19 May 2007 04:15


  • [SW Column] (SHASNA MediaWatchIsmael Omar Gelleh & His Fiefdom (Djibouti) : Posted on 31 May 2002:

Opinions expressed in this column are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of SW.

SHASNA MediaWatch

Nairobi, Kenya, [May 31, 2002] 

Ismael Omar Gelleh & His Fiefdom

About Gelleh, His Business Interests, Corsican Connections, and Despotism in the City-State: Profiles of a Criminal Tyrant and Corrupt Associates


William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

The Merchant of Venice:

“In Law, what plea so tainted and corrupt

But being season’d with a gracious voice

Obscures the show of evil?”



The former Somali port, with a desert hinterland, lying on the strategic strait linking the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, then known as French Somaliland, was in 1945 proclaimed an overseas territory of France. In 1967, for colonial political purposes and to complete its separation from Somalia, it was renamed the French Territory of the Affars and the Issas.  On June 27, 1977, after unrelenting struggle, much sweat and blood by their Somali brethren, the colonial power gave in, and the territory obtained its independence from France. Again for colonial political purposes, Djibouti, a former Somali port city, became Republic of Djibouti, an independent country! 

Hassan Gulaid Aptidon, a senior Issa tribesman politician and leader of the unified political movement (LPAI), backed by France, became the first President of the newly created Republic of Djibouti. Soon after independence, Ismail Omer Gelleh, another Issa-Mamaasan, who worked for many years in his uncle’s office, became the powerful boss of the soon to be his uncle’s notorious secret police. He helped his uncle soon install an authoritarian one-party state dominated by his own Issa-Mamaasan sub-clan. The Affars, the other major tribe in the city-state, who some allege to be the majority, were relegated to a minority status. 

Sub-clan Politics and investments

Mr. Ghelle, the inheritor of the throne and now the sitting president, was born in Dirir-dhawa, Ethiopia. He is thought to be in his late fifties to early sixties. He went to school in Dirir-dhawa, and has no formal education beyond high school. Mr. Ghelle joined Djibouti police forces in the rank of a sergeant.   

As a member of the police forces, Mr. Ghelle was quickly climbing up the power ladder. During his uncles’ tenure, in addition to being the head of then his notorious secret police, he also soon became the chief cabinet of his uncle, president Aptidon. In both the police and secret police units in which he was a member, he earned the reputation of an ‘enforcer.’ During the bloody 1991 Affar uprising, when the tribe took control of much of the country, with the help of the French military, the Affars were defeated, and it was Mr. Ghelle who was responsible for the “clean up job” and the repression that followed. As the head of the secret police, and with a reputation to keep as an enforcer, he is alleged to have single-handedly carried out the imprisoning, torturing and or killings of hundreds of men, women and children, accused to have been members and or wives or children of the opposition. 

During his early years as the head of the secret police - under the tutelage of ‘Ina Dafle’ - he was trained in Mogadishu by then Siad Barre’s notorious National Security Service. For Mr. Ghelle, life was getting sweater, and the law of the land became a mere tool for his career advancement. Backstabbing and daylight murder was event de jour! During his tenure, ties were established with the Italian underworld, and the web extended from Djibouti, Lebanon, and Tahiti, Seychelles to Madagascar. From Tourism to underworld nightspots, from liquor smuggling to drug transiting to international money laundering, nothing was forbidden, and nothing was out of bounds. He was on a roll!

 In late 1998, before his ascendancy to the top post, his uncle Mr. Aptidon, the sitting president, declared Mr. Ghelle as heir apparent and undisputed leader of the city-state. In April 1999, in a hastily organized sham election by his RPP party in alliance with handpicked and handsomely paid FRUD members, Ismail Omer Gelleh (or Ismael Omar Ghelle) succeeded his uncle and became president of Republic of Djibouti.  

After obtaining the big prize, his top priority was now to build a trusted team for the sub-clan. Mr. Ghelle called on his childhood friends, mostly Issa-Mamaasans, from Dirar-dhawa, Ethiopia. Mr. Roble Olhaye, his current UN ambassador and a trusted friend joined the team to manage the banking operations and narcotics trafficking. Mr. Olhaye (literally meaning enemy slaughterer), in his previous career in Nairobi, in addition as an alleged international narcotics dealer, was also allegedly involved in illegal exportation of African elephant tasks.  Mr. Olhaye, a sub-clan member, is now the sitting UN ambassador and owns an apartment in Manhattan, New York, and another in Washington DC, which he, to this day continuously, entertains world’s underworld shady figures. Another shady character is Hassan Saeed “Hassan Madoobe” also a Mamaasan and a sub-clan member. He is the director general of state security, including the SDS, RM and the RG. There is also General Zakaria, a Mamaasan, and the Army Chief of Staff. Col. Mahdi Osman, a Mamaasan, is the Commander of Presidential guards and the Gendarmarie para-military police force. There is also Mr. Ali Abdi Farah, foreign minister, an Isaq but a cousin of his wife. The sub-clan names, one after another, go on and on! Their sole priority is the promotion of their individual interests and that of the sub-clan, and of course includes accumulation of personal wealth. 

In addition, there is his sole powerful son, widely known as Mr. Isuzu for being the sole licensed car dealer in Djibouti. And last but not least, there is Abdirahman Borre, Issa tribesman, a childhood friend and business front-man for Mr. Ghelle. Mr. Borre, alleged owner of Borre Group LTD Holding Company, is thought to be involved in almost over half of all businesses in Djibouti. His business tentacles reach all the lives of Djibouti citizens and surroundings. From a relatively unknown background, Borre is today one of the wealthiest individuals in the Horn of Africa. In Mogadishu, his business interests with Ayr sub-clan (Abdiqasim Salad Hassan’s sub-clan) range from cigarette, sugar, and food importations to telecommunications, radio stations to Mogadishu’s sole TV station. Mr. Abdiqasim Salad Hassan, the Djibouti sub-clan’s front man in Somalia, (Mr. Ali Khalif Galleydh, before his downfall was also a junior member of the sub-clan’s cigarette distribution businesses in UAE and Somalia) has signed deals with Borre’s construction and engineering company to undertake Mogadishu’s expected, but never materialized, reconstruction works. He has already awarded Borre’s company to print the now defunct Arta sub-clan passports and the never-ending printing of counterfeit Somali currency.

Mr. Ghelle and Borre to finance these sweat heart deals have liquidated their over $13 million stake in Djibouti Sheraton Hotel and sold it to the wealthy Saudi businessman of Yemeni origin, Mr. Amoudi, same owner of Addis Ababa Sheraton. During the privatization period, Mr. Ghelle has snatched up the Sheraton Hotel for next to nothing and netted this profit to finance the ever-expanding family businesses, including but not limited to their Mogadishu based TNG group subsidiary. Because of his gamble on Somalia and its related and expected substantial losses, Messrs Ghelle and Borre are rumored to be on each other’s watch list. In addition, cash advances to Arta sub-clan and to Ina Daylaaf, Abdiqasim’s Borre and a close cousin have yet to be repaid, and the tension is said to be high too between Borre and Daylaaf. On top of that, this Djibouti clique has also lost all their business interests in Somaliland and Puntland. And the sub-clan losses keep mounting! All in all, with Borre holding all Mr. Ghelle’s secret bank accounts in France, Bolonesia, Seychelles, Lebonon and UAE, Mr. Ghelle doesn’t have many options and no remaining secret cards to play! Hence, the incoherent and confused Djibouti policy on Somalia. According to the International Crisis Group’s (ICG) recently published Africa Report N° 45, Nairobi/Brussels, “Although a member of the Arab League, Djibouti’s policy [on Somalia] is the product of sometimes contradictory elements.” The ICG highlights the Djibouti ruling elite’s overlapping economic interests in Somalia, and clearly states that “the intensity of the relationship also reflects the close personal relationship between [sub-clan leaders] President Guelle and President Abdiqassim, as well as the complex financial and commercial linkages between their supporters.” But this is only the beginning! 

In illicit businesses, liquor smuggling to Saudi Arabia and the Arabian peninsula, and heavy drug trafficking and transshipments are mainly contracted and undertaken by the Djibouti based Corsican mafia, under firms registered as marine transportation companies. Djibouti airport is also often used as a transit point for Europe bound narcotics. Djibouti airports and ports, under the watchful eye of UN arms embargo of which the Republic of Djibouti is a signatory to, are also used as an arms shipment point for arms bound to the Hutu rebels and to Arab supported and UN-sponsored Arta sub-clan militias in Mogadishu that doesn’t even represent one single region in Somalia, let alone sit on Somalia’s seat at the UN. And the Security Council Committee gets “gravely alarmed” about the “…continued flow of arms and ammunition supplies from outside…” into Somalia. May be they shouldn’t be looking so hard! Again William Shakespeare: “In Law, what plea so tainted and corrupt; But being season’d with a gracious voice; Obscures the show of evil?” 

In toxic waste dumping, it is a well-known fact that the Italian mafia controls waste processing facilities and ferrying in most of Italy. They have recently shifted some of their operations to Djibouti and to certain areas in the western coast of Africa. During 1992 through 1994, highly radioactive toxic waste, which has reportedly resulted in communities and livestock contracting a never before known deceases and health problems, was dumped in Affar inhabited coastal areas. Recently, dumping operations have been shifted to western coast of Somaliland, certain Puntland areas (of course ran and managed by wealthy Puntlanders currently under asylum in Djibouti Sheraton Hotel), Mogadishu, Marka and Kismayo coastal areas.   

In international money laundering, most orders are executed through Djibouti banks, which are continuously changing names from the now bankrupt DBME to Djibouti Development Bank and even to the National Bank of Djibouti. Some other laundered funds are also run through the Djibouti based French affiliates of Paribas Bank. Recently, money remittances agencies or ‘Hawaala’ firms run by Abdulla Taha Saeed, a Djiboutian of Yemeni origin, his Djiboutian and Somali associates, mainly al-Barakaat and other locals, have allegedly performed significant volume of the laundering business and have reorganized enterprises to spread risk.  

In revenue generating businesses, the main legitimate source is the Port Authority. It has recently fallen in disrepair; it is extremely neglected, and is leaking toxic waste. The ports forwarding services are badly managed; and its trucks neglected and badly in need of repairs. According to IRIN, the UN Office for the coordination of humanitarian Affairs, “in the port of Djibouti, 10 shipping containers are leaking a toxic pesticide which is causing a serious human health and environmental problems…” It continues that “at least one person has already died” and that many others are at severe risk. 

With so many illicit revenue generating sources, who cares about a port and deaths of mere mortals? Ethiopia, a landlocked nation, uses the bulk of the port, and provides most of the revenue. But the Djibouti ruling sub-clan and Mr. Borre to begin with, has recently been implicated and is widely believed to have been an accomplice in certain Ethiopian political corruption scandals. He is now a persona non grata in Addis Ababa. His boss, Mr. Ghelle has not made matters any better as he is also widely and internationally implicated in the ever widening political scandal in Somalia vis-à-vis his destabilization policies of Ethiopia and Somalia, and his latest decree to the TNG, on Monday the 27th of May, to reopen Mogadishu’s port and airport by whatever cost. Now, for Mr. Ghelle and his cliques, it is a matter of national interest and personal ego to make sure that Ethiopia will never have access to Somalia’s numerous port authorities.  

Now, with all these national scandals; the draining of national resources; the desecration of the environment; with all these personal and criminal enrichment of the clique; where is the Djibouti public? Where are the national leaders? Where are the elders and the civil society? Where is the opposition? Where are the educated elites? Where is the outrage? Where are the concerned and full of kindness donor countries? Where is Bruce Bartlett?

 Economy and World Rankings

With national treasury under constant loot; with a mounting repression police and national army expenditures; with neglected revenue generating sources, who covers the widening negative balance of payments? You get it: it is donor countries, the IMF and World Bank. France, the former colonial power, is a major donor and finances about one third of Djibouti expenditures.  

In economic performance, according to the latest numbers available for public use, and from reliable inside sources, Djibouti grosses at about $150 million in tax revenues; its expenditures amount to about $190 million; it has a balance of payments before debt service of negative $40 million. It has an estimated insurmountable external debt of about $400 million or almost three times annual tax receipts. Its annual expenditures include military expenses amounting to about $25 million or a record 17% of revenue for a poor and underdeveloped city-state; with safe and secure borders, its military manpower availability is estimated at about 110,000 men and women or a record 22% of the population or almost 50% of the working workforce. It has no published numbers for either health or educational expenditures. As you guessed, this snapshot says a lot about the ruling sub-clan priorities, but we are not done yet! 

As is clearly deduced from above numbers, this nation can’t meet its obligations; it can’t support its balance of payment; it can’t finance its development projects, and therefore, is heavily dependent on foreign assistance for survival. It receives about $120 million in foreign economic aids, but the question is: what does it do with it besides paying the salaries of its repression police forces? With year after year declining port revenues due to decreasing port use by Ethiopia, what plans does the Horn despot have for Djibouti? 

On foreign aid sources and credit facilities, in December 20, 2000, the IDA (International Development Association), an affiliate of World Bank that provides funds to the world’s poorest countries, approved a three phase $30 million Country Assistance Strategy (CAS) for Djibouti to support the country’s educational development strategy. In May 25, 1999, the World Bank approved a $14.8 million to support the country’s efforts in generating low-skilled employment opportunities to benefit the poor. In November 30, 2001, the IMF completed Djibouti’s Review under the PRGF Arrangement and approved $5 million Disbursement under a $24 million three-year arrangement. And there are millions and millions of other aid packages and credit facilities intended to benefit the people of Djibouti. These funds managed by Ghelle’s cronies and sub-clan members (Yacin Bouh, Minister of Economy & Jama Hayd, Governor of the National Bank) never reach home; they never confer any benefits on neither Djibouti’s poor nor on its private sector; and none of it are ever invested for public purposes; but somehow, substantial amounts make their way to Mr. Ghelle and associates’ secret bank accounts in France, Bolonesia, Seychelles, Lebanon and UAE. And the remainder is used to finance local ‘Qaad’ consumption and expand the ever-increasing size of the fiefdom. This dismal state of Djibouti affairs is another replay that should remind the World Bank and the IMF about Mobutu Seso Seko, another African tyrant that the Financial Times estimated stole some $4 billion or over 50% of all foreign aid from international donors. Or does it? 

Since none of these donor funds are invested, but diverted and consumed, investment and infrastructure failures are prevalent all over the fiefdom. For every failure to undertake the programs and intentions of international donors; for every disappeared or disappearing donor dollars; Mr. Ghelle’s Minister of Economy and Governor of National Bank, have an excuse. An example of such an excuse is their Letter of Intent of November 14, 2001, to the IMF, in which they have excused their failures as mere “slippages and delays in some reforms in 2000,” and they promise, as always, the introduction of corrective measures in 2001 and 2002. Not only slippages, but they also surprisingly claim on that letter that these expense overruns “…stems largely from exceptional factors, associated for the most part with the organization of the Somalia Peace conference…” that gave birth to what Mr. Ghelle expected to be another sub-clan dominated Somali government in the debilitated former Somali capital of Mogadishu. Don’t hold your breath, and as Djibouti slips again in every imaginable indicator, get ready for another excuse in late 2002!  

Meanwhile in return for these substantial donor dollars, according to the latest available figures, this is what the donors and Djiboutians are getting back: One of the highest infant mortality rates in the world (109 deaths per 1,000 life births); one of the lowest, if not the lowest in the world average life expectancy at birth of 47 years; 157th ranking in Human Development Index; Horn’s fastest growing AIDS and HIV/AIDS related deceases and deaths, and according to UNAIDS/WHO Epidemiological Fact Sheet 33,000 adults and children with HIV/AIDS; 7,900 estimated number of AIDS cases; about 7,000 cumulative deaths; and about 3,900 orphans under the age of 15. With the highest prostitution rate at the Horn, some other independent analysts have put the HIV/AIDS adult prevalence rate at about 11.75% of the population, with annual AIDS deaths of more than 3,100 cases per year. 

Again with millions of dollars supposedly invested to create jobs for the poor and the despondent, and to stave off AIDS, the country’s unemployment rate hovers over 50% and keeps increasing; and the AIDS related deceases and deaths keep shooting up. So much for UN and World Bank job creations and AIDS prevention programs! Let us hit you with more facts again: substantial portions of foreign donor funds never reach home, and are never used for intended purposes and program investments! 

According to Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, “a major reason why foreign aid is consumed rather than invested is because much of it is stolen by elites in developing countries.” Not surprisingly, nowhere is this more apparent today than Ismael Omer Guelle’s fiefdom. Again, economists Peter Bauer and Milton Friedman on foreign aid to countries like Djibouti: “All it would do is strengthen government at the expense of the private sector, which is the true source of prosperity.” Well, don’t hold your breath! The World Bank and the IMF will continue giving; the private sector will continue getting decimated; and Mr. Ghelle, his leeches and self-created civil society will not carry the day. Get ready for another bailout! 

Again, blessed with this tyrannic, corrupt and despicable leadership, where is the Djibouti public? Where are the elders and the civil society? Where is the opposition? Where is the educated elite? Where is the outrage? Where are the UN officials responsible for nation building – where are Messrs David Stephens and Randolph Kent when you need them? Whatever happened to the much neglected and downtrodden Djibouti city-state? Where is justice in the world? Where are the so-called African leaders? Where are the Arab tyrants? 

Again, regarding the West’s often wasted and well-intentioned international aid, on May 24, 2002, Mr. Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda, wrote on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal “for our part, we Africans must do more to put our own houses in order.” He continuous that the West should only “…pledge substantial amounts of new development assistance for countries that are opening their markets, improving governance, and encouraging economic and political freedoms.” He rightly points out that foreign aid to corrupt and tyrannic countries in Africa like Djibouti “…that are not committed to such objectives is often wasted.” We concur with His Excellency! And wasted aid it is for donors and for the people of Djibouti, as it often ends up in secret personal bank accounts of the ruling sub-clan in France, Bolonesia, Seychelles, Lebanon and UAE. The numbers don’t lie; look it up and study it! 

As for the people of Djibouti, let us again remind you what you already know well: according to Brookings Institution “countries getting more aid do worse macro-economically, on average, than those getting less.” Dear brothers and sisters: timing is of the essence. Rise up and rebel against Boore and Company, against corruption and despotism at the Horn. Rise up and claim your destiny!

SHASNA* Editorial Board
cc: SHASNA Members

*SHASNA is a worldwide advocacy group. It stands for the unity and peaceful coexistence of Somali people. It supports the creation of a federal system of governance to safeguard the emerging free markets of the Recovery Zones and all other safe zones. SHASNA encourages corporate and individual investments in the Recovery Zones. It has presences in both Puntland (Boosaaso, Garoowe, Buurtinle, Bacaadweyn and Galkayo) and Somaliland (Hargeysa, Berbera and Burco).

Dedication: this is for the people of Djibouti, the exiled and asylees in the west; for the never to be forgotten innocent victims of yesteryear, yesterday, today and tomorrow; and for the missing men and women and all the persecuted political prisoners in Mr. Ghelle’s Iron basement cells. 

Sources: Unnamable and informed sources in Djibouti; World Bank; International Monetary Fund (IMF); UNAIDS/WHO Epidemiological Fact Sheet; CIA factbook; UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; well-informed sources in Djibouti Ministry of Economy and the National Bank; Brookings Institution; Wall Street Journal and the National Center for Policy Analysis.


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