by Abdourahman Mohamed Guelleh, "TX"July 04, 2023
From July 2 until today, July 4, 2023, police have been raiding the homes of several pro-democracy activists in Djibouti, a highly geostrategic country in the Horn of Africa, where the world's major powers jostle for influence—each with their respective military bases.
At the time of writing, seven activists, including four women, have been arrested and the general secretary of the movement "RADDE" (the French acronym for Gathering for Action, Democracy and Ecological Development) are in custody. The police are still looking for others.
The reason for their arrest was the impersonation of military, police and Republican Guard uniforms as part of a recent nonviolent campaign organized by RADDE. The strategy of this campaign was two-fold. First, it aimed to draw attention to corruption, poor governance and economic injustice. At the same time, we designed the campaign to go on the offensive and try to peel away the regime's key pillars of support: the army and the police.
How do we do this? By demanding higher wages for government workers (including military and police) in the face of a high cost of living and crippling government corruption and mismanagement.
The nonviolent campaign ran from April 30 to June 27, ending to coincide with Independence Day and the Feast of Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha), both national holidays. We chose to make it look like a military parade, with activists dressed in military and police uniforms singing a song addressed to Ismail Omar Guelleh's regime to stop embezzling money and raise wages. Our activists transformed an aggressive military chant into a song of "military" demands, singing: "We demand a pay rise from the president because our low wages are no longer enough" and "Raise wages or take them from your account". The campaign also included songs, dances, sketches, poems and speeches.
We know that many members of the Djiboutian army feel that they are underpaid, but as far as we know, no soldier has yet expressed his or her dissatisfaction with this injustice. We saw this as a strategic opportunity to reach out and consolidate our long-standing fraternization efforts with these pillars of the regime.
It was precisely the usurpation of identity, through the wearing of official uniforms, that provoked the regime's ire. The latter—and everyone in Djibouti—have clearly seen that certain military leaders support the movement against the regime. The military parade and parody song were thus dilemma actions, which have been our preferred category of nonviolent action for some time, since dilemma actions can be suitable for very repressive contexts.
Although the arrest of our activists represents repression, we have reason to believe that repression is not at its maximum. How could the police and army follow orders for large-scale repression when those they were supposed to arrest were in fact defending pay rises for the military and police? Our campaign had the advantage of consolidating this bridge for potential future defections, while drawing attention to the fundamental values of the struggle against authoritarianism, corruption and poor governance.
After hearing the sad news of the arrest of my fellow activists, I was informed that I too would be arrested very soon. Prison doesn't scare me. I've already spent four months there. I know that in the regime and in the system, there are two groups: Some want change and others don't.
And even two plainclothes policemen turned up at my house on Sunday evening in their search for activists. Without opening the door, I asked who they were. They replied that they were "the police" and that they wanted to find a wanted activist in my house. When I replied that the activist wasn't with me, the police left.
Our aim is to fraternize with the police, security forces and government representatives to avoid a Sudanese-style scenario of total degeneration in our country. Without the security forces, our transition would not be smooth. Our strategy calls for a stable transition. We already have a lot of supporters in the security forces, since they form part of certain segments of the population. We're not looking for a coup d'état or a takeover by force. Peace-building requires strategic efforts.
Through nonviolent civil resistance, RADDE fights against an authoritarian, security-oriented, family-dynasty regime. Our objectives are to establish a free, just and democratic society, and to consolidate lasting peace in the Republic of Djibouti, which is plagued by instability and known for its violent conflicts. Education, training, planning, respect for nonviolent discipline, unity and joyful and humorous dilemma actions form the basis of our nonviolent resistance.
For the Djiboutian regime, RADDE is a source of concern, and we have been steadily growing in strength since our creation as a movement in 2018. In January 2022, the Djiboutian president threatened me with torture, death and disappearance during a telephone conversation with his powerful and feared police chief. The recording of the conversation was leaked on social media and covered by the international media.
RADDE used backfire tactics that precipitated the surprise downfall and imprisonment of the powerful police chief.
At RADDE, nonviolent discipline is de rigueur and our activists, old and new, are regularly trained in this strategy. Already last year, some of our activists were arrested and detained for performing a folk dance and staging a sit-in in front of Djibouti's National Assembly.
Whatever the form of repression suffered, RADDE will continue to use nonviolent action in its struggle against dictatorship in Djibouti. RADDE calls on the international community to use its influence to stop the violation of the rights of nonviolent activists in Djibouti.
Minds of the Movement editor Amber French contributed significantly to the writing of this article, compiling the messages Abdourahman sent her "live" to keep her informed of the repression.
Abdourahman Mohamed Guelleh, “TX,” is the founding leader of Djibouti’s Rassemblement pour l’action, la démocratie et le développement écologique (RADDE, Rally for Action, Democracy and Ecological Development). The former mayor of Djibouti, TX abandoned politics in 2018 to advance Djibouti’s pro-democracy movement through grassroots organizing. He is an alum of the Solidarity 2020 and Beyond’s International Activists Convening, held in Kathmandu, Nepal in 2023.Read More