Guelleh extends his rule following landslide win

President Ismail Omar Guelleh won his fourth term after a landslide win in the elections held on Friday.
President Ismail Omar Guelleh won his fourth term after a landslide win in the elections held on Friday. AFP/Jim Watson

Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh was re-elected for the fourth time following a landslide win in Friday’s election. According to the interior ministry, the 68-year-old Guelleh polled around 87 per cent of the vote with the closest opposition candidate managing to garner just over seven percent of the vote in the election which saw a turnout of 68 per cent.


Djibouti's strategic location reason why dissent is undercovered, analysts

Ahead of Friday's vote, opposition groups had complained of curbs on freedom of assembly while rights groups accused the government of political repression and crackdowns on basic freedoms.

Djibouti has been on the radar of human rights groups for some time, with allegations of a pattern of political repression and lack of freedom of expression. Just days before Friday's election, three BBC journalists were detained and expelled from the country without explanation.

"Everybody knew that Ismaïl Omar Guelleh would be the winner of those elections. It's important to understand the real opposition did boycott those elections because there was absolutely no guarantee for a fair, transparent and democratic election," Dimitri Verdonck, the president of the association Culture and Progress working on human rights issues in Djibouti, told RFI.

"It's important to know also that the international community is looking at these elections with a very high level of caution. The European Union did not send any observers in Djibouti, same goes for the United States and other partners of Djibouti - the only ones who did accept to be there during the elections are the Arab League and some members of the African Union. But nobody wants to give any credibility to these elections."

Few people seem to be speaking about these issues though because Djibouti's status as a model of stability in an otherwise volatile region is one of its greatest assets. What's more, the country lies on the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a gateway to the Suez Canal, which is one of the world's busiest shipping routes for example, making it key to world superpowers. 

"There's been a lot of international and regional presence coming to Djibouti," Ahmed Soliman a political analyst specializing in the Horn of Africa for the London-based think-tank Chatham House, told RFI. "Its proximity to unstable areas in Africa, but also in the Middle East in recent years has seen Djibouti become a key location global naval and military powers, that are playing now a critical role in international efforts and also in terms of counter-terrorism in the region."

"So you have military bases for example, with Djibouti receiving long-term funding from its historic colonial partner France, but also the USA has its major base in Africa in Djibouti, and the Japanese have followed up fairly recently and we're also likely to see in the future the opening up of China's first overseas military base, which is giving further credence to this notion of Djibouti as a kind a stable regional logistics hub."

Djibouti had the potential for other activities, beyond its maritime activities, but there isn't a clear strategy on this yet, said Jason Braganza, an economist based in Kenya.

"From looking at the latest reports from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank as well as the Africa economic outlet, the economic development investment for Djibouti is hugely focused on infrastructure and particularly dealing with port infrastructure that is supporting the maritime trade," Braganza told RFI.

"Djibouti's economy is still very limited in terms of its diversification and it still mainly concentrated on transport activities, particularly given its geostrategic position on the Golf of Aden. It's a very important location in the maritime trade corridor for goods and oil."

Despite its lack of natural resources, one thing analysts agree on: wedged between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, Djibouti remains a very important country to watch.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning

Keep up to date with international news by downloading the RFI app