Clashes in Djibouti

Dozens of people have been killed and more wounded during a religious gathering dedicated to the birth of the prophet Mohammed. 

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Djibouti H.E. Mahamoud Ali Youssouf said on Tuesday that 50 police officers arrived to move the worshippers peacefully to the agreed site, when clashes erupted and gunshots were fired from the crowd. Later, it was discovered that some of the people were armed with machetes, knives and automatic guns.


Seven civilians died, with a further 23 being injured. Fourteen of these people sustained minor injuries and have since been discharged from hospital. Officials stated that the situation is calm and everything is under control.

The opposition Union for National Salvation (USN) said 19 people were killed.

Planned or conspiracy?

The government deplores the opposition's attempts to inflame the situation by using social networks to incite hatred and violence.The Chief Prosecutor for the Republic of Djibouti has launched a formal investigation. A number of arrests have been made and further details will be announced in due course upon completion of the investigation.  

Strategic importance of the country

Djibouti is placed on the Horn of Africa, with its land zone touching the Gulf of Aden (just opposite is Yemen). It is asmall country (about 876,000), but there are naval bases of US, France and Japan there. Besides that there is important shipping lanes used for the trade route and maritime patrols against pirates.

The political landscape

The Union for National Salvation is a political coalitioncomposed of six parties in Djibouti that was formed during the 2013 parliamentary election. The head of the coalition is Ahmed YoussofHoumed. The party won 21 seats in the election, but provoked anti-government riots. It seems that this group has become more aggressive before thepresidential elections that will be held in April 2016. President Ismail Omar Guellehhas been in power from 1999, and, on December 3rd, in a speech broadcasted over the television,said that he would run in the elections again - "to finalize ongoing development projects and fulfill the desire of the Djiboutian people towards development, peace and stability, to complete the projects and strengthen the fight against terrorism and piracy in my new term in office."

Geopolitical rivalry

It is strange that the incident happened just after China's announcement to build a naval base in Djibouti. At the end of November, the media reported that China had signed a ten-year contract to set up its first military base in the country. The head of the US Africa Command, General David Rodriguez, told defense reporters: "They are going to build a base in Djibouti, so that will be their first military location in Africa". He added that China would use the installation as a logistics hub "to extend their reach." Djibouti's president, Ismail Omar Guelleh, confirmed months before that his country was negotiating with China about building a naval base there.

Beijing has already invested close to $10 billion in infrastructure projects – six times the gross domestic product of the country. Infrastructure may be used for logistic with neighboring South Sudan.

The US has the "Camp Lemonnier" military base in Djibouti that is used as a key facility for counterterrorism and surveillance operations in the region.