By Samson A. Bezabeh
Samson A. Bezabeh recently completed his PhD at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen. His article ‘Citizenship and the Logic of Sovereignty in Djibouti’ won the 2012 African Author Prize from the journal African Affairs.
Beyond the fiction of reality, there is the reality of the fiction. Slavoy Zizek, ‘Less Than Nothing’
In his latest comedic movie, Sacha Baron Cohen plays the dictator of a fictional country, Wadiya, the location of which is clearly present-day Eritrea. In the plot, the dictator of Wadiya, President Prime Minister Admiral General Haffaz Aladeen, goes to the United Nations headquarters in New York to discuss sanctions against his country’s nuclear programme, but ends up falling in love with Zoey, the feminist caterer working at the conference. To impress her, Aladeen deviates from his original script and declares that Wadiya will have a true democracy. A year later, he conducts a ‘democratic election’, which is actually far from being fair and free. Aladeen is declared the winner with 98.8 percent of the vote, after compelling everyone to vote for him. In short, Aladeen the dictator continues to deceive Zoey and the world. He also continues to enrich uranium.
When real life politics seem risible, perhaps we need to draw attention to the humor of politics and the politics of humor. Indeed, the case of the Republic of Djibouti, which adjoins the fictitious Republic of Wadiya, may require this kind of approach. The Republic of Djibouti has existed as an independent nation state since 1977, following an independence vote that brought to an end French colonial rule in this strategically important region. Since independence, the country’s political system has been dominated by a single political party, the Rassemblement Populaire pour le Progrès (RPP). Members of a single family – the Guelleh family – have been the only leaders of the country under the banner of the RPP.
This week, however, the RPP has shown signs of a willingness to change. On the party’s web page, as well as on television, radio and in the newspaper of Djibouti, which is controlled by the RPP, we were told that they remarkable modifications have been made to the party structure. This much-talked about structural change consists among other things of the replacement of the party’s old guard with newcomers, in a move seen as an attempt to revitalize the group that has held power since independence. This reform follows a report written by a committee established to evaluate the party’s present condition. Continue reading