Report says, Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh is expected to extend his two-decade rule of the tiny Horn of Africa nation as the country heads to the polls Friday.
Guelleh, 73, is facing political newcomer Zakaria Ismail Farah, his only rival after traditional opposition parties decided to boycott the election.
A businessman specialised in the importation of cleaning products, Farah, 56, is seen by observers as unlikely to pose a significant challenge to the strongman who has been in power for 22 years.
Guelleh, flanked by his wife and government officials, wrapped up his campaign on Wednesday with a colourful final rally in a stadium packed with cheering supporters and traditional dancers.
As I see you today in large numbers, I am sure that you will also come in large numbers to the polling stations,” Guelleh said before crowds wearing tee-shirts emblazoned with his popular initials, IOG.
Djibouti is a largely desert country strategically situated on one of the world’s busiest trade routes and at the crossroads between Africa and the Arabian peninsula, a short distance from war-torn Yemen. Under Guelleh, the country has exploited this geographical advantage, investing heavily in ports and logistics infrastructure.
“He gave hope to the youth and built ports for this country. Thanks to him we are no longer unemployed”, said 23-year-old Halima Saad, one of the estimated 25,000 who attended Wednesday’s rally. But the country has also has seen an erosion of press freedom and a crackdown on dissent as it has courted foreign interest.
“Little by little, there has been a hardening of the regime since 1999,” said Sonia Le Gouriellec, a political scientist who authored a book on Djibouti. “The more it has opened to the world, the more it has closed internally.”
Guelleh’s predicted fifth term will be his last, under a 2010 constitutional reform that scrapped term limits while introducing an age limit of 75, which would lock him out of future elections.
Djibouti’s election campaign came as the country saw COVID-19 infection rates soar by 38% in the past week, with some 200 cases a day in the country of almost one million people, and the rate of positive tests at 23%.