| DJIBOUTI CITY, Djibouti, June 26, 2018/ — Setting aside all geopolitical and geostrategic considerations, forgetting about the internal struggles at the heart of political power, let us ground ourselves on socio-anthropological realities, much deeper factors, and the significant sources of a change that is rearing its head.
1. From nomadism to modernism: the principle of mental uprooting
Whether having arrived in town recently or a long time ago, save for some very rare exceptions, Djiboutian people are, to some degree or other, the fruit of migratory flows. Historically, the local culture, a river whose path is never calm, is nomadism. Our grandparents and our great grandparents before them were for the most part the nomads who came from the deserted regions of the Horn of Africa. Afterwards, we became city dwellers, closely influenced by this cultural identity and the nomad spirit remains nonetheless highly ingrained in our daily lives and we have become partially adapted to the city codes and ways of life. We are therefore now at a time of transition, half-way between nomads and city dwellers: we’re not exactly nomadic anymore, but we’re not totally modern yet either.
Yet, every changeover in society, particularly the move from nomadism to modernism, brings what we refer to in anthropologic sociology the principle of mental uprooting, which brings, in reaction, a violent transition due to the abrupt change in which this move or transfer takes place. There are ample examples of this and they are needed by those who wish to support this hypothesis by a history that is rich in teachings. The Arab Spring, the textbook example of the bolts and springs of the social dynamic, clearly illustrates the transfer of a peasant society to a modern society.
Whether we desire it or not, for the Djiboutian society this is a preliminary and mandatory process, before the spirit of true statism can run through the people’s veins.
2. A literate society: mass politicization
The Djiboutian society is increasingly literate. This acceleration of the society’s literacy levels and the dynamic this ensues cannot be understood irrespective of the soaring demography the country is experiencing. From this mass literacy, a society is born that is culturally homogenous and with it, the emergence of a new considerable phenomenon: mass politicization, which is one of the most negative reactions any dictatorship can feel.
This mass politicization leads society to want to engage more actively in a country’s political life, and not doubt it, heading towards a demand and thrust for more justice and equality and, accordingly, more democracy.
That would in great part explain the more than 3,000 cases filed with the state party, the RPP, during the last general election in 2018, and the stampede against the opposition for show, which had 7 seats reserved in parliament. This would also explain why the discussions and debates the Djiboutian have on Facebook or Mabraz focus only on the current political context.
3. The demise of the middle class: apparatchik against the people
A close look at the social class structures in Djibouti shows the increasing demise of the middle class, defrauded by the system itself. This missing layer in society, which essentially plays the role of central regulator, makes the balance between the blocks more fragile, as it is altered and considerably threatens the Djiboutian people’s social cohesion by dividing society in two: the apparatchiks and the people. In a country such as ours, where the political leaders are busily building villas for their children, it is commonplace to find young graduates in precarious situations, struggling to make ends meet, and they cannot escape situations of chronic poverty, that come alongside a strong feeling of economic exclusion.
In this way, the times put face to face two social groups: those who wish to “break away”, and those who wish to “remain close”. In other words, the people, in their vast majority poor, against the apparatchiks, who are grossly wealthy. For the former, the operative word is “change” because this group plays naturally the role of vicariant in order to attain new rights or take back what they’ve lost. For the second group, in its role of prevaricator, the operative word is “status quo”, in an instinct to survive and maintain all its privileges, which it deems cannot be sacrificed, those privileges obtained through predatory prevarication.
Henceforth, a conflict is bred between these two groups that refuse any sort of conciliation and above all, no mediation because the state bodies do not seek to reestablish justice of any sort, rather are regulated by the plebeians who live beyond the law and boasting full impunity. Lastly, the disrespect of the plebeians is the extent of the repression of the breeding anger among the destitute. This is the reason why any real conciliation is not possible, due to the single condition that it would represent a change. The arrival of Abiy Ahmed at the helm of Ethiopia illustrates this to perfection.
4. General institutional breakdown: the tribalization of society
A general examination of the administration as well as the whole public institution shows that the Republic is in a position of “Failed State”, an indicator that contains of 12 variables and was developed by the US think tank FUND FOR PEACE. This metastasized breakdown is accelerating at breakneck speed and is particularly driven by the proliferation of corruption and clientelism rooted at the very heart of political power.
Moreover, what can the Court of Auditors do against the atmosphere of opacity at the highest levels of the state? How can they fight the anti-corruption commission when the arrangement of interests is intertwined and interlocked with the highest levels of the state? What independence can a judge have when justice is becoming derelict at the highest levels of the state? What credibility can the government authority enjoy when it sells off passports and documents for thousands of dollars? What journalist in the nation can easily draft an article, not matter how critical it may be, coming from his own research?
This is why the Djiboutian people, who no longer see the reflection of the mysteries of the state or, in sociological terms, the representational conception of the state (a theory that is dear to Mr Foucault), grant public institutions few considerations, at a first stage, and then the notion of state gradually becomes destructured in their consciousness, and is finally callously erased from their minds. Regrettably, this is the complete opposite to the infra-ideology of mentalities with regard to the state developed by the philosopher Pierre Marcherey. Thus, the citizen, who does not find protection from the state, dips his bread inside his tribe. This tribalization in turn develops the division of society into classes with their multiple perverse effects.
In conclusion, the people are not certain they’ll come out of this change as winners, a change that is now inevitable, but the plebeians are almost assured of losing out, as they represent the past and not the future. Edgar Morin wrote “survival is henceforth linked to rebirth, progress to surmounting and development to metamorphosis”. From now on, it’s necessary for the Djiboutian people to manage to reconcile in one single unidirectional movement these three perceptions of change.
*Kadar Abdi Ibrahim is the Communication Manager of the Djiboutian opposition coalition USN (Union for National Salvation) and member of the Executive Committee of MOuvement for Development and Liberty (MoDeL).