Persecution in Djibouti
"Christians are fearful to declare themselves openly as Christians," says a researcher on the situation for Somali believers. Although expatriate Christians experience very minimal restriction, tolerance towards Orthodox Christians originating from Ethiopia, and local Christian-background believers, is withering away.
The population is 95 per cent Sunni Muslim and tribalism in the country is so deeply rooted that converts to Christianity from Islam have to stay underground, not necessarily because of state repression but because of pressure from their family and community. This is particularly true outside of the city where the lifestyle is communal and pastoral. It is not easy for believers to disguise their conversion as 'the Somali culture makes it very difficult to hide any change'.
Although, in theory, the Djiboutian government upholds the constitutional protection of religious freedom, in practice it attempts to control all religious institutions. According to the Freedom House 2014 report, Djibouti is rated as a 'not free state', where the ruling party 'has usurped the state'. There is no freedom of expression and the government owns all media outlets. Even though around five to six per cent of the population is Christian, in practice, believers are not in a position to assume public offices. Their role and participation in the political process is either limited or non-existent.
Djibouti is a small, poverty-stricken Muslim country, surrounded by Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. Its fragile economy means that the country is dependent on international support, both from Arab and Western nations. These relationships have both negative and positive implications for Christians. On the positive side, in exchange for support from Western nations, the Djiboutian government backs their efforts to fight Islamic terrorism and whilst this may not change the negative attitude towards Christians, it may be shielding them from more repressive actions by the regime.
However, because Djibouti is strategically located on the Gulf of Aden, across the sea from al-Qaeda-dominated Yemen and Arabian Peninsula, the country has been a transit for many radical jihadists. With Islamic radicalism growing, in parallel with other East African countries, as well as Yemen and Somalia, this has become a concern for Christians - and even for the very autocratic government, which has been monitoring and controlling sermons and activities in mosques.