Djibouti’s economy has grown steadily since 2004, with its gross domestic product gaining 3% annually during the past nine years. But this economic traction apparently did little, if anything, to lift most of the country’s population out of poverty.
About 75% of Djiboutians still live in poverty, among whom 42% are extremely poor, according to a report issued in February by the National Centre of Statistics, a division of Djibouti’s Ministry of Finance and Commerce.
« Nothing has changed in the 11 years since the first extended survey on poverty was launched by the government, » said economist Mohamed Arreh, referring to an official survey of Djiboutian households in 2002. « This economic growth benefits only a small percentage of the Djiboutian population, whose wealth keeps growing while the majority is becoming more impoverished. »
Since 2004, when the economy began to pick up, the government launched various programmes for combatting poverty. These include a series of programmes framed by the government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper of 2004, a report prepared in consultation with the International Monetary Fund, and the National Initiative for Social Development (INDS), which President Ismail Omar Guelleh launched in 2007 to give Djibouti’s poorest citizens access to basic services and employment aid.
But these state-run programmes have had a marginal effect, Arreh said.
According to a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Country Strategy Paper for Djibouti covering the years 2011-2015, of the 454 actions identified as priorities for the INDS during the 2008-2012 period, only 20% were completed by 2011, 50% were still in progress and 30% had not yet started.
« Today, the result of the INDS is diminished, if not nullified, since no action was planned in advance, and worse, no monitoring and evaluation system has been put in place, » Arreh said, adding that the government should prioritise its actions and conduct follow-up evaluations.
Fight poverty with jobs, not aid
« It is urgent that the government focus its efforts in the fight against unemployment, which affects 54% of the workforce and 70% of youth, » he said.
To help young people get jobs or start their own businesses, the government needs to make it easier for youths to obtain grants or loans so they can start small or medium-sized enterprises, Arreh said.
Allaleh Houssein, 25, earned a bachelor’s degree two years ago, but has yet to earn a living. He dreamed of starting his own business venture and had hoped to secure a loan through the state’s development bank.
« I applied for a loan from the Development Bank of Djibouti as a young entrepreneur. The process was so long that I had to give up after two years because I did not find guarantors and my parents do not have the means to come up with the guarantee that the bank requested, » he said.
In the opinion of Aden Miganeh, 35, president of the Adeg Association, the government needs to fundamentally change its approach for combatting poverty.
« Today, the suburb of Balbala has a high concentration of poor people who lack everything, » Miganeh told Sabahi. « The government does nothing to fix the problem, except distribute solar panels to a few schools. This is despite the huge inflow of money to the country from foreign investments and annuities from foreign military bases. »
Founded in 2002, the Adeg Association helps young people find jobs and also distributes food aid received from the government and various organisations.
« The government should focus its efforts on the fight against unemployment and provide jobs for the thousands of Balbala youth instead of distributing food to people and keeping them dependent, » Miganeh said. « This would be better than allowing and authorising the [influx] of foreign workers to take their places…essentially doing the jobs that Djiboutians can perform. »
Helping and supporting vocational schools that prepare youths with skills in demand in the marketplace would be a win-win situation for everyone involved, he said.
Mowlid Omar, who serves as a social consultant for the United Nations Children’s Fund and UNDP, said the government should give priority to programmes that produce immediate results, such as facilitating micro-credits, but also create jobs that are sustainable over time.
« The government should know that [a single construction site] does not create many jobs and hence does not affect unemployment and poverty, » he said, referring to investments made to construct buildings that create short-term employment. « We must deal with the most urgent needs by focusing on the fight against chronic unemployment to curb endemic poverty in order to one day rebuild the middle class. »