One of Africa’s longest serving dictators, Ismail Omar Guelleh (IOG) is sick. He has been for many years, and that is no secret. Chronic diabetes, cholesterol that poisons his body and unparalleled hypertension. Those around him often wonder how he has been able to hold on for so long. Whether he is healthy, sick or dying is not the question that should concern us. But what concerns the people of Djibouti and Somalis in general is the severe harm he has done and continues to do to the people of Djibouti and the Somali people in general.
Dictatorial systems are harmful to a society’s health, and they last for a longtime, even after the departure of the dictator. They fracture the society creating political leeches who rain extreme poverty onto their society. Djiboutians are a witness to this almost apocalyptical like poverty and corruption that has destroyed their society from independence onward to today.
Ismail Omar Guelleh’s apocalyptic rule has created a self-managing autonomous system that infiltrated everywhere and left no part of the individual’s life alone. It has completely transfigured the Djiboutian society. Today, it is synonymous with fear, paranoia, corruption, favoritism and above all widespread injustices.
Because of its autonomy, IOG’s system is very difficult to uproot. It is so anchored in society and in the society’s conscience. And worse yet, in francophone countries, the system is even more merciless, as it is built to serve the colonial power rather than the citizens. Witness the foreign forces based in Djibouti with no positive returns for the citizens of Djibouti. The land they rent belongs to IOG and his children. The vehicle they rent belongs to IOG. Even fuel depos are owned by the family. The laundromats are even family business. The system is for the family, by the family, and it is autonomously managed through fear by robotic cronies.
IOG’s system needs unscrupulous individuals to keep watch over it. So, who are these merciless human robots who make the system grind on? As Djiboutian’s call them, they are crazy people without education, without career, one day pulled from nothing, promoted without ability and branded as great gentlemen, whose presence is essential for the survival of the nation. They are officers overnight, directors one day, and ministers in a short space of time. Very often they are without education. they are devoted to the system, because their survival depends on the system. Without IOG and his system, they are told that they are nothing; and without these individuals, the system dies a sudden death.
But the system need not die, because they need the system, thus creating the first direct link with the dictatorship and his system. To save the system, the merciless human robots are willing to self sacrifice in defense of the system and the dictator. The system must not die, because the system is their sole universe.
Then there are the profits and the profiteers. These are the ordinary citizens who, instead of revolting and rejecting the dictatorship, are content to revel in its many privileges. They prefer juicy contracts to their freedom. They prefer to keep quiet and help themselves until the end. They navigate through the shark filled waters of the dictator by feeding the sharks. They support and feed the system, but hope change will come and come soon. But change never arrives.
Meanwhile, in the era of social media, big brother is everywhere and his pictures are constantly on display on public profiles, but ready to raise the banner of freedom when the change they hope for arrives. Their promotion of the dictator never ceases, and as such they are as dangerous as the sharks that are on guard. They fight for their interests, but not for their convictions.
And then you may ask, “what about the system, and do the people it purports to represent know anything about the system?” The short answer is no. The survival of the system depends on nothing being known and no trace of the system remaining once it disappears. And upon disappearance, as the regime falls, it will look like an exercise in smoke and mirrors, as you will only be able to collect dust and smoke; and even that will take time to settle down. Order, hierarchy, administration, laws, everything about the state has been made obsolete by a parallel system run by sharks, cronies and profiteers. Everything exists, but at the same time nothing is there!
But “how do they get along to keep the system grinding on” you may ask. They aren’t supposed to get along. Divide and rule and play one group, one sub-clan against the other is the rule of the day. The system rules through fear, division and suspicion. Meanwhile, profits are accumulated at the top and at the family level, while the rest fight off with whatever little crumbs they are thrown their way. As for the rest, the vast majority of the people in Djibouti are under the poverty level, with no running water and no public latrines at all. But no one dares complain, or ask a question, as there is no one to complain to and complain against. And the system grinds on.
Then there is Ismail Omar Guelleh and Somalia, his weapons trafficking, gun running, and selling everything and anything that makes money for his system. The following documents represent IOG breaking the weapons sanctions against Somalia and using ghost ships registered in Djibouti to undertake his gun running business. One such ship has been apprehended while transporting weapons to Somalia, and some allege to al-Shabaab. The ship was transporting 8,000 Taurus pistols and revolvers loaded in a container and shipped from Brazil to Djibouti. A criminal case was filed and the Italian, Brazilian and the Saudi authorities got involved in this illegal shipment. Eventually, it is reported the ship to have been released to Djibouti and the weapons unloaded onto Dhow boats that went their way to southern Somalia.
And then there is banking. One fact that every Somali knows is that Ismail Omar Guelleh is Somalia’s private banker. No government, no private business and no individual with large international banking transactions can go against Ismail Omar Guelleh, because if they do, they risk losing use of the banking services Somalis depends on, and almost all of it goes through Djibouti Central Bank and Djibouti banks.
IOG’s power in Somalia’s banking industry has given him the power to recruit any Somali businessman and politician to his cause. Case in point is Sadiq John, former Mogadishu Police Commissioner, and IOG’s future son in-law, who upon arrival in Mogadishu in 2016-2017, was alleged to be responsible for IOG’s weapons trafficking and gun running throughout southern Somalia.
On organized state crime in Djibouti read it here: Global Organized Crime Index on Djibouti, sex and weapons trafficking
More on Ismail Omar Guelleh, Somalia and weapons trafficking to Somaliland on PART II of IOG
Daljir Media | With the contributions of Fahmi Mohamed Omar | Mouvement des patriotes djiboutiens (MPD)