Françafrique, le retour (1)

À l’été 2015 je me suis retrouvé à Djibouti, ancien comptoir français dans l’Afrique de l’Est, indépendant depuis 1977 mais toujours convoité à cause de sa localisation stratégique. Situé dans la corne de l’Afrique entre la Mer Rouge et l’Océan Indien, en face du Yemen (aux prises d’une sanglante guerre civile alimentée par l’Arabie saoudite) Djibouti se trouve aux confins d’une vaste étendue marine où sévissent des pirates de la Somalie voisine, pays sans État digne de ce nom, rongé par des Shebab et autres milices rivales et saigné à blanc par les pillages. Ce qui explique en grande partie la prolifération des pirates, anciens pêcheurs et paysans somaliens rackettés qui ne peuvent plus gagner leur vie. Puisque une bonne partie du transport mondial du pétrole passe par cet étroit corridor maritime menant au canal de Suez, la marine de guerre française a pris pied dans le port de Djibouti où elle a établi sa plus grande base navale à l’étranger. Puis elle est accompagnée par les navires militaires italiens, espagnols, britanniques, américains, etc. Protection du commerce de pétrole oblige. La location de l’espace d’amarrage dans le port militaire et dans le port de marine marchande de Djibouti – ainsi que l’argent dépensé au sol par les marins étrangers – sont les principales sources de revenus de ce pays.

Le linguiste que je suis ne peut pas s’empêcher de souligner une curiosité linguistique dans ce petit pays. Il a été successivement colonisé par des cheiks arabes, ensuite par la France. Ce qui explique ses deux langues officielles : l’arabe et le français. Seulement, ni l’un, ni l’autre n’est la langue vernaculaire parlée par sa population. Cette dernière parle… le somalien, tout comme ses voisins de la Somalie, située à sa frontière méridionale. Je ne sais pas si ce cas de figure est unique au monde mais voilà un pays où les langues officielles ne sont pas celles parlées par son peuple. Ca fait très colonialiste et assez bizarre.

En tout cas Djibouti est présidé par Ismail Omar Guelleh, au pouvoir depuis 1999, réélu chaque fois mais pas sans soupçons de fraude électorale. Le sang a amplement coulé à Djibouti sous la règne de Guelleh, d’abord avec l’assassinat du juge français Bernard Borrel qui enquêtait sur des affaires sensibles impliquant le régime djiboutien, ensuite avec un attentat terroriste venant de Somalie, puis à d’autres reprises avec la répression par les forces djiboutiennes de l’opposition politique du pays qui menaçait le pouvoir en place. Au moment de la disparition suspecte du juge Borrel, Ismail Omar Guelleh était le Directeur de cabinet du président de l’époque et est considéré comme un des commanditaires de l’assassinat du magistrat, sans que cela n’ait pu être prouvé jusqu’à ce jour.

Autrefois un autre pays voisin, l’Éthiopie, exportait l’essentiel de ses produits par les ports sur la Mer Rouge situé dans sa province d’Érythrée. Mais suite à la sanglante guerre d’indépendance menée dans ce territoire et depuis l’indépendance érythréenne, l’Éthiopie cherche une autre débouchée maritime sûre. Elle a donc signé un accord avec Djibouti pour construire une ligne de chemin de fer entre les deux pays afin d’exporter des produits éthiopiens par le port marchand de Djibouti. Ce sera une nouvelle rente pour le pays : les droits de passage ferroviaire de marchandises éthiopiennes. Le gouvernement d’Ismail Omar Guelleh a signé un contrat avec une entreprise basée dans un des États arabes du Golfe pour l’agrandissement des installations portuaires à Djibouti afin d’accueillir les marchandises éthiopiennes. Seulement, un homme d’affaires apparemment véreux dans cette entreprise du Golfe – qui avait la confiance du Président Guelleh – est accusé d’avoir détourné une partie des fonds voués au projet pour son enrichissement personnel. Ainsi l’État djiboutien a intenté une action en justice contre lui. Compte tenu du passé coloniale de la France dans la corne de l’Afrique, compte tenu de l’enquête et de la disparition d’un juge français dans ce petit pays et compte tenu de la forte présence militaire de la France dans le port de Djibouti, le gouvernement Guelleh a décidé de « délocaliser » ce procès aux ramifications internationales en ne faisant pas recours aux avocats français. Il a donc retenu les services d’une étude juridique à Londres. Cette dernière – non francophone – a donc eu besoin des services d’un interprète juridique pour mener à bien la procédure. C’est pour cette raison que je me suis retrouvé à Djibouti à l’été 2015.

Mon client britannique (l’étude juridique en question) a installé ses avocats – et son interprète – dans le grand hôtel luxueux situé pas loin du port où séjournent tous les professionnels étrangers qui passent par là : juristes, diplomates, entrepreneurs, journalistes, marins, etc. Dans un pays relativement pauvre, où la population locale vit dans des conditions sociaux-économiques très modestes, le faste de ce grand hôtel avec tous les étrangers qui y sont logés à l’occidental est un contraste assez frappant. Les entretiens menés par les avocats britanniques dans le cadre de leur procédure judiciaire étaient essentiellement avec les officiels du régime, surtout des hauts fonctionnaires, des élus et des anciens élus.

En plus d’être un pays pauvre (en jugeant par les conditions de vie de la plupart de ses habitants) Djibouti est un des pays les plus chauds au monde, côté température. Avec la brise venant de la mer il a également droit à l’humidité dans l’air. C’est donc une chaleur humide, moite, difficilement supportable. Surtout pour ma personne, native du Canada. Entre les températures ambiantes au Canada et celles de la Corne de l’Afrique, il y a une marge. Pire, lors de mon séjour c’était le mois de Ramadan et Djibouti est un pays musulman. Ce n’est pas illégal pour un étranger de manger ou boire en public en cette période mais c’est surtout impoli. Avec tout le monde qui fait le jeun (dans l’espace public au moins, par respect à ceux qui suivent les préceptes de l’islam pendant ce mois sacré) il est mal vu de manger ou boire devant les autres. Comme dans tout le monde musulman. Seulement, il faisait 40° à l’ombre à Djibouti en ce mois de juillet. Et comme dans tout le monde musulman, l’économie est un peu au ralenti avec les salariés qui prennent leurs congés pour être en famille pendant ce mois de jeun et un rythme plus relaxe pour ceux et celles qui sont encore à leurs postes de travail. Mais que fait un interprète dans le cadre de son travail ? Il parle. Il traduit oralement entre deux langues toute la journée. Pour les missions d’interprétariat simultané, les interprètes ont chacun un verre et une grande bouteille d’eau minérale dans la cabine sonorisée et ils boivent à volonté pendant la journée entre deux prises de parole. Mais ma mission à Djibouti était de l’interprétariat consécutif. J’étais donc tout seul, sans collègue pour prendre le relais, et sans cabine dans laquelle je pouvais me « cacher » et siroter un verre d’eau à l’abri des regards indiscrets. J’étais devant mes interlocuteurs, je devais tout traduire et je ne pouvais pas boire par respect pour les autres, qui faisaient le jeun. Avec une température dehors de 40°. Comme vous pouvez l’imaginez les entretiens se passaient rarement en plein air mais dans des bureaux climatisés. Il n’empêche, j’étais au mauvais endroit (un pays musulman) au mauvais moment (le mois du Ramadan) dans un paysage semi-désertique brûlé par un soleil impitoyable et sans possibilité de boire pendant ma journée de travail. J’ai vécu des missions moins éprouvantes que celle-là !

(suite avec le prochain article)

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