Djibouti: Treatment of members of the Gadabuursi tribe by society and the authorities; treatment of failed asylum seekers and returnees by society and the authorities (2009-April 2013) [DJI104377.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board du Canada, Ottawa

Information on the treatment of members of the Gadabuursi tribe was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

1. Social organisation of Gadabuursis

In correspondence sent to the Research Directorate, a representative of the Association for the Respect of Human Rights in Djibouti (Association pour le Respect des droits de l'homme à Djibouti , ARDHD), an organization that advocates for democracy and justice in Djibouti (ARDHD n.d.), indicated that the [translation] "organization of the society in Djibouti is mainly based on tribal affiliation, which is still stronger than political affiliation" (ARDHD 9 May 2013). He pointed out that the president of Djibouti is from the Issa-Mamassan clan (ibid.). The representative also provided the following information that was given to him by one of his correspondents, a Djiboutian refugee in Northern Europe, who works as an interpreter:


Clan Gadabuursi in Djibouti is mainly represented by two sub-clans:

  1. Mahad Asse or Casse
  2. Makahil.

The mother of Ismael Omar Guelleh, the current president [of Djibouti], and the mother of his uncle Hassan Gouled Aptidon, former President [of Djibouti], are descendents from the Gadabuursi "Mahad Asse Clan."

It appears that, unlike members of the sub-clan Gadabuursi "Makahil," those from the clan Mahad Asse are not victims of the Djibouti regime. Some of them work as directors and are protected by the president's Issa-Mamassan clan. There are many marriages that take place between the two clans.

In contrast, people from the sub-clan Gadabuursi Makahil are considered third-class citizens and are discriminated against in all professional sectors. None has been able to obtain a position of responsibility in the public service. (ibid.)

In the article "Citizenship and the Logic of Sovereignty in Djibouti," which was awarded the 2012 African Author Prize for the best article published in African Affairs in 2011, Samson A. Bezabeh, a PhD graduate from the University of Bergen with specialization in citizenship, ethnicity and class in Africa and who now is an independent researcher, indicates the following:

Djibouti has remained a nation with considerable gradations of citizenship, achieved and maintained in part through patron-client relationships that continue to exist throughout the administrative structure. The nature of the patron-client relationships requires one citizen to be subservient to another; by virtue of their ethnic affiliation some hold better positions on the citizenship ladder than others. At the top of the ladder, we find the Issa Memassan subclan who, starting from the President, occupy high government positions.

2. Situation of Gadabuursi

In correspondence sent to the Research Directorate, Samson A. Bezabeh, indicated that "the Gadabuursi are socially marginalized" (Bezabeh. 17 May 2013)

According to the representative of ARDHD, [translation] "the situation of Gadabuursi in Djibouti ... is catastrophic" (ibid.). He also explained that the Gadabuursi and the Issas [translation] "regularly engage in bloody battles for different reasons" in Somaliland (ARDHD 9 May 2013). He added that the Issas of Djibouti City seek revenge on the Gadabuursi (ibid.). For example, in Balbala, a poor city on the outskirts of Djibouti city, there are [translation] "frequent ethnic clashes" between the two groups with the police "systematically" taking side with the Issas (ibid.). He also pointed out that the government provokes [translation] "violent fights" between those two groups when it fears that there may be protest against its policies (ibid.). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

3. State protection

According to the ARDHD representative [translation] "Gadabuursi who are victims of injustice, arbitrary arrests and harassment have no recourse in Djibouti neither from the police nor the Justice" (ARDHD 9 May 2013). He added that "their only way out is to take the road to exile" and that "no national or international organization or institution provides them aid or assistance" (ibid.). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Further information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate

4. Treatment of failed asylum seekers

According to Bezabeh:

Failed asylums seekers in Djibouti do not receive a good treatment as they are perceived as having betrayed the state of Djibouti. The severity of the treatment and the degree of attention a failed asylum seeker attract however depends on his/her status. An ordinary asylum seeker will face a lesser problem than a person with high profile. The family members of a high ranking person who are still living in Djibouti would particularly be affected. (Bezabeh 17 May 2013)

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Association pour le Respect des droits de l'homme à Djibouti (ARDHD). 9 May 2013. Correspondance sent to the Research Directorate.

_____. N.d. "ARDHD Info." <> [Accessed 15 May 2013]

Bezabeh, Samson A. 17 May 2013. Correspondance sent to the Research Directorate

_____. 2011. "Citizenship and the Logic of Sovereignty in Djibouti." African Affairs. Vol. 110. Issue 441. 1-20.

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources:Attempts to contact the following individuals and organizations were unsuccessful within the time constraints of this Response: Association pour le respect des droits de l'homme à Djibouti ; Cardiff University; Centre d'études et de recherche de Djibouti ; Centre of African Studies, École des hautes études en science sociales de Paris ; Centre of African Studies of the University of Edinburgh; Davidson College; Georgetown University; The George Washington University; Indiana University; Ligue djiboutienne des droits humains ; Loyola University Chicago; Macalester College; University of Bergen; University of Birmingham; University of Djibouti; University of Florida; University of Minnesota; University of Ottawa.

Internet sites,; Aménagement linguistique dans le monde ; Amnesty International;;;; Factiva; Freedom House; Government of Djibouti; Human Rights Watch; L'Humanité.fr ; The Indian Ocean Newsletter; Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices; International Crisis Group; International Federation for Human Rights; Jeune Afrique ; Life and Peace Institute; Minority Rights Group International; La Nation ; Oxford University Press; ReliefWeb; Royal African Society;; United Kingdom – Center of African Studies; United Nations – Integrated Regional Information Networks, Refworld; United States – Commission on International Religious Freedom, Departement of State; La Voix de Djibouti .