Claiming a coup conspiracy, President Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti has ordered the arrest of prominent officials. The accused, including Major General Zakariya Sheikh Ibrahim, Colonel Abdullahi Abdi Farah, a former cabinet member, and officials who had recently returned from abroad, are reportedly under house arrest. The current situation was reportedly sparked by an intercepted phone call that might also compromise the first lady.
General Zakariya has been Djibouti's Chief of Defense Staff since the retirement of Major General Fathi Ahmed Houssein in late 2013. Colonel Abdi has served as the director of the National Police for over a decade. If the accusations are true, the two would have been very well-placed to coordinate on a conspiracy against their president.
The most remarkable aspect of Djibouti's coup history is that in a region rife with coups, it is one of the few countries that has not seen a leader succumb to one. Perhaps the closest was December 2000, when Guellah--still in his first term--was faced with a rebellion from the national police. Following the removal of the force's head, General Yacin Yabeh Galab, supporters of the latter revolted against the regime. Amidst a 45-minute firefight with the Army, the National Police temporarily controlled the television and radio waves but we unable to rally support for their cause. Though Yabeh managed to escaped to a French military installation, he was soon handed over to Djiboutian authorities. General Yabeh passed away in June 2002 after being handed a 15 year prison sentence.
Combined with a leader and regime that have long dominated the political scene, Djibouti could otherwise be seen as an unlikely candidate for a coup attempt. However, last April's presidential election--"won" by Guellah with 97%+ of a vote boycotted by the opposition--had seen the country jump to the top of CoupCast's list of likeliest places to see a coup. These predictions, which can vary substantially month-to-month, subsided following Guellah's victory, but might still have hinted that the potential for a coup was greater than what casual observers might have thought.
It remains unclear, however, what has actually transpired. Though the arrests could very well reflect a developing conspiracy, the recent coup epidemic in the region could just as easily help justify the elimination of anyone who could feasibly act as a threat to the incumbent.
Further reading on coup-related arrests and purges:
Jun Koga Sudduth. Strategic Logic of Elite Purges in Dictatorships. Comparative Political Studies.
Curtis Bell. Coup d'etat and Democracy. Comparative Political Studies.
Welcome to the Arrested Dictatorship blog. Posts on recent events are periodically updated as more information becomes available. It is currently edited by Jonathan Powell and Salah Ben Hammou at the University of Central Florida.
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