In Djibouti, the irremovable President Guelleh vying for a fifth term

Some 215,000 voters are called to vote this Friday in this small strategic country in the Horn of Africa, in a presidential election without much suspense.

Djiboutians vote Friday, April 9 to elect their president, a ballot in which the outgoing Ismaël Omar Guelleh, irremovable leader of this small strategic country in the Horn of Africa, is running for a fifth and, theoretically, last term. Some 215,000 registered voters (out of a total population of 990,000 people) will be able to go to the polling stations from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. to decide between the two candidates in the running.

Thursday, in the torpor of the afternoon, the inhabitants of Djibouti-ville seemed more concerned by the delay in the daily delivery of khat – a euphoric plant consumed in the region – than by the imminence of an election where the president outgoing is guaranteed to win. Guelleh, 73, has been in power for 22 years in this small country which he rules with an iron fist and whose strategic position he has managed to exploit, on the borders of Africa and Arabia. During the electoral campaign, its meetings gathered thousands of sympathizers, masked or not, despite a wave of Covid-19 infections, with currently nearly 200 daily cases and 23% of positive tests.

In front of him, the only other candidate is Zakaria Ismail Farah, 56, a businessman who has recently entered politics and who has held only a few timid campaign rallies. In the absence of the historical leaders of the opposition, who boycott the ballot, the chances of this unknown to the general public are slim against “IOG”, who won with more than 75% of the votes each presidential election in which he participated. . In the capital, which hosts the majority of residents and the country’s 529 polling stations, even campaign posters, from both the majority and the opposition, are rare, even where they were omnipresent in 2016 for the previous election. .

An exercise of authoritarian power

The first four terms of Ismaël Omar Guelleh were marked by an exercise of authoritarian power leaving little room for protest or freedom of the press, but also by a development of the economy, based on the development of the ports and logistics structures. The president has helped to make this desert territory, located opposite one of the busiest sea lanes in the world, a commercial crossroads through which pass most of the goods imported by his Ethiopian neighbor, a giant without access to the sea. Surrounded by a handful of the most dangerous countries on the planet, including Somalia and Yemen, Djibouti also hosts foreign military bases: France, Japan, the United States and, recently, China.

In the mouths of his supporters, such as Mohamed Assad, 23, the construction of the country’s various ports, three of which were inaugurated during the term of office which is ending, regularly comes to the credit of the Head of State. “But I ask you Mr. President to help the youth, to have a great future, I ask for help for those who are like me”, added this young unemployed man on Wednesday, on the sidelines of the last pro-Guelleh rally, in a stadium filled with more than 20,000 people. Djiboutian growth, which should reach + 7% in 2021 after a recession in 2020 linked to Covid-19, does little to benefit the population, affected 21.1% by extreme poverty, according to 2017 data from the World Bank.

Under the Constitution, which does not allow candidates over 75 to run for president, this ballot should be the last for the president, who will have passed this age limit in 2026. The results of the election are expected on the night of Friday to Saturday.

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