Djibouti: Interview with Alexis Mohamed, Special Adviser to the President of the Republic of Djibouti
Djibouti is a stable and secure country, which advocates dialogue
On 9 January, President Ismail Omar Guelleh was officially invested by the militants of his party, the People's Rally for Progress (RPP). The outgoing president is therefore a candidate for his own succession.
At the end of December, the 73-year-old President of Djibouti, 21 of whom are in power, announced his candidacy for a fifth consecutive term. This inauguration should officially kick off the presidential campaign for the election, scheduled for 9 April. Meeting with Alexis Mohamed, Special Advisor to the President of the Republic of Djibouti to take stock of the stakes of the 2021 presidential election, dialogue with the opposition, the security situation in the region.
54 ÉTATS: Alexis Mohamed, no other candidate has so far declared himself against the incumbent president. In 2016, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh (IOG) had won the first round with nearly 87% of the votes cast, against the representative of the opposition coalition: Union for National Salvation (USN) which had obtained only 7.3% of the vote. Is there a real dialogue, a real openness with the opposition?
Alexis Mohamed : It's easily demonstrable. You only have to look at the opposition parties in the National Assembly. It is progress on the political level, it is a will of the Head of State and it is not new.
A year ago, President IOG had taken the initiative to call the entire opposition to a national dialogue. Openness with the opposition has always been there and respect for the Constitution too. Things are moving forward.
It is up to the opposition to take charge and initiate the political actions that are necessary as part of their political project.
54 ÉTATS: Is the entire opposition represented in the National Assembly?
Alexis Mohamed: It is not an obligation that it is represented. There are votes at the municipal level and at the legislative level. The legal political parties that took part in the suffrage in the elections and won are represented today. It is not the Head of State who makes the choice of who sits in the National Assembly or not.
It is not the Head of State who chooses who has the right or not to sit in the National Assembly
The political game is being played as openly as possible in accordance with the democratic rules of the country.
54 ÉTATS: Quite honestly, what does public opinion think of the Head of State's mandate? How do Djiboutians judge the progress on the issues of education, employment (11% of the working population is unemployed), health, housing and especially on the management of the health crisis linked to Covid-19?
Alexis Mohamed: As far as the management of the health crisis is concerned, the Republic of Djibouti has, since the declaration of the pandemic by the WHO, taken the necessary initiatives in the health field.
Djibouti has closed its borders, notably to protect our fellow citizens and foreigners present on the national territory.
Concerning the mandate of President IOG, his economic and social record, there is nothing more to demonstrate about the efforts that have been made. The economic and social reforms continue.
The challenges are still there, socially, economically, educationally and so on. There is a range of efforts being undertaken. Numerous reforms have demonstrated the soundness of the Head of State's programme.
54 ÉTATS: Djibouti had good growth before the start of the health crisis, at around 8%.
Alexis Mohamed: Absolutely. All this is thanks to the efforts made by the Head of State within the framework of our economic development.
According to the latest World Bank report, despite the effects of the pandemic, the medium-term economic prospects remain positive: growth should average 7.1% in 2021. A report taken up by the Ecofin agency. Djibouti is at the top of the list of countries that will experience good growth in 2021.
54 ÉTATS: What is the status of economic reforms?
Alexis Mohamed: Djibouti has made an economic commitment with the desire to make the Republic of Djibouti a regional hub.
President IOG, with partners, has been able to implement pharaonic projects, including the development of multiple port areas, railway projects and also the new international airport project.
The basic and new infrastructures that are part of the economic development are now in place, so that future generations can benefit from them.
54 ÉTATS: What are the major challenges Djibouti will have to face?
Alexis Mohamed: In political life, everything is a question of challenges. The health crisis is bringing about a change. We can no longer make long-term forecasts.
Growth is expected to average 7.1% in 2021
54 ÉTATS: Geostrategically, Djibouti has all the assets to become a logistics and technological platform. What is the basis of the "Vision 2035" programme, supported by the Djiboutian government?
Alexis Mohamed: On the economic level, the government will undertake the necessary actions to diversify its economy, notably in agriculture.
54 ÉTATS: Tertiary activity contributes to 79.3% of Djibouti's wealth. Agriculture has a tiny weight (3.9%) and tertiary industry is around 17%.
Alexis Mohamed: It is necessary to diversify our economy, especially to achieve the millennium goals such as food self-sufficiency or access to healthcare for all.
Agriculture is a priority, energy is a priority like all the other sectors such as the pharmaceutical industry.
We want to diversify the economy beyond services. We are opting for a strategy of mini-industrialisation.
54 ÉTATS: On the digital front, Covid-19 and Africa are facing digital solutions. Where is Djibouti at with the introduction of broadband in the country?
Alexis Mohamed: It is quite embryonic! The African continent is the one that is doing best. African genius has developed. Covid-19 on the continent has spurred the creation of multiple innovative projects. Young brains from Djibouti have set up applications to make life easier for Djiboutians. An application to get groceries delivered, for example.
54 ÉTATS: Are you citing the example of other countries, such as Rwanda, and the start-up Zipline, or are you talking about the brains of Djibouti who, thanks to their innovative start-ups, are creating a dynamic in terms of NICTs, on the digital level?
Alexis Mohamed: Also, that is what I have just detailed. As far as Djibouti is concerned, we are witnessing the emergence of a Djiboutian genius that has been highlighted by the health crisis. It is up to us, as an authority, to deploy the efforts to accompany these innovative projects, relative to the success of each project.
Accompanying entrepreneurial innovation is part of the programme: "Vision 2035".
54 ÉTATS: With 5 military bases of foreign armies, Djibouti, a veritable "nest of powers" at the heart of a zone of tension, arouses as much covetousness as questions. Alexis Mohamed, could you briefly recall the advantages Djibouti has?
Alexis Mohamed: The lord did not endow us with oil but offered us an exceptional geostrategic location. Djibouti is the African gateway to the new Silk Roads, a project initiated by Chinese President Xi Jipping.
Djibouti is ideally located on the world's main commercial maritime route and is the African stopover for this Chinese infrastructure and development project.
Djibouti is diversifying its economy through this project.
Many influential partners want to settle in the Republic of Djibouti because of its geostrategic position.
54 ÉTATS: Could this militarisation of Djibouti and the region lead to tensions?
The Republic of Djibouti is not militarised!
Alexis Mohamed: The Republic of Djibouti is not militarised! We have accepted invitations from a number of partners, international forces such as the Japanese, Americans and Europeans, as part of the fight against maritime piracy. The Chinese are also in Djibouti. We remain in the reality of certain needs and the Republic of Djibouti will not go beyond that. Our surface area is 23,000 km2 and we would not have enough room to accommodate everyone. Moreover, we have enough partners present to meet different objectives. This is what guarantees us security and stability unlike other countries in the region. This is also the reason why IGAD was held in Djibouti. This summit could not have been held in other countries in the Horn of Africa.
54 ÉTATS: What is the reality of the Chinese presence in Djibouti?
Alexis Mohamed: It is exactly the same reality as the presence of the other partners. People focus on this Chinese presence. The Republic of Djibouti has no exclusive relationship with China or any other country. The Republic of Djibouti remains very objective. President Guelleh is a partner of several powers but has no exclusive relationship.
54 ÉTATS: Can France still play a role in Djibouti in the face of China's offensive?
France is a friendly country
Alexis Mohamed: France is a country with which we have historic relations. France is a friendly country with which we share a common culture and language. It's up to each of us to make the best of it. We must not focus on the presence of a single international force.
54 ÉTATS: For several months now, regional tensions have been crystallizing around the Somali presidential election scheduled for February. What does President Ismael Guelleh think of the thorny issue of Somaliland?
Alexis Mohamed: These are internal issues in Somaliland and Somalia. It is up to them to find solutions to resolve their internal conflict. It is up to them to list the problems they have, but the head of state Ismail Omar Guelleh advocates dialogue to resolve the conflicts.
Ismaïl Omar Guelleh advocates dialogue to settle conflicts
He is a very listened to president in the region. He is very consulted. Our partners present in Djibouti consult President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh very regularly and ask him for advice.
54 ÉTATS: If the Guelleh era continues with a 5th mandate, will there ever be an official recognition of this small self-proclaimed secessionist country, since 1991, knowing that at the end of December the Djiboutian president received and welcomed for a whole week the Somaliland president Musa Bihi Abdi and his Minister of Foreign Affairs Yacin Hadj Mahamoud.
It's up to everyone to solve their own problems!
Alexis Mohamed: President Ismail Omar Guelleh has always received the Somali and Somali authorities. You anticipate a response from President Guelleh on this point. Currently, the question does not arise. We will see how the situation evolves but there is no position to take. I think that there are other priorities in the region and it is up to everyone to solve their problems!
54 ÉTATS: What role does President Guelleh play in the various conflicts that the entire Horn of Africa region is facing, particularly Ethiopia, which is on the brink of civil war?
Alexis Mohamed: I don't know if you remember, President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh was the very first to initiate dialogue between the different actors. And this without waiting for the United Nations.
The Arta conference was used to set up the first government for Somalia in 1991
54 ÉTATS: Yes, President Djibouti, initiated the peace and reconciliation project for Somalia. And the Arta conference was used to set up the first government for Somalia in 1991. That was already 20 years ago.
Alexis Mohamed: It was 20 years ago, but it is a historical fact and we must not forget it! The president continues to fight for the stability of Somalia and the whole region.
54 ÉTATS: Still, on the regional level, how do you gauge the quality of relations between Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and Djibouti's president?
Djibouti is preserved from other conflicts in the region
Djibouti is a stable and secure country. We advocate dialogue.
Alexis Mohamed: There is no particular problem between the two countries, apart from the recognition of territorial integrity. This is an issue on which the Head of State will not deviate.
From an ideological or political point of view, there is no problem between our two countries, as there is with other countries.
Djibouti is preserved in relation to other conflicts in the region.