The Role of Djibouti to foster Security in the Horn of Africa


By Hassan Darar Houffaneh

Minister of Interior and Decentralization of the Rep. of Djibouti

Paper presented at 11th Horn of Africa Conference in Lund Sweden

8th – 10th June 2012

  1. Regional Dilemma: The region under discussion is the Northeastern part of Africa. It composes in a narrow sense the countries: Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. However when considered the spread of the people, their history, language and culture also Kenya, Sudan (the North and the South) and Uganda belong to this Region. This region has an area of Km2, a population of about 178 Mio and a combined coast of 6962 km. Among the eight States, Somalia has with over 3000 Km the longest and Djibouti with 314 km the shortest coast.

Two contradictory perceptions dominate the minds of people about this Region. To start with the negative, the Horn of Africa is a conflict dominated region. One observes both inter and intrastate conflict, the diehard ones are the conflict between the North and South Sudan, between Ethiopia and Eritrea and the conflict in Somalia now lasting for more than 30 years. These conflicts caused deaths, internal displacement and refugees across the border, human misery and destruction of social and economic infrastructure. Besides conflict this region is frequently plagued by drought and famine, killing each time millions of people and large number of animals, forcing million others to abbundan their way of life and seeks refuge at camps. It is also fair to mention that this region belongs to most economically underdeveloped parts of Africa.

On the other side of the coin the Region has a rich historical heritage, possess geostrategic location, is endowed with mineral resources, own high profile touristic attraction, have enough sources of water that could be used for power generation as well as for irrigations for food security and is inhabited by people who share long history, cultural heritage and languages. Member states in this Region belong to three different Regional Economic Organizations (COMESA, EAC and IGAD) which allows them to maximize the synergies and advantages offered by these organizations.

However these opposing dilemmas make it difficult to define easy strategy for this Region. What is easy to capture though is the security threat that should define security problems of the Region.

  1. Peace and Security in the context of Djibouti: It is important at the beginning to state clearly our understanding of Security. When classically ‘Security needs and policy’ is tackled from the perspectives of the state, we also consider humane security. Therefore in our security threats we look closely down to the point what endangers the life and livelihood of the individual. Here are among others the main threats we have identified:

• Economic underdevelopment: Even though in the last couple of years our Region is experiencing a remarkable development growth it is still true that our Region is one of the poorest in this world. The various conflicts destroy many of the achievements and divert the benefits of the development effort into unproductive sectors. High unemployment rate, lack of perspectives for young people and Poverty poses a challenge to peace and hence are a security threat to our young democracies. Here I would like to underline the interdependence of ‘PEACE’, ‘SECURITY’ and ‘DEVELOPMENT’. The Region is making a tangible development effort in the last ten years, but the fruits of this development do not reach the various regions equally so that unequal development is the consequence. It is the mandate of the politics to promote development evenly and include all the people and more importantly all nationalities. Such all inclusive development approach prevents the creation of extremist ideas and groups.

• Undemocratic Institutions: We have inherited our institutions from the colonial powers. They served foreign interest and the ownership of the institutions as well as adjusting it to the needs of the people is the main concern of the government. But for what ever reasons there could be groups of people are unhappy about the performance of our institution. This is even more critical when our institutions are seen as undemocratic. It is true that undemocratic institutions could encourage the formation of extremist ideas and groups. People unhappy with their institutions can opt for measures that could be dangerous, cause conflict, disrupt peace and ultimately cause insecurity.

Undemocratic institutions and bad governance are the source of inequality, corruption, regional disparity and the dissatisfaction of the people with their governments. That is why we invest a lot of energy and effort to improve the service delivery of our institution and to make these services accessible to everybody. By doing this we avoid a major security threats.

• Migration: In the last two decades the people of our Region are leaving their homes for various reasons (civil war and armed conflict in their countries, economic underdevelopment, Drought and Famine, undemocratic regimes etc). This is a very sad chapter of our history. We know that organized criminal groups exploit the plight of the people (mostly young people) who leave their country for the search of a better life in a second or third country. It is these young people being led by criminals into hazardous routs who perish either in the Red Sea, the Mediterranean or the Sahara Desert. Some of those who succeed sometimes fall in to the hands of organized criminal groups taking them hostages for ransom or forcing them to join their ranks.

The fact that these young people take this life taking risks just to leave their country is a vivid indicator that they felt insecure in their homes. We therefore cannot be indifferent about this phenomenon. The countries of the Horn have to deal with the root causes of this issue. Equally important is the fact that our development partners have to assist our countries in order to find a sustainable solution (promoting economic growth, investment in productive sectors, introducing fair trade, improving the terms of trade of our products etc) instead of building fortress in order to deter migrants from entering their countries.

• Drought and Famine: The Horn of Africa is periodically affected by drought and famine that destroys the livelihoods of millions of people. When drought is accompanied by conflict and the conflicting parties use it as weapon it turns to a deadly politics. The fact that drought and famine become a part of our way of life and we witnessed years after years that it killed our people and destroyed their livelihood without our governments developing resilient strategies was and is the results of disoriented politics.

It goes without saying that both our countries and our development partners followed the wrong politics and implemented instruments that served vested interest of both groups. One of these instruments is food aid. The developed countries are interested on food aid in order to support their farmers and agricultural policy. This on the other hand destroys the livelihood of our farmers and more importantly their markets. Our countries on the other hand were not able to support the farmers and pastoralist, improve rural infrastructure, modernize their mode of production, provide them the necessary implements, offer them essential trainings, enable them to get a dissent price for their products etc.

Within the Region we have countries with high agricultural potentials. It is beyond human comprehension that people die for the lack of food in countries like Ethiopia and Kenya. Both countries have a rich potential in the south and west of their countries. Together with Uganda once called the bread basket of Africa indeed the Region has the potential to contribute to the food security of our continent. When food aid coming from various corners of the globe find their way to our needy population, it is hard to understand that the food surpluses produced in parts of our Region cannot reach the food deficient Regions.

Our integration into the world economy implies that we exploit our comparative advantage. This makes us exporters of agricultural products (Coffee, Tea, Cotton, flowers etc) as well as small remnants, camels and cattle. The paradox is the fact that it is within such a Region that people die due to the lack of food. The worst threat to peace and security in any Region or country is food insecurity. This endangers the sole existence of the nation and its sovereignty.

Our leaders (IGAD Head of States) met last September in Nairobi and worked out and elaborated the “Nairobi Strategy”. They stated out clearly that drought and famine as a natural calamities can come and go but no more in the future should neither people nor animals die because of it. They mandated IGAD to take the lead and work out resilience strategies. IGAD took the challenge and established “Drought Resilience Platform”. Djibouti Government is fully committed to support IGAD to successfully implement this endeavor. We sincerely hope that this is an important step forward to overcome food insecurity in our Region.

• Extremist ideas: Since years our Region is known to be the home, hiding place or even the center of regional and international extremist groups. This attracted the attention of external powers that made our Region a battling ground against international terrorism. The two well known groups are the Al Shabaab of Somalia and their international allies Al Qaeda. The root cause of this is the failed state reality of Somalia. Without going into details about the complexity of the Somalia issue, it is important to mention that the Region has taken a clear stand about these two groups. The IGAD member states fully support the “Transitional Federal Government” of Somalia.

The two groups are determined to spread their terror politics to the whole Region. The Region suffers from the fact of being highly militarized. For our people and our Region in general it would have been good to be popular instead on Foreign Direct Investment, growth and development center, that could have had positive impact on the living of our people.

• The Somali Pirates: The pirates off the Somali coast are another threat that contributed to the militarization of our Region. IGAD member states and Djibouti in particular have taken clear position against all kinds of piracy, whether in the Horn, Western Africa, the America or China See. But few remarks are essential to be made. Somalia in particular and the Region in general suffer from two other forms of criminal activities carried out by citizens of those same countries who claim to combat the pirates. The first is the illegal fishing of Europeans and Asians of the Somali coast ever since the collapse of the Siyad Bare regime. Equally important is the illegal dumping of toxic waste off the Somali coast from the same countries. One destroys the economic bases of the Somali fisher communities and robs millions of dollars worthy marine resources every year. The other poisons the marine life of our coasts.

Allow me one last remark on this issue. The Somali pirates are not born in the sea. They come from the main land where due to the prevailing political and economic situation they face unemployment, lack of essential services that could be rendered by a functioning government and lack of infrastructures which makes for people easy to build a base for their survival. What the international community should understand is that the solution is not just to fight and kill the young people. Why not spend a fraction of the amount used for the buildup of the foreign naval forces at our coastal sea for employment generation, vocational skills and economic and social infrastructure? We are convinced that such politics, namely assisting the young people and communities to build a sustainable livelihood is a better strategy to successfully fight the pirates and even Al Shabaab.

• Environmental degradations: The last point I would like to deal with as security threats is environmental degradations. High population growth rate, local traditions of the pastoralist community that favor the keeping of huge numbers of animals that exceed the carrying capacity of the pasture land in arid and semi arid land and for example erosion are the causes. The global climate changes show also its effect in our region by frequent droughts and at times torrential rain and devastating floods. Here again we entrust IGAD to take the challenge and develop and implement a region wide strategy.

  1. Visible regional role of Djibouti in peace and security in the Horn of Africa: Since its independence Djibouti adapted a politics that is regionally oriented. Djibouti opted for a regional politics that is oriented on peaceful resolution of local and regional conflict. We are convinced that there is no conflict that cannot be solved on the negotiation table. Let me give a brief account of our position on few important issues:

Somalia: Somalia played a key role during the struggle for the independence of Djibouti. After independence the two countries maintained brotherly and peaceful relationship. After the collapse of the Siyad Regime, Djibouti consequently followed an active politics to restore the statehood of the Somali Nation. Djibouti supported all international efforts and plays a leading role the engagement of the Regional organizations like AU and IGAD.

Two special efforts ought to be mentioned. The very first peace negotiation for Somalia was organized in Djibouti in 1991, like the ARTA one in 2000 and the one in 2008 -2009, that brought the current TFG to power. The politics of Djibouti is clear. It supports the Uganda Political Roadmap for Somalia, Garowe 1 & 2 principles and Galkaayo declaration as well as London and Istanbul agreements. Djibouti gives its full support to all the efforts of IGAD, AU and UN to bring peace, stability and development to Somalia.

Ethiopia: The Relation between Djibouti and Ethiopia is a model for the Region in terms of economic integration. Djibouti functions as a corridor for the Ethiopian export and import. Just to mention few there are the joint projects like fiber optic network interconnection, Ethio-Djibouti power interconnection, new railways connections, the Tadjoura port construction that will serve Ethiopia’s expanding export needs.

Such enormous economic efforts of the two countries serve regional peace and development.

Eritrea: Djibouti and Eritrea do not only share border but also history, culture, languages and common regional faith. The border between the two countries should not be a cause for an armed conflict. Such conflicts always destroy hopes, separate kin and kits and avert efforts from economic development of our Region. It is our people, the same people that suffer from such conflicts. It is the declared politics of the Republic of Djibouti that borders in our Region should UNITE and should not DIVIDE. We belief neither the people of Eritrea nor the people of Djibouti will support any armed conflict. We ask the leaders of Eritrea to engage themselves for PEACE, DEVELOPMENT, REGIONAL INTEGRATION and come back to our IGAD COMMUNITY.