Friday, April 08, 2016

Djibouti President Re-elected: PM
AFP Djibouti
April 9, 2016 05:42 IST

Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh, in power since 1999, has been re-elected for a fourth mandate, the prime minister announced, following an election boycotted by some opposition parties.

"According to our projections, we can say that the UMP candidate (Guelleh of the Union for the Presidential Majority) has been elected in the first round" following yesterday's election, Prime Minister Abdoulkader Kamil Mohamed announced on national television.

As with the previous election in 2011, the announcement was made before all the votes were in, but with the 68-year-old Guelleh said to be easily above the 50 per cent threshold required to avoid a second-round of voting.

The incumbent was credited with receiving around three-quarters of the votes cast in the capital and its populous and dilapidated Balbala suburb, which together make up about 60 per cent of the population of the tiny Horn of Africa nation.

Some 187,000 people -- around a fifth of the population -- were eligible to vote.

"The people of Djibouti have followed the path of wisdom, stability, security and development," said the prime minister.

Some opposition parties had called for a boycott of the election, as they had done in previous elections, and with turnout low throughout the day the electoral commission extended polling by an hour to 1600 GMT.

Six candidates were vying for the presidency in a country whose location at the gateway to the Red Sea has attracted powers such as the United States, France and China as a prime location for military bases.

Guelleh was always the clear front-runner against a fractured opposition in the former French colony.

Looking relaxed and smiling, the head of state cast his vote in the centre of Djibouti City earlier in the day accompanied by his wife.

"I'm very confident," he said. "I think the vote will go well."

Several opposition candidates complained that their representatives had been turned away from a number of polling stations.

"We demand that the government fix this and organise transparent, free, fair and just elections," said independent candidate Jama Abderahaman Djama.

With a population of 875,000 people, Djibouti is little more than a port with a country attached, but it has leveraged its position on one of the world's busiest shipping routes.

It is home to Washington's only permanent base in Africa, which is used for operations in Yemen -- just across the Gulf of Aden -- as well as the fight against the Islamist Shebab in Somalia and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

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

By Clea Broadhurst
Radio France International
08-04-2016 to 18:04

Voters in Djibouti went to the polls on Friday, at the time of writing, with longtime president Ismail Omar Guelleh expected to extend his 17-year rule. Guelleh was predicted to win a fourth election victory in the former French colony after taking over from his relative Hassan Gouled Aptidon, who ruled from independence in 1977 until 1999.

Ahead of Friday's vote, opposition groups 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.

The superpowers’ playground

Everyone wants a piece of Djibouti. It’s all about the bases

Apr 9th 2016
The Economist

AT 2pm in the tiny African state of Djibouti everything stops. As the sun burns high in the sky people retreat to their homes, save for a few men lying in the shade of colonial-era walkways, chewing qat leaves that bring on a hazy high. In the soporific heat you would be forgiven for thinking that time had forgotten the New Jersey-sized nation. Yet its quiet stability within the volatile Horn of Africa has made the country of just 875,000 people a hub for the world’s superpowers.

The stars and stripes flutters alongside the runway where military and passenger planes touch down: Camp Lemmonier, America’s only permanent military base in Africa, hosts 4,500 troops and contractors who conduct missions against al-Qaeda in Yemen and al-Shabab in Somalia. The outpost, leased for $60m a year, shares an airstrip with the international airport, although its drones now fly from a desert airfield eight miles away after one crashed in a residential area in 2011.

Djibouti also hosts France’s largest military presence abroad (it still has an agreement to defend its former colony); Japan’s only foreign base anywhere; and Spanish and German soldiers from the EU’s anti-piracy force, who are billeted at the fancy Kempinski and Sheraton hotels. The Saudis and Indians are also rumoured to be interested in establishing outposts, as are the Russians.

Meanwhile, China is building its first overseas base anywhere in the world in Djibouti, for which it will pay a more modest $20m in rent annually. It is supposedly nothing more than a logistics hub for anti-piracy operations and evacuating citizens from hotspots like Yemen, just 20 miles away across the Bab el-Mandib strait. Some Western officials fear that China may have bigger plans, however. It might in the future be awkward to have countries that do not always see eye-to-eye running military operations out of the same crowded space.

The tiny desert state wants to be more than a superpowers’ playground, though; it has ambitions to become a Dubai or Singapore at the gateway of the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. “We don’t have anything else but location,” says Robleh Djama Ali, the head of business development at the Djibouti Ports and Free Zone Authority. The country’s lack of natural resources may be coincidental, but its fortuitous geography, wedged between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, is no accident. France wanted a port to rival Aden, Britain’s colony on the other side of the Red Sea. It has been desirable more recently too. The terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 brought the American military. Somali pirates brought EU soldiers. The Ethiopia-Eritrea war from 1998 to 2000 robbed Ethiopia of access to its smaller neighbour’s ports. Now 90% of Ethiopia’s imports come through Djibouti, accounting for 90% of its ports’ traffic.

Ethiopia’s double-digit growth over the past decade has rubbed off on Djibouti. Around $9.5 billion of energy and infrastructure projects are under way, including four more ports, two new international airports and two pipelines, and a railway to Ethiopia (the last, ministers promise, is due to open within weeks). Another $9.7 billion of proposals are as yet unfunded. To put this in perspective, Djibouti’s GDP was just $1.6 billion in 2014.

China is the biggest investor, much of it via soft loans. Officials won’t say exactly how much they are in hock to the Chinese, but both the IMF and African Development Bank have warned about its public debt, which is projected to balloon from 60.5% of GDP in 2014 to 80% in 2017. The finance minister, Ilyas Moussa Dawaleh, isn’t concerned: “what we are getting from China is much more important than any other long-standing partner,” he says.

The boom has not benefited everyone. The ports account for a whopping 70% of GDP, but only provide a few thousand jobs. The UN puts unemployment at 60%, though Mr Dawaleh claims it is half that (Djibouti’s data are dodgy). Illiteracy runs at about 45%. The lack of employment is offset by traditional support systems; one worker can support an entire extended family. So the government can buy the loyalty of, say, 30 people by hiring a single bureaucrat.

Dissent still simmers. Opposition figures claim police killed 19 people at a religious celebration in December 2015 (the government says only seven died). A corruption case brought by the government against Abdourahman Boreh, a wealthy businessman who was President Ismael Omar Guelleh’s right-hand man until he questioned his plan to run for a third term in 2011, was thrown out by a British High Court at the start of March. The country is voting on April 8th, but the re-election of Mr Guelleh for his fourth presidential term is a foregone conclusion; the opposition, an unwieldy coalition of seven parties, is fielding two rival candidates.

Djibouti, Imperialism's Most Strategic Base, Goes to the Polls


Residents of Djibouti are going to the polls on Friday as long-term President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh seeks to extend his rule.

The Horn of Africa country is perhaps best known as a strategic base for Western military operations in the region. Djibouti is home to the largest U.S. military base in Africa, Camp Lemonnier, and China recently began construction of a base in the country which will be Beijing’s first overseas military hub.

Guelleh, 68, has been in power since 1999 and reneged on an earlier decision not to seek a fourth term by deciding to run in the election, in which 180,000 people are registered to vote, according to AFP. He faces five opposition candidates, with his main challenge coming from Omar Elmi Khaireh of the Union for National Salvation (USN) coalition.

The opposition have failed to form an effective joint response to Guelleh, however, with another candidate, Mohamed Daoud Chehem, also claiming to represent the USN. Results from the poll could be ready as early as Friday evening.

Some opposition parties are boycotting the election after calls for the establishment of an independent electoral commission went unanswered. The calls came after Guelleh’s United Presidential Majority (UMP) won parliamentary elections in 2013 amid claims of fraud from the opposition.

Djibouti has taken on an international significance out of proportion to its diminutive size and political influence, due to its proximity to conflict-torn nations. The U.S. are conducting ongoing drone strikes against the Al-Qaeda affiliated militant group, Al-Shabab, in neighboring Somalia. Djibouti also lies just over 100 kilometers (70 miles) away from Yemen, where Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is based and a Saudi-led coalition is currently fighting Houthi rebels seeking to overthrow the government.

No comments: