Djibouti is a republic with a strong elected president. In February 2008 President Ismail Omar Guelleh's five-party coalition, the "Union for a Presidential Majority," won all 65 seats in the winner-take-all National Assembly contest. Three opposition parties boycotted the race. International observers considered the election generally free and fair. Although the government's human rights record has improved, serious human rights problems remained, including harsh but improving prison conditions, corruption, prolonged pretrial detention, and restrictions on freedom of the press and assembly.
Supporting the country's own efforts to increase democratic transparency and accountability is a top U.S. priority. Recognizing that decentralization is a crucial step towards giving greater democratic voice to ordinary citizens, the United States will look to support the country's fledgling regional governments. In similar fashion, the United States will continue to help civil society become a more robust and vocal component in a healthy democratic system.
U.S. programs work directly to strengthen political and electoral processes. When the country held legislative elections in February 2008, the United States contributed both badly needed material assistance and expert technical advice and training. The United States donated computers and other equipment to the Electoral Commission and provided a team of election specialists, who trained more than 300 presidents of polling stations and Electoral Commission staff members and delegates.
This election assistance built on an ongoing program of U.S. support for strengthened electoral processes, productive political competition, and consensus-building. U.S. programs aim to give all sectors of society the tools they need to participate in the national polity. In November 2007 the U.S. government sponsored an expert-led conference on women's participation in the electoral process for 40 political party representatives, parliamentarians, and members of women's associations. Nine women were elected to parliament in February 2008. In December 2007 the U.S. government sponsored an international expert in electoral and political processes, civil society development, and grants management to hold a workshop aimed at helping civil society become more active in promoting voter awareness. So that civil society becomes a stronger partner in the country's development and a more robust source of oversight and support to social institutions, the U.S. government continues to support local civic groups, school parent teacher associations, and local clinic health boards.
U.S. programs also worked to improve transparency and accountability while reducing corruption by strengthening two anticorruption institutions: the government's Inspector General Office and the Chamber of Accounts and Budgetary Discipline.
To insure that the country's press contributes a variety of professional, independent, and informed opinions to the national debate, the U.S. government supports several programs to train local journalists. In collaboration with a U.S.-based organization, the U.S. government held a one-day workshop in November 2007 on "Media and Democracy" for senior journalists. To invest in the next generation of journalists, the United States held a six-day training program, "Journalism 101," for 20 young, up-and-coming reporters.
To ensure that core messages on democracy and human rights reached the widest possible audiences in the country, the U.S. government worked with Radio/Television Djibouti to air radio programming addressing the themes of democratic values, equal opportunity, and human rights.