in the north in response to the government’s rejection to make genuine democratic power sharing mechanism in place. At the height of the civil war in 1992 the ruling party drafted a new constitution, approved by referendum, which allows four parties to register. In September 2002, to accommodate the political reforms that FRUD demanded, the country was formally declared as Multi Party by lifting the constitutional restrictions on the number of parties.
WDN: Most of the people seem a bit confused about the number of opposition parties! Would you mind to educate the public about the number of active opposition parties that operate in the country?
Mr. Rayale: My pleasure, such confusion in the minds of the masses about the opposition parties’ policies and activities is direct outcome of the unrelenting media ban the RPP uses as a tool to suppress not only us but all thinking people in the country.
Following are the major opposition parties in Djibouti:
1. UDJ Ismail Geedi Hared
2. MRD Dahir Ahmed Farah
3. PND Aden roble Awale
4. ARD Ahmed Yusuf Houmed
5. PDD Mohamed Daud Shihim
WDN: The opposition always accuses the president of the state as being a dictator that starves the opposition from all sorts of media coverage. Can you elaborate this issue?
Mr. Rayale: To begin with the national media (TV, Radio and Print) is state owned, tightly controlled and monitored by RPP members. The president uses the national media to advance his party’s policies and to demonize the policies of the opposition. This monopoly of the media by the ruling party greatly disadvantaged the ability of the opposition to disseminate their messages to the public.
WDN: In this age and time, the opposition can use the services of the Somali run media outlets that are based outside your country. Did the opposition made an effort to tap in to the readily available Somali speaking media satellite TVs, Radios, Websites, VOA, BBC among others?
Mr. Rayale: To circumvent the local media barriers the opposition bought a radio based in Europe and established brilliant websites to broadcast their messages to the citizens in Djibouti but to our disappointment, the president who has no respect for human rights and who abhors freedom of expression blockaded our broadcasting signals from reaching the masses. We turned to using the larger Somali media and within a short time the censorship board of the dictator managed to deny access to any website, radio and or satellite TV that carries our message. The owners of TVs and websites blacklisted us because we are treacherously made, by president Gueleh’s shadowy actions, to appear as very expensive customers that are putting unbearable strain on their businesses.
The American (VOA) and British (BBC) Tax payers funded Somali services are meant to be the eyes and ears of their respective organizations but unfortunately the BBC became a personal property of Mr. Yusuf Garad. The BBC acts and behaves like radio Djibouti and flatly refuses to entertain our request altogether. When the officers of the opposition parties phone in the BBC, it is the norm rather than exception that Mr. Yusuf Garad slams the phone down on them. The BBC reporter in Djibouti is an employee of Radio Djibouti who obviously can’t afford, even if he wants, to be impartial. It is open secret that our grand dictator, president Gueleh, bribes the immoral head of the BBC and to make my point clear this BBC on sale factor was and is available for the competing political interests of the horn.
I would like to thank the VOA for its impartiality and its open door policy. The VOA under the leadership of Mr. Yabrow strives to the best of its ability to report the views of both sides of the political divide and VOA staff constantly call in the middle of the night without prior arrangements to conduct interviews on current or so current issues. I would like to take this opportunity to thank, on behalf of my people, the helpful VOA staff who rightly adhered to the ethics of journalism at all times without fail and I hope the BBC gets a new head with integrity very soon as Mr. Yusuf Garad became an immense liability to the corporation’s moral standing and thus his leadership tarnished the image of the once glorious BBC Somali service.
WDN: Despite an independent national electoral commission in place since 1992 and that high ranking monitors from AU led by Senegal’s Ex- foreign minister declared the most recent presidential election as free and fair; the opposition coalition -the union for democratic alternative (UAD) – The UAD has boycotted minimum of four elections since 2005 of which two were presidential elections including the latest, one was regional election and one was parliamentary election. How can you explain this scenario which became the hallmark of the opposition?
Mr. Rayale: The opposition submitted their points of concern regarding the conduct of the elections to the government in good time. The opposition requested that the existing independent national electoral commission members to be amended to reflect the inclusion of opposition members and to have foreign election monitors present at the polling stations which was refused by the government of President Ismail Gouleh. After through consultation among the opposition parties, the UAD found no other alternative but to boycott the elections.
WDN: The opposition parties in Djibouti are seen as week in the area of finance and organizational capacity. Without organizational structure such as registered members, central committees and executive committees the opposition parties would only be seen none other than one man parties. How would you dispel this picture?
Mr. Rayale: It is true! The government exercises an unconstitutional economic and media strangulation on the opposition parties and their supporters. Opposition party activists are summarily sacked from public sector jobs and those in the private sector are forced through threats either to go out of business or join the government line. In the face of the said difficulties the opposition parties are not discouraged in any way or form, from the continuation of their work that is aimed to achieving real and durable democratic change in the country.
WDN: The opposition accuses all the time that President Ismail Goulleh is a dictator that clinks to power for a long time. However Ismail’s record while in office has a lot to show for instance RPP transformed the absolute desert country in to the horn’s container port, financial and banker’s hub, attracted international military bases, serves WFP and other UN agencies as storage hub and among others hosts the Somali Police and Navy academy. Let’s say forget about the present time for a minute, do you think the opposition will field a candidate that can be an alternative to President Ismail Gouleh and his RPP in the near future in time for the next presidential elections?
Mr. Rayale: There are plenty of highly educated and experienced politicians the opposition can field at any time but we are certain that a free and fair election would never take place in Djibouti as long as President Ismail Gouleh is around. We believe that President Gouleh is prepared to die in office and is in no mode to surrender power through the ballot box. His dictatorial attitude of dumping the democratic aspirations of independence in 1977 brought tears not only to the eyes of the opposition but to those of the nation at large. The Djiboutian person likens the administration of President Gouleh to that of sergeant Samuel K. Doe of Liberia who was kicked out of office in 1990.
WDN: The Djiboutian younger citizens who happen to be more educated than their seniors see the current leadership of the opposition as too weak to offer a meaningful input in to the political governance of the nation. They point out that the majority of party heads were part and parcel of the system for so long and founded these parties for personal convenience to either get back to the political office they had lost or to settle score with the president in the streets. What would you say about this school of thought?
Mr. Rayale: The heads of the opposition parties are not as you described but their slowness is the result of unprecedented multifaceted oppressions exerted on them by the president Ismail Gouleh. The established opposition leaders and the younger generations have a close and healthy working relationship and are working as a team to save the country from the clutches of the dictatorial regime of president Gouleh and his RPP party.
WDN: Mr. Ahmed Rayale! Thank you for taking time out to talk to us.
Mr. Rayale: You are welcome.
For further information, Mr. Ahmed Rayale, the Djibouti Opposition Spokes Person, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org