La Voix de Djibouti recognised for their journalism, but attacked by President Guelleh
Djibouti’s next Presidential elections are scheduled to take place in April 2021, with president Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, who has been in power since 1999, expected to extend his leadership for a fifth term. The current regime has consistently used oppressive tactics to suppress opposition and dissent. Thus far, there has been little international attention to or pressure for free and fair elections in Djibouti. The country’s strategic location in the Horn of Africa and its hosting of naval bases from China, France, the USA, Spain and Japan ensures that Djibouti does not face strong bi- or multilateral criticism of its human rights record.
On 14th January 2021, it was reported that at least two people had died in clashes between an armed group and the military in northeastern Djibouti. The Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD) allegedly attacked several different sites, including a military camp. FRUD are a radical faction in northern Djibouti who are against the re-election of President Guelleh.
The country’s strategic location also places it as a corridor for African migrants hoping to reach the Gulf countries for work. The Bab-el-Mandeb strait, between Djibouti and Yemen, is dangerous, and shipwrecks are common. On 5th October 2020, twelve Ethiopian migrants were found dead on a beach in the coastal town of Obock, while 34 others survived but were injured. The incident came just 12 days after eight migrants were killed and several others injured by smugglers in the same area.
Separately, on 17th November 2020, the Djibouti Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its support for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia, who has been facing the prospect of a civil war after having launched an armed operation against the Tigray region’s ruling TPLF.
On 16th November 2020, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) announced that they had nominated La Voix de Djibouti (Voice of Djibouti), the last remaining Djiboutian independent news source, for their annual Press Freedom Award, the ‘Prize of Courage’. The news outlet operates from France and is frequently blocked by authorities in Djibouti. During rare protests in June and July 2020, journalists were systematically targeted for reporting on the unrest, with several La Voix de Djibouti journalists being arrested or forced into hiding, as reported on the Monitor.
However, in an interview with magazine Jeune Afrique, published on 23rd November 2020, President Guelleh made inflammatory and inaccurate comments about the media outlet, raising concerns about the consequences it might have on La Voix de Djibouti and its journalists because it undermined the outlet and free press in general. Despite making repeated requests, La Voix de Djibouti has been without a licence since 2015.