Djibouti’s president wins fifth term with 97% of the vote

Djibouti’s longtime President Ismail Omar Guelleh won a fifth term with 97 per cent of the vote in the key trading hub in the Horn of Africa.

“Thank you for your confidence,” Guelleh tweeted on Saturday, before official results were released. “Let’s continue together!”

According to data from the interior ministry, the incumbent won 97.4 per cent of the more than 177,000 votes cast.

Guelleh, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, defeated his rival, the businessman and political newcomer Zakaria Ismail Farah, who dismissed the results as “far-fetched and incorrect — impossible”.

Farah said other members of the opposition boycotted Friday’s vote, complaining of a lack of free and fair elections in a country wedged between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, where some 20 per cent of its 1m people live in poverty.

After opposition protests last year, human rights groups said clampdowns by the security forces had become common, although the country continues to be viewed as a relative haven in the unstable north-east edge of Africa.

Formerly French Somaliland, Djibouti is situated on the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a chokepoint separating the Gulf of Aden from the Red Sea, where the water narrows to a few kilometres opposite Yemen. It hosts military bases from France, the US, Japan, and China. 

Thanks to its strategic position overlooking one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes for oil cargoes, it has become a nexus of international trade. 

Guelleh has run the country since 1999 after succeeding his uncle, Hassan Gouled Aptidon, who led Djibouti’s independence from France in 1977. Guelleh is credited with establishing Djibouti as a base for both cargo shipments and foreign military, and has also set up a sovereign wealth fund. Yet many raised eyebrows when in 2018 Djibouti seized a container port built by the Dubai-based DP World.

The constitution was tweaked in 2010 to end presidential term limits, but it did establish an age cap of 75, which means this would be the last term of the 73-year-old president.

Somalia’s president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, known as Farmaajo, congratulated Guelleh on Saturday. “It is a victory that strengthens the development and stability of the region,” he said.

Djibouti is the primary gateway to landlocked Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous nation, whose prime minister Abiy Ahmed, also congratulated “my brother” Guelleh.

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