Mr. Kidane Alemayehu, an Ethiopian and the Founder and former President of the Horn of Africa Peace and Development Center (www.hafrica.org) and I, had the opportunity to sit with Mr. Mohamed Moussa Tourtour and his wife, Mrs. Safia Ismael, in Lewisville, Texas, and what follows is the result of our conversation with him. Although Mr. Mohamed Moussa Tourtour was able to effectively articulate his ideas in English, he is more at home with French.
I am responsible for any misrepresentation of his ideas that might have resulted as the result of the language barrier that he thought was evident.
The article is not an endorsement of his candidacy but an attempt to increase public awareness of what is happening in the Horn of Africa region. It cannot be denied that Mr. Mohamed Moussa Tourtour shares the same ideas that the Horn of Africa Peace and Development Center has been championing since its foundation.
It is exciting to hear him talk about his vision of the Horn of Africa in general and Djibouti in particular. He wants to be the voice of reason that is badly needed; a bridge that would bring the countries and their respective people together; build regional institutions that would foster collaboration instead of conflict; transfer of power through the ballot and not through the bullet; help in creating electoral systems where political candidates compete as opponents and not enemies; expand the civic space where civil societies would thrive and citizens participate without any fear of retribution; and be part of a leadership that would, once and for all, usher in peace and development to the region, guided and sustained by an enlightened self-interest, respect for regional and international agreements and unwavering commitment to human rights.
Mr. Mohamed Moussa Tourtour is running for the highest office in the Republic of Djibouti: the presidency.
Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia are the four countries that make up the region properly known as the Horn of Africa with a population that exceeds one hundred million. Since the outbreak of the so-called border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia (1998-2000), and the subsequent failures of all efforts aimed to normalize relations between the two countries, the importance of Djibouti to the region and particularly to Ethiopia has increased greatly.
Ethiopia’s main maritime outlet is the Port of Djibouti and its imports and exports account for more than 70% of all the seaport activities. With the completion of the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, expected to start operation in 2016, trade between the two countries could only grow bigger and the prospects of a regional integration could not be better.
Djibouti, under the right leadership, could play a vital role in laying the foundations of a regional economic integration that would eventually lead to a political integration along the European Union model.
Based on the reports that came out of the last meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Ethiopia has become the favorite destination of foreign investments. The emerging partnership between Djibouti and Ethiopia is a cause of optimism that will lift the region from famine, poverty and under-development.
Not all is gloom in the region; there is something to be optimistic about.
Djibouti’s path, however, has been far from smooth. Since its independence in 1977, it has gone through all the too-familiar political disasters that has plagued African countries, and in the early 1990s, a disagreement over government representation led to a civil war, which finally ended in 2000, when a power sharing agreement was signed between the ruling party and the opposition.
In 1993, the now-presidential candidate, Mohamed Moussa Tourtour, was jailed for his stand against the regime of Hassan Gouled Aptidon. The 64 year old Tourtour is an economist who graduated from Bordeaux, Toulouse and Grenoble, and was once an economic advisor to President Hassan Gouled Aptidon.
He has also served as an Alternate Governor of the World Bank.
The current president, Ismail Omar Guelleh, has been in power since 1999 when he succeeded Hassan Gouled Aptidon. Guelleh won a second term when he ran unopposed in 2005 and a third term in 2011 when he made changes to the constitution allowing him to run beyond the two-term limits.
The main opposition party, the Union for National Salvation, had boycotted previous election (2005 and 2008) accusing the ruling party, the People’s Rally for Progress (RPP), of repression and censorship.
The last election of 2013 was considered by international observers as free and fair.
Djibouti, like Ethiopia and the Sudan, the neighboring countries that periodically hold elections, is a de facto, one party state. On the other hand, Eritrea under Isaias Afwerki, does not even bother with the hypocrisy that gimmick elections pay homage to democracy; it has absolute control over its populace.
Ironically, the self-declared government of Somaliland is, by far, the most democratic in the Horn of Africa. The internationally recognized autonomous region of Somalia, Somaliland, has led the way and has consolidated its democracy when the ruling party peacefully conceded defeat and transferred power to the opposition party in the last election.
It is, mostly, this history that has become the background music for any presidential hopeful in the region, but Mohamed Moussa Tourtour is determined not to pay attention to it. He is young enough to be idealistic and old enough to be prudent and sagacious.
Mohamed Moussa Tourtour is a serious candidate and is in it to win. His chances of winning the presidency are great, particularly, if the current president decides not to run for a fourth term.
He belongs to a party that was founded in 1985, and has a strong organizational support.
He thinks he is the right candidate now, and will be the right president for Djibouti and the Horn of Africa after assuming office.
Here are the highlights of our conversation:
New Leadership: Mr. Mohamed Moussa Tourtour acknowledges the dismal failures of the past and the mediocre leadership that has rendered the region the backwater of poverty, instability and corruption. He mentioned this, not to finger-point blames on past and current leaders, but to show that the region needs to break away from the past and embark on a new path that would restore dignity to the people and prosperity, peace and development to the region.
The region needs leaders who could see beyond the tip of their nose and have an understanding of what the important issues are. Leadership is about problem solving and not about creating them.
There should not be any place for nepotism, tribalism, clanism, and ethnicism in governing a country, but that is exactly what has become synonymous with the region. This has to change and he thinks he is the right leader to do it.
Core Domestic issues: He is building his campaign on three core issues: Economic stability, Education reform and Environmental Awareness.
He is not interested in just winning the presidential campaign but in starting a movement that would overhaul the status quo. It is a “Forward Movement” that he hopes would outlive his presidency. His goal is to empower the ordinary citizen to “Take Action Now” so they could have a future they can proudly call theirs. The empowerment of citizens and the promotion of civil societies, that would help people transcend their parochial differences, is a strategy that he fully embraces and commit to, not just in Djibouti but in the entire Horn of Africa.
He wants to encourage an interaction among the people of the region through cultural and educational exchange programs to promote mutual understanding and in lubricating the machinery of the inevitable economic inter-dependency.
The strong historical and cultural ties among the people should serve as a launching pad of a stronger economic and political integration.
The universities in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia must be required to admit students from the respective countries. People have to freely move in the region.
The future is being made now and it is important that we do what is right so we can have a future that is bright.
Regional Peace: The first thing he would like to do as president of the Republic of Djibouti is invite the two respective leaders of Eritrea and Ethiopia, that he refers to as brothers Isaias and Hailemariam, to his presidential palace and have them work on resolving their differences.
Peace is best secured through dialogue; and people must talk to each other in a fraternal spirit for an outcome that is a win-win situation for all concerned parties.
He admits that the status-quo between Eritrea and Ethiopia has benefited Djibouti in the short-term, but in the long-term, Djibouti’s interest lies in a regional integration where the whole region benefits. Furthermore, he stressed the fact that Djibouti has a moral obligation to be the bridge between the two countries; and cannot remain indifferent to the suffering of the people on both sides of the Eritrean and Ethiopian border.
He supports a united Somalia.
He envisions a much more effective strategy of combating terrorism in the region; does not believe that they are locally driven and locally rooted movements. With more education, economic development, rising standards of living and integration, the threat of the imported extremist brands will die out. The people of the Horn of Africa are peace-loving.
He envisions a sort of a regional league or organization that will truly work for the region. He is not happy with IGAD, the Inter-government Authority on Development, and would like to see a much more effective organization that will cater to the needs of the region.
He is interested in substance and results, and towards that, he is willing to listen to all ideas and experiment with those deemed most likely to deliver measurable results.
The French educated economist values education and knowledge and would like to make them an integral part of his developmental strategy.
Foreign Policy: Djibouti is an African and not an Arab country and it is not wise for her to inherit Arab problems. He would like to revisit and reconsider Djibouti’s membership in the Arab League.
Djibouti should have its own African foreign policy which does not put any limits on her pursuit of national interests.
Although, he appreciates the economic investment China is making in Africa, he is concerned that their disregard to issues of good governance, human rights and democracy is emboldening dictators to hang on to power.
He is interested in strengthening existing relations with the West.
If you happen to be in the Dallas and Fort-Worth area, please attend a Luncheon Fundraising organized by some leaders from the Horn of Africa communities: Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.
Date: September 13, 2015
Time: 2 PM CST
Place: Queen of Sheba Restaurant, 4875 Inwood Road, Addison, Texas 75001
For more information, visit his website: http://mohamedtourtour.com/