Today, the Republic of Djibouti marks the 35th anniversary since it attained its independence. To celebrate this occasion, Djibouti Honorary council, Mr SAID AMIN SHAMO, granted the following interview to our Special Correspondent. Excerpts...
Question: Can you explain Djibouti's background in brief?
ANSWER: Djibouti attained its independence from France on June 27, 1977 in a peaceful manner following a concerted effort and demand from nationalistic political movements which championed the country's quest for independence. The incumbent president of the republic of Djibouti is Islamic Omar Guelleh, who ascended to power in May 1999. To be able to effectively manage state affairs, the president is helped by the Prime Minister, Mohamed Dileita, who was appointed in March 2001. The Djibouti government is consisted of the president and the cabinet. The letter is answerable to the president. The president is elected in a popular vote that puts him in power for five years. The Djibouti constitution stipulates that the Republic president is eligible to hold office until he/she attains 75 years. Last elections were held on April 2011. Next elections will be held in 2016. According to the statistics released last year, Djibouti has a population of 774,389 people. Out of this number, 94 per cent are Muslims, and 6 per cent are Christians.
Q: Djibouti's economy depends on what?
A: Djibouti's economy is based on services connected to the country's strategic location and status as a free trade zone in the Horn of Africa. Two-thirds of Djibouti's inhabitants live in the capital city, which also hosts a major and busy regional port serving mainly Ethiopia's fast growing economy.
One third of the population consists mainly of nomadic herders living in the semi-desert spacious land where they look after their animals, including cows and goats. Scanty rainfall limits crop production to fruits and vegetables. This means that Djibouti imports various goods, including food items.
Djibouti provides services as both a transit port for the region and an international transshipment and refueling centre. Imports and exports from landlocked Ethiopia represent over 70 per cent of port activity at Djibouti's port container terminal. Djibouti has few natural resources and few industries. The nation is, therefore heavily dependent on foreign assistance to support its balance of payments and also finance some development projects.
Djibouti has managed to tame inflation because its currency, Djibouti franc is tied to that of the US dollar. However, the two- currency tie somehow affects Djibouti's balance of payments. Djibouti has experienced relatively minimal impact from the global economic downturn, but its reliance on diesel-generated electricity and imported food leave average consumers vulnerable to global price shocks.
Q: Djibouti belongs to what kind of global or regional economic grouping ?
A: Djibouti is a member of the United Nations (UN), the Africans Union (UN) and several other international organizations under the UN and beyond. In the East African region, Djibouti is a member of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGADD), which was established in 1986. The headquarters are in Djibouti city, the capital of our nation.
IGADD is made up of eight member states, which are Eritrea, which was admitted in 1993, and Ethiopia, a founding member in 1986. Other founding members are Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda. South Sudan was admitted last year after attaining independence in July.
Reasons behind the IGAD formation was a recurring and severe droughts and other natural disasters between 1974 and 1984 which caused widespread famine, ecological degradation and economic hardship in the Horn of Africa region. Although individual countries took substantial measures to cope with the problems and received support from the international community, its extent argued strongly for a regional approach to supplement national efforts.
The six countries of the region took action through the union to establish an intergovernmental body for development and drought control in their region. At a January 1986 assembly of Heads of State and government, an agreement was signed which officially launched the IGADD. Soon after its information the mandate of IGADD widened, becoming a vehicle for regional security and political dialogue.
At an extraordinary summit of IGADD heads of state and government was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on April 18, 1995 where leaders met and resolved to revitalize the Authority by expanding its areas of regional co-operation. This was aimed at creating a full-fledge regional political, economic, development, trade and security entry similar to the South African development Community (SADC) and Economic Community of west African states (ECOWAS).
One of the major motivations for the revitalization of IGADD was the existence of many organizational and structure problems that made the implementation of its goals and principles ineffective. On March 21, 1996, the Heads of state and Government at the second Extraordinary summit in Nairobi, Kenya approved and adopted an Agreement Establishing the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.
Q: Any strategies to promote the Tanzania-Djibouti cooperation?
A: We have several plans at hand but we take a careful and well balances care in seeing what we implement is useful to Tanzania and Djibouti government in the first place and useful to the citizens of the two countries. Djibouti being a small nation whose economy relies much on the port service industry has a lot to benefit from Tanzania in various economic sectors. It is in this sense that as at present we have a consulate, we have reasons to start thinking of setting up a full-fledged mission. By going to the next level we can widen the scope of our cooperation.
Q: How do you look at the present Tanzania- Djibouti bilateral cooperation?
A: Frankly speaking, I am grateful to the successive Tanzania leaders starting with retired President Benjamin Mkapa and the incumbent President Jakaya Kikwete. We have a very good working environment; being an honorary consul in Tanzania I find all relevant government institutions supposed to support my task are cooperative. My stay in Tanzania for over two decades has exposed me to the good and positive side of the Tanzania government and it is some times impossible in other African states to be accepted within the local communities the way Tanzania have accepted me.
I strongly believe this was possible due to solid national unity foundation built by the father of the Tanzania nation, the late Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere. According to Shamo, in 1977 Djiboutians of all walks of life and different backgrounds jointly ushered in an independent Djibouti nation full of aspirations.
"I would like to take this auspicious moment to speak to you through this statement and share what I think as being of top priority to all of us, first as Djibouti nationals and secondly as individuals struggling to build our loved nation and to eke a living.
To start, I would like to dwell on the diaspora Djiboutians. Wherever we are in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burundi and beyond. It is very important that we are obedient to the law, cooperate with our hosts for whom we have great appreciation in the entire region of East, Central and Southern Africa. We should be a type of people who can demonstrate appreciation and be seen to appreciate our host's true love and friendship to us.
It would be a shame and indeed unacceptable if after having been treated with generosity we would turn and cause problems to our hosts. Doing so will not only threaten our hosts but undermine our own selves as human beings and a civilized nation. It will be of high value to us if we behave in a way that is beneficial to ourselves and beneficial to host nations and communities.
I challenge fellow Djiboutians in the Diaspora to team up and maximize our cooperation so that we can immensely contribute to the well-being of our host nations and people at the same time maximizing the benefit to our immediate families and our brothers and sisters back home in Djibouti.
Taking the turn to speak to fellow countrymen and women back home, I would like in the first place to salute you in the name of Allah S.W.T and greet you in the name our proud nation. It is you people back home who have made Djibouti the way it is today.
It is you the brave men, loving and hard working Djiboutian women and disciplined young men and who have held the nation together hence attracting foreigners to settle, come and trade and enter into bilateral and multilateral agreements with our government to trade, construct infrastructure which in turn has helped take our nation significant miles ahead towards the ultimate social, economic and political development goal.
It is your had work, your diligence, your commitment to make a difference with other nations by creating and promoting a Djibouti brand, which has promoted our image in the Diaspora as good people, law abiding and hard working. People who deserve to be treated humanly and friendly wherever they go and in whatever they venture to undertake.
I hereby speak from the bottom of my heart, dear fellow countrymen, that we free Djiboutians in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Rwanda and name any state in this region because of your hard work behaviour, because you have never emerged as people to be doubted, never, ever.
I would like to take this opportunity to assure you that we will carry the shining and freely flying Djibouti flag in a proud, respectful and heroic way as I believe we are your Ambassadors in these foreign lands and you are our roots and morale boosters back home. Let me take this opportunity to salute and thank our leader, his excellency president Ismail Omar Guelleh for his wise and tireless leadership which has enabled our nation to travel that far in the road of freedom, social and economic development.
I would like to promise His Excellency that we Djiboutians in the Diaspora will work hard to promote a positive image of our nation and at the same time earn extra income and revenue which can be repatriated back home to build and nurture Djibouti.