International businessman Abdourahman Boreh has attacked Djibouti’s government for failing its people in an interview with BBC Focus on Africa.
Here’s what he said:
BBC Presenter: And now we are going to go to a place that we don’t hear about very often, Djibouti, it’s a small country of just 600,000 people, tucked into a corner above Eritrea and Ethiopia, just above troubled Somalia, but it is the military playground for the US and is also the base for navies fighting piracy in Somalia. There will be parliamentary elections there next year and talk of political and financial corruption, human rights abuses etc is growing louder.
Abdourahman Boreh is one of the richest men in Djibouti and was once a member of the President’s inner circle but when he fell out with President Ismail Omar Guelleh he was forced to leave the country and is now one of the President’s strongest critics.
Abdourahman Boreh: The government has failed to secure the minimum of services and there is a shortage of water, electricity. We have a lot of unemployment. The conditions are not as normal and there is tension.
BBC Presenter: We don’t hear of that kind of tension from Djibouti, why is that?
Abdourahman Boreh: Djibouti is very well controlled, you don’t have the international media, they’re not allowed to come in. Anybody who is outspoken or has an independent opinion has to leave the country or is imprisoned or he has serious problems in his life economically or whatever. The government interferes a lot to keep people silent.
BBC Presenter: It almost sounds like you’re talking about something in the 70s rather than in 2012.
Abdourahman Boreh: Since we have our independence we have the same family for 36 years, the same regime ruling the country, so the only way they still are in power is the same classical way – it has similarities with Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria today.
BBC Presenter: You are described as one of the richest men in Djibouti. From how you describe the country, you don’t become that kind of person if you are not very close to the source of power.
Abdourahman Boreh: Yes and no, don’t forget that Djibouti is only half a million to 600,000 people, it’s very small. When you talk about rich, you call me rich locally speaking but I work regionally and I work in three continents and Djibouti represented 5% of my income. But what I really care about more is to invest in Djibouti, to create real development and create jobs. I employed 4,000 people, some of my companies were running at a loss.
BBC Presenter: But of course I mean as a Djiboutian you had influence and power?
Abdourahman Boreh: I have the regional influence, I still have regional influence. I know several heads of states and the thing is when you are so powerful or influential and you say it is not a good idea to change the constitution, you know the impact. You know if someone on the street says that, then it doesn’t matter, but because I say that I will become the first class…
BBC Presenter: So why did you say it?
Abdourahman Boreh: I said it because I thought it was natural for me and I think it was fair to say it because today Ismail Omar Guelleh I think is not happy to remain on the seat because he has all the critics, all the problems. I don’t want to be a president today. If he had listened to me he would have been better off.
BBC Presenter: So did you want to be President?
Abdourahman Boreh: Today? I don’t…
BBC Presenter: No, then. When you said it?
Abdourahman Boreh: No, when I said it, I had no idea and I’m not interested and it was really, really not in my mind to become a President. Although people talk about it, I am a businessman, what I was more keen on was the development impact.
BBC Presenter: You are sentenced to jail in absentia for an alleged plot against the government. Now some people might say that the reason why you are saying these things is because of these charges that are against you. Lots of people all say that you had presidential ambitions and that’s why you are now saying the things which you are.
Abdourahman Boreh: In 2011, I was a candidate and I thought we had a chance to have a change. But we boycotted the election, and the President won at 90-something per cent, which is normal.
BBC Presenter: Do you still want to be President?
Abdourahman Boreh: My family doesn’t want me to be President, and I think I have so much projects and so much engagements in my mind today that I have too many things to do but I will always be the guardian for Djibouti. I love Djibouti and I will make sure that there will be a proper change and there will be a proper election.
BBC Presenter: You haven’t said whether you still want to be President…
Abdourahman Boreh: I don’t want to be a President, a President is for me a responsibility, it’s a liability. You can’t be an ageing President, you know simply relaxing and taking things for granted.
BBC Presenter: And that was an unofficial member of the Djibouti opposition, and his name is Abdourahman Boreh. He’s a Djibouti businessman and critic of President Ismail Omar Guelleh.