News / USA

Djibouti Rebels Threatening Stability in Strategic Country

Analysts are expressing fear that increasing rebel activity in Djibouti in recent months could threaten the stability of one of the most strategically important nations in the Horn of Africa. The internal upheaval is some of the worst since Djibouti gained independence from France 33 years ago.

Last month, three Djiboutian soldiers were killed in an ambush in the north of the country, where a low-intensity anti-government rebellion has been simmering for nearly two decades.

The incident has been followed by near-daily reports of armed clashes in the area, stoking public fears that the country is sliding toward another civil war.

Horn of Africa observer Jack Kalpakian at Al-Akhawayn University in Morocco says the latest unrest began in April, when Djibouti's second president, Ismail Omar Guelleh, tried to pressure the parliament into changing the constitution so that he could serve a third, six-year term in office.

Kalpakian says the move by the president, who belongs to a Somali sub-clan called the Issa, deeply angered Djibouti's other major ethnic group, the Afar.

In the early 1990s, an Afar rebel group, the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy, led a bloody insurgency over the lack of representation in the Issa-dominated national government. The conflict officially ended in 2000 when the rebel group signed a peace treaty with the government in return for cabinet posts. But some Afar rebels have continued their quest for autonomy in the north, where the Afars form the majority.

"The underlying structural issue has to do with Djibouti as an Afar-Issa state, literally, and that was its original name by the French," said Kalpakian. "They have been trying to go at a power-sharing arrangement, but the real power remains with the Issas and that, of course, feeds resentment with the Afars."

Djibouti, a tiny country of just 800,000 people bordering Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia, has little natural resources or industry. But in the past decade, its strategic location in the Horn of Africa has turned Djibouti into a key partner for the United States and Western countries fighting piracy off the coast of Somalia and conducting counter-terrorism operations in the region.

Djibouti is home to France's largest military base in Africa, and since 2001, the U.S. military's Combined Task Force, Horn of Africa, now numbering about 3,000 troops, has been based there. The military bases earn President Guelleh's government millions of dollars every year in lease revenue.

The former French colony is also an important economic ally of the region's landlocked giant Ethiopia. Virtually all Ethiopian imports and exports pass through the port in Djibouti.

Kalpakian says there is no evidence to suggest that external actors are involved in fueling the latest round of turmoil. But he says Djibouti's ties to Ethiopia and the West leaves the country vulnerable to destabilization by groups interested in destroying those relationships. "It would not surprise me at all if we find out there was some linkage with the Shabab or with Eritrea in this messKalpakian. "If I was an opponent of the United States, one of the things I would be thinking is how to use Djibouti's internal divisions to destabilize it and to make it less of a secure toe-hold for the United States and France in the region."

Al-Shabab is an al-Qaida-linked Somali extremist group, whose top leaders have been targeted and killed in U.S. counter-terrorism operations run from its base in Djibouti. Eritrea has been accused by the West and the United Nations of supporting Islamist insurgents in Somalia as part of a proxy war against Ethiopia.

You May Like

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs