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Djibouti opposition protests

13 November 2019

A supporter of the opposition Republican Alliance for Development (Alliance Républicaine pour le Développement: ARD), Kako Houmed Kako, whose arrest led to two days of protests, appeared in court on 3 November. Kako's detention on 31 October caused violent protests in Arhiba, a district within the capital, Djibouti City.

During the protests, youths burned tires, threw stones at police, and erected roadblocks along Djibouti's main cargo supply route from the capital into land-locked Ethiopia, primarily carrying agricultural products, fuel, and salt. The roadblocks were in place for six hours each day. Police dispersed protesters with teargas and rubber bullets before escalating to live ammunition. Opposition sources reported that 50 people were injured. Smaller protests occurred in Tadjourah and Obock regions but caused negligible disruption and the roadblocks in Arhiba have since been dismantled.

Significance

Protests are rare in Djibouti, previously occurring only in 2015 in Djibouti City's outer Balbala district, primarily because of pre-emptive arrests and use of lethal force by the security forces. The ARD has no seats in the Djiboutian parliament, having boycotted the February 2017 legislative elections, and is one of four member parties in the Union for National Salvation (Union pour le Salut National: USN) opposition coalition. USN members largely represent the ethnic Afar and are very likely to co-ordinate their protest activities ahead of the 2020-21 presidential elections, focusing on Djibouti City, and the Afar regions of Tadjourah and Obock. Operations at the Port of Djibouti and the international airport are very unlikely to be directly affected.

In the unlikely event that President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh does not step down ahead of the elections (he has not publicly ruled out a fifth successive term), opposition demonstrators are very likely to begin overtly co-operating with the remnants of the armed anti-government FRUD-Armé, who are concentrated in Obock and Tadjourah. This would increase the likelihood of arson and vandalism targeting government-affiliated companies and property, particularly projects in the construction and energy sectors (especially geothermal and wind farms) that are perceived to have expropriated large tracts of land. Another trigger for protests would be government officials supporting the integration of territorially disputed areas of Tadjourah around Lake Assal into the neighboring Arta district, where several geothermal projects are located.

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