Attacks on the Press 2000: Djibouti

AS SPORADIC GUN BATTLES CONTINUED BETWEEN GOVERNMENT FORCES AND REBELS of the United Revolutionary Front (FRUD), state broadcast and print outlets tailored their coverage to the propaganda needs of President Ismael Omar Guelleh’s government. The opposition press, led by the weekly papers La Republique, Le Temps, and Le Renouveau, was little more objective.

The civil strife is rooted in tensions between the majority Issa ethnic group, which dominates the government, and the minority Afar group, which dominates the FRUD. The government refuses to release casualty figures and continues to downplay the gravity of the rebellion. Journalists working for state media practice self-censorship in order to avoid accusations of supporting the rebels, and authorities are quick to retaliate against independent and opposition media that try to cover the conflict.

In search of objective news coverage, the small literate elite has turned to newspapers based in the neighboring, self-declared Republic of Somaliland, a breakaway region of Somalia. The Somaliland paper Jamhuuriya, notably, was enjoying increasing popularity in Djibouti until the government banned its import in early April, reportedly at the behest of President Guelleh.

Subsequently, the government placed severe restrictions on the import of all newspapers from Somaliland. Djibouti officials did not try to justify their actions, but local reporters suggested that the move was prompted by long-standing animosity between President Guelleh and Mohammed Ibrahim Egal, the self-appointed ruler of Somaliland. (Most recently, Egal angered Guelleh by refusing to recognize a transitional Somali government born out of peace talks held in Djibouti in August.)

Radio remains the most popular medium in Djibouti. In early January, however, authorities declined to renew Radio France Internationale’s license to broadcast locally on the FM band. The BBC was luckier. Having been granted an FM license for the capital, Djibouti City, it began broadcasting on May 17.