The government led by President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, who was reelected for a fifth term in 2021, deploys a draconian arsenal that includes judicial harassment, illegal searches, arrests and physical violence in order to impose a reign of terror on the media.
Djibouti’s media landscape is under permanent lockdown and is limited almost solely to state-owned media, such as the newspaper La Nation, the Djiboutian news agency and the radio and TV broadcaster RTD. No independent media outlet is based in Djibouti. La Voix de Djibouti, run by exiles in Paris, is the only radio station offering independent news coverage. Its broadcasts are routinely jammed and its website is blocked by the authorities. The government deliberately slows down the Internet to restrict access to social media, which are some of the few places where freedom of speech and access to information prevail.
The freedom to inform is non-existent in Djibouti. The government exercises total control over the state-owned media and regulatory authorities. The 1992 constitution, the first since independence, proclaimed political pluralism but, in practice, there is a one-party system and only one way of thinking is tolerated. Critical public debate is impossible and no media outlet would be allowed to channel it.
The commission responsible for examining licence requests for proposed broadcast media outlets has never been set up, although a provision for its creation was included in the 30-year-old Freedom of Communication Law. This law is itself a major obstacle to press freedom because it also provides for jail terms for media offences and imposes age and nationality restrictions on those allowed to create a media outlet.
Djibouti is a small country in the Horn of Africa with just 1 million inhabitants and a tiny advertising market. In an interview in 2020, President Guelleh tried to use this to justify the lack of independent media but, in reality, their absence is more the result of political decisions than economic circumstances. The state media, the only ones in existence, are financed by the government.
Journalists must be mindful of ethnic and clan-based sensitivities in Djibouti to avoid exposing themselves to additional pressure. Religion, the status of women and subjects relating to sexual orientation are particularly taboo in this Muslim country and are subject to censorship and self-censorship.
Journalists who try to do independent reporting live in constant fear of being spied on, threatened, attacked and sometimes detained. Some of them, such as La Voix de Djibouti’s correspondents, are forced to operate clandestinely. Several have been detained arbitrarily in recent years, often to deter them from continuing their reporting or to pressure them into identifying their sources.