Ismail Omar Guelleh has swept to victory for a fifth term as president of strategic Horn of Africa nation Djibouti in an election slammed as “a farce” by the head of the country’s main opposition party, which boycotted the poll.
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Djibouti is strategically positioned at the mouth of the Red Sea, which is the gateway to the Suez Canal, through which large volumes of oil and other commodities and products transit each day.
Djibouti is also the planned location of a liquified natural gas terminal that is due to handle piped gas sent from the Calub and Hilala fields in Ethiopia's remote Ogaden basin, and operated by China's Poly GCL.
In addition, the country hosts military bases of the US, China and former colonial power France.
Guelleh, who has ruled the country since 1999, garnered more than 167,000 votes — over 98% of total ballots — in the 9 April election that was boycotted by all the main opposition parties.
His only challenger, little known businessman Zakaria Ismael Farah, secured less than 5000 votes, preliminary results showed early this week.
In a 10 April message on Facebook, 73-year-old Guelleh said: “Thank you for your trust, thank you for Djibouti! Let's continue together!”
His sole challenger hit out at the election result and was quoted by newswire AFP as saying: “My vote is of no use, nor are the votes of 80 percent of the Djiboutian people.”
Meanwhile, Daher Ahmed Farah, head of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Renewal & Development (MRD), told Upstream his party boycotted as the election was “not fair and free”.
The party was founded in 1992 as the Party for Democratic Renewal, with Farah saying is has no less than 10,000 followers — or “sympathisers” as he termed them.
The party held three out of the eight opposition seats recognised by the government in 2015, the only time opposition was allowed into parliament.
Farah — no relation to Zakaria Ismael Farah — said: “It is a farce; it is not an election. It is a system, the whole state is in the hands of the president and his party.”
Farah said the sole challenger is “a total unknown person in the political landscape”. “(Guelleh) chose him as he couldn’t find any opposition to give any credibility,” he added.
Farah said Zakaria Ismael Farah is a relative of the president — in the wider sense of familial relationships in Djibouti. Both the president and challenger are from the Mamassan sub-clan of the Isa clan of Somali Djiboutians, who dominate politics and business.
Zakaria Ismael Farah owns a pest control business in Djibouti.
Djibouti is of strategic importance as its port gives vital access to international markets to landlocked neighbour Ethiopia.
Ethiopia has a rapidly growing population — around 115 million as of 2020 and growing — and is an emerging regional powerhouse with a growing economy.
Poly GCL has been attempting to get its multi-trillion cubic foot gas project in Ethiopia off the ground, with Djibouti lined up to play a central role.
Significant volumes of gas — about 4 trillion to 5 trillion cubic feet — have been found in the Calub and Hilala fields in the remote and restive Ogaden region, but a plan by Poly GCL to pipe this gas to Djibouti and export it as liquefied natural gas has slowed down.
MRD head Farah said Djibouti has current debt of around $1.5 billion.