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05DJIBOUTI34 2005-01-09 12:00:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Djibouti
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091200Z Jan 05



E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) Summary: Decentralization has been a topic of debate in
Djibouti since the country's civil war in the early 1990's. At
that time, the disparity between regions and the capital led
the opposition Front for Restoration of Unity and Democracy
(FRUD) to take up arms against the government. The peace accord
between the two parties in February 2000 created a legal basis
for granting districts greater autonomy. Since the creation of
the decentralization law in 2002, the population of Djibouti
has eagerly awaited elections for Regional Councils. In January
2004, President Ismail Omar Guelleh announced that elections
for regional governing councils would be held before year's
end. However 2004 has come and gone without any indication of a
specific date for the elections. Post recently looked at
decentralization, using discussions with parliamentarians,
political opposition members and NGOs as an opportunity to
examine political leanings, economic issues and potential
outcomes of regional elections in each of Djibouti's four
districts. End summary.

2. (U) Decentralization has been a topic of debate on the local
political scene for more than a decade. It first appeared in
the early 1990s, as one of the main issues of the Djiboutian
civil war. A platform item of the Afar opposition party Front
for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy(FRUD) was greater
autonomy for the districts of Djibouti in order to alleviate
some of the economic and social discrepancies between the
districts and the capital. The issue is especially important to
FRUD and the northern districts, as nearly two-thirds of the
north is inhabited by Afars and greater autonomy of their
regions is seen as giving political weight in the face of
Djibouti's "Issa supremacy." The ruling party's "disinterest"
in decentralization, among other complaints, eventually led to
FRUD's rebellion in 1992. The second, and final, peace accords
signed between the armed wing of FRUD and the Government in
February 2000 provided for the creation of a law to grant more
autonomy to the districts via regional councils. The National
Assembly wrote and passed a law forming regional councils on a
provisional basis for a period of two years, at which time
popular elections would be held to choose permanent councils
member. President Ismail Omar Guelleh signed this law, making
it official, in 2002. (Note: The Government of Djibouti sought,
in the Spring of 2004, U.S. and other donor financial
assistance to help bring about these elections. The Department
did not respond, but there have also been no follow up
inquiries from the Djiboutian government. End Note).

3. (U) Each of the four districts of Djibouti currently has a
provisional regional council made up of 14 government-appointed
members. The two-year transitional period of limited power was
intended to give the districts the time to learn how to govern
themselves. This, in theory, would make a smoother transition
to full governing responsibility. Each region manages a budget
of 50 million Djiboutian francs (280 000 USD). Each budget is a
grant from public funds, as none of the districts has
mechanisms in place to generate their own income. The general
sentiment is that the performance of the provisional councils
over the past two years has been less effective than hoped. The
population's expectations for alleviation of poverty and an
improved quality of life have remained unmet (reftel).

4. (U) The most significant power holder in each regional
council is the District Commissar (DC). The DC heads the
provisional regional council, controls law enforcement agents,
and has command of military forces assigned to the district. He
also signs birth certificates and conducts primary immigration
investigations. The DC is not autonomous. Rather, he is a
servant of the ruling party and his investigations are often
directed by the central administration. The role of the DC
becomes more significant as elections approach. He gives first
authorizations to identity cards and can approve ad hoc voting
cards. Once implemented, the new decentralization law will
restrain functions of the DC, and he will serve merely as
representative of the State. The administrative and financial
control of the regions will be turned over to the elected
regional councils.

5. (U) Although regional elections were promised for 2004,
officials are reluctant to discuss why they have yet to
materialize. A major concern may be the financial implications
of decentralization. Both government officials and experts from
international organizations agree that no viable autonomy can
be expected from regions unless a degree of financial autonomy
accompanies it. That would mean local authority to collect
direct, indirect and property taxes for the region, rather than
for the central government. It is not clear yet whether the
rate of each tax would be determined locally or by the central
administration. International donors such as European Union
said they will back the decentralization process, but no solid
commitments of financial support have been made.

6. (U) The decentralization division of the Ministry of
Interior has done studies to determine how best to implement
regional governance. The result, according to the Ministry, is
that it is necessary to improve education levels among the
populace before district residents will be capable of governing
themselves. Much of the district population remains illiterate.
Local governance managers should be able to meet minimum
standards of knowledge and awareness, the Ministry says, and
for the time being, these expectations are far from being

7. (U) Government senior officials with whom post met seem to
understand that participation of local governments will enhance
democracy; however, these officials cannot give a deadline or
timeframe for making decentralization a reality. In Djibouti,
the President currently sets policy and he remains sole
individual capable of moving decentralization forward. Such a
move could entail relinquishing some of his control over the
country's day-to-day operations.

8. (SBU) The Djiboutian government is blaming international
donors, especially the European Union, for delaying
decentralization while the opposition community accuses the
government of stymieing establishment of regional governments
to serve its own power needs. President Guelleh understands
that he may be unable to stem the move toward decentralization,
but he may want to delay the process until after the coming
presidential elections. Regional elections have the potential
to increase significantly the influence of opposition parties,
and a regional council that does not fully support Guelleh
could have tremendous effect on the outcome of presidential
voting in some districts.

9. (SBU) Although decentralization is a solid step toward
democratization and may be good for districts in the long run,
it is doomed to failure without additional planning. There are
currently no mechanisms in place to train newly elected leaders
and the central government has failed to budget financial
resources in 2005 to support regional councils.