11 September 2018
from SAID ABOUBAKER in Djibouti, Djibouti
DJIBOUTI, (CAJ News) – THE autocratic regime of President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh has yielded to public pressure to lower the price of uniforms for students at basic education level but this is seen as a smokescreen to divert attention from major issues afflicting the impoverished East African country.
Minister of Education, Moustapha Mohamed Mahamoud, announced parents will pay some 2 000 Djibouti Franc (DJF) (equivalent to R171 or US$11,25) down from the initial 3 500 FDJ.
With unemployment rates in urban areas, at around 60 percent, a chronic problem, initial charges for uniforms were seen as astronomical.
Analysts believe the announcement, made on Monday as the students returned for the 2018/19 academic year, is only a ploy by government to deflect scrutiny from inherent failure to make available schools for the youth population as well as rampant drought, inadequate sanitation and food insecurity, all which have prevailed despite massive financial loans running into government coffers.
Critics lay the aforementioned problems on the lavishness of Gueleh, in power since 1999 at the death of his uncle Hassan Gouled Aptidon, who had been in power since independence from France in 1977.
His administration is synonymous with brutality against opposition and media and discrimination against persons with disabilities as well as restrictions on unions.
“The announcement of the reduction of uniform prices is all a smokescreen, coming in the criticism of the government’s extravagancy in the face of mounting social challenges,” said political analyst Beran Omar.
Mahamoud meanwhile portrayed the administration as thoughtful of the challenges by the populace.
Mahamoud said uniform prices had been slashed after Guelleh heard the grievances of parents.
“He gave clear instructions in this direction,” the minister said.
However, despite the government’s claimed commitment to education, net student enrollment at the primary level, representing the percentage of children of official school age who are enrolled in primary school, is around 60 percent, according to latest World Bank figures.
The number reveals an even more challenging situation with enrollment rates lower and dropout rates higher for girls, those living in rural areas and those living in poverty.
“Djibouti is not on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals and is at risk of remaining in a low-level equilibrium in terms of both access and quality (education) for years to come,” World Bank stated.
The tiny country of slightly less than 1 million people is also on the throes of an eruption of waterborne diseases and rampant food deficit. It is also enduring the aftermath of the Cyclone Sagar, which ravaged the region in May, with southeastern neighbor, Somalia, the epicentre.
Floods affected at least 15 percent of the capital Djibouti City.
Schools and other social infrastructure have been affected with the total damage estimated at $30 million
Some 20 000 children under the age of five, out of almost 200 000 affected people are impacted by drought.
Djibouti has one of the world’s highest levels of malnutrition for children, particularly among those under the age of five living in rural areas.
– CAJ News