(By Indian Ocean Newsletter)
THE plan for economic integration devised by Djibouti and neighbouring Ethiopia could ultimately lead to a kind of political unification between the two countries. During the last few weeks, certain Ethiopian dignitaries have hinted at it and one of them even went so far as to utter “a single country with two chiefs”.
Ethiopian desire to secure its Djibouti port outlet is nothing new and some people in Addis Ababa have been talking about “an obligatory merger” with Djibouti for years. So far this trend has been latent but is now coming into the fore, because President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh (IOG) needs an Ethiopian umbrella in various sectors, including that of guaranteeing his immunity when he is no longer in power.
The Djibouti president was born in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, and owns a house in Addis Ababa. He is beginning to show his age (he is 67 according to his official birth date) and his health is not what it used to be. He is currently getting over an operation at the Val-de-Grace military hospital in Paris and he is losing his mobility. Moreover, the traditional Independence Day garden party on 27 June was not held this year, the first time in decades.
During the military parade, all measures were taken for him to make the least possible effort: IOG did not even get up to return the salute of the commanders of the parading troops. Nor did he appear on 21 June at the Hotel Kempinski for the presentation of Djibouti Vision 2035, even though it is under his High Patronage. The government, and in particular finance ministerIlyas Moussa Dawaleh have been working on this project for many years. Finally, the cabinet meetings, which are normally held every week, are getting further and further apart.
No successor in sight
IOG has several times reiterated that he will not run in the 2016 election and his state of health suggests that this will indeed be the case. However, from 2006 to 2009 he had also promised that he would not amend the constitution so he could run for another mandate, which he did finally do. At present, he does not give the impression of being particularly keen to prepare a successor.
The best placed potential candidate for his succession, presidential secretary general, Ismaïl Tani, from the same Issa/Mamassan ethnic group as IOG, is at the moment not in the good books of the highly influential First Lady Kadra Mahamoud Haid.
In the event of choosing a non-Mamassan, the most likely candidates would be Ilyas Moussa Dawaleh, former health minister Abdallah Abdillahi Miguil, and even the Afar Prime MinisterDileita Mohamed Dileita. But such a change would probably produce strong tension inside IOG’s party Rassemblement populaire pour le progrès (RPP) – an opportunity that the opposition coalition still lying in wait, Union pour le salut national (USN), would not fail to seize. Thus, whether IOG stays in command or hands over the helm in 2016, a turbulent political time is in store and Ethiopian protection could be necessary for him.
Furthermore, France and the other western powers present in Djibouti would not intervene militarily to support the regime, unless there is serious foreign aggression.
Many of the companies operating in Djibouti do not want to hear anything about a merger with Ethiopia, as they fear that Djibouti could move from its quite open economic system at present to the frequently more protectionist approach of Ethiopia. However, the current infrastructure projects (railways and roads, for example) favour increased economic integration and good political entente between the two countries.
Ethiopia depends on its neighbour for its trade to transit and is extremely wary of Djibouti becoming destabilised by radical Islamists or Eritrea.
Djibouti, for its part, has become dependent on Ethiopia on several counts: importing electricity, attributing land in Serofta in the Oromia Regional State to cultivate cereals for the Djibouti market; another land concession near Shinile (eastern Ethiopia) to extract 100,000 cubic metres of drinking water a day and the construction of a 70 km aqueduct to Djibouti.
The firm MAI Resources International (Switzerland) AG chaired by the Swiss national of Kuwaiti extraction Rashad Shawa is working with the Djibouti authorities on this particular project. Djibouti could then sell the water from Ethiopia on to other countries in the Gulf of Aden.
Source: Indian Ocean Newsletter, July 4, 2014, titled “IOG puts himself under Addis’ protection”