Djibouti’s President Ismail Guelleh on the Arab Uprisings, Kenya in Somalia, and His Own Political Future

Several news sites are circulating an interview done by Jeune Afrique with Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh (presumably the original is in French, but may have only appeared in the print edition, because I was not able to find it online – I believe the interview to be genuine though). Guelleh’s comments on Kenya’s incursion into Somalia are particularly worth noting (though the translation is clumsy at times):

Jeune Afrique: Do you not fear that Islamist insurgents Shebab will retaliate by exporting terrorism to your turf? Fifty thousand Somali refugees living in Djibouti, and Yemen…
Ismail Omar Guelleh: It’s a risk I do not rule. We are very vigilant. On the other hand, I do not underestimate the harsh reality of Shehab. They have already hit in Kenya. There are six hundred thousand Somalis in Kenya, and Shebab are very established. They control the area of ​​remittances; they have their madras’s, their trade, manufacture of false documents, their physicians. Kenya is their support base. For this reason, the Nairobi government had to react.

Jeune Afrique: The Kenyan authorities have they informed the countries in the region of the military operation in southern Somalia, there is a month and a half?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: No. But they have consulted with the TFG in Mogadishu. Again, I understand them: the Shebab has multiplied their armed incursions for over three years and they lived in Kenya like fish in water. This could not last.

Jeune Afrique: This intervention is unlikely to get bogged down?

Ismail Omar Guelleh: It should be avoided. When I got here a few days ago the Chief of Staff and the Kenyan foreign minister, I advised them to limit their incursion into a buffer zone of one hundred kilometers and not seek to occupy the port of Kismayo. Kenya trained and equipped for over two years a force of about three thousand Somalis who were expected to form the backbone of the new security administration. It is this force to penetrate deeper into Shebab area. My partners have also agreed. Otherwise, the integration of the Kenyan contingent in AMISOM is a good perspective.

Guelleh, whose country was hit with some protests in advance of elections earlier this year, also reiterates a promise to step down at the end of his term in 2016. This promise is reminiscent of Sudanese President Omar al Bashir’s promise to retire in 2015, at the end of his term. These leaders, it seems, believe they can weather the current unrest, especially if they hold out hopes of a future change.

3 thoughts on “Djibouti’s President Ismail Guelleh on the Arab Uprisings, Kenya in Somalia, and His Own Political Future

  1. I have a mixed reaction to Guelleh’s advice for Kenya. Maintaining a realistic buffer zone on Somalia’s border seems to be the only practical option; moving throughout Jubbaland would eat up troops, resources and time. Kismayo is also drifting further away as a mission objective, unless Nairobi is on a multi-year schedule. I’m not as confident in the abilities of Kenyan/Western trained Somalis pushing into Jubbaland in place of Kenyan troops, as the south’s political situation will grow overly complicated. Poorly trained and equipped TFG troops may still offer an upgrade, along with a connection to Mogadishu. The operation against al-Shabaab should be kept as national as possible.

    • I wonder why the specific mention of Kismayo, what’s there that Kenya would want to hold. As for the nature of the operation, situations like this are where ‘national’ behavior and proper forces start to break down.

  2. Kismayo is a symbolic target as much as financial, that may be what Nairobi is after. Guelleh must believe even the port stretches Kenya’s capabilities. I agree that picking between poorly trained TFG soldiers and Kenya’s proxy Somalis (some of them under 18) could lead to a similar end. This mission still lacks political cohesion, let alone the proper resources.

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