An open letter to the African Union, Pan-African Parliament, calling for AU election monitoring and steps to ensure a free & fair Presidential Election in Djibouti in April 2011
Dear African Union,
For 34 years, the Djibouti people have been deprived of political freedom and forced to live under a corrupt regime that does not believe in democracy. As presidential elections approach, I am calling on the members of the African Union to give the Djibouti people a real chance to choose the political future for their country. Djibouti needs your support to ensure free and fair presidential elections take place in April 2011.
The chances that these elections will be free and fair, however, are currently slim without AU intervention. In the last Presidential elections, President Guelleh, the incumbent, was the only candidate, a well-planned outcome. There are no opposition MPs in the National Assembly.
Since the President pushed through a change in the constitution in March last year to enable himself to stand again for the Presidency, the political oppression has intensified – demonstrations have been violently suppressed, opposition activists sentenced to prison terms on spurious charges (including the arrest of MRD member Farah Abadid Hildid last week), potential dissenters within the administration have died in mysterious circumstances, and potential presidential rivals hounded out with inflated tax demands and trumped-up criminal charges. I know only too well about this brutal regime. In June 2010 a spurious and implausible criminal charge was laid against me, and processed through a 10-minute court procedure. At no point throughout the process were my legal representatives allowed to intervene. The charges have never been accepted in a free court.
The President explained on TV in December 2010 that the two main potential opposition presidential candidates were ineligible to stand, including myself, before any due process had been announced.
In Washington DC there seems to be little knowledge of the rapid political and economic deterioration, and the concomitant economic deterioration. The AU must step forward.
A boycott of the April Presidential election and the National Assembly elections next year by all opposition parties may create a very unstable climate, but under current arrangements it would be futile for the opposition parties to participate. From this I know only too well that a breakdown of law and order in Djibouti could spark a wider war – there are many regional tensions. There are other dangers too – Djibouti has become a haven for money laundering, and worse, violence could block the El Mandeb straights and cut off Europe’s oil supplies, precipitating foreign intervention.
Calm needs to prevail, and it is preferable for the AU to step in preventatively. The elections in Somaliland have shown what can be achieved in this region. Free and fair elections in Djibouti are both desirable and, with international support, possible.
The United States-funded Democracy International report called for opposition representatives to be appointed to a National Electoral Commission which has “the necessary means and autonomy to function properly”. It also called for “timely access to the electoral list both to political parties and to the general public, and for proper election observers, stating that “encouraging independent citizens’ groups to observe on Election Day could enhance the credibility of the outcome”.
Steps to ensure free and fair elections must of course include all measures necessary to enable leading candidates to stand in the Presidential election. It’s time for the Djibouti people to have a say in their future and I’m calling on you to help make this happen.
Prospective candidate for the April 2011 Elections – Djibouti