There is a presidential election in Djibouti on Friday and there is no doubt the current president, Ismail Omar Guelleh, will win reelection. Guelleh has been Djibouti’s president since 1999, and he won the last presidential election in 2011 with 80 percent of the vote. He’s facing a fractured opposition coalition of parties, three of which have decided to boycott the polls.
While the outcome of today’s election is a foregone conclusion, that hasn’t stopped the government and its supporters from targeting the opposition and media. For example, members of the opposition coalition Union for National Salvation, claimed government forces killed 19 of its members attending a cultural event in December.
Just this week, BBC journalists reporting on the election were detained and expelled from the country, and they were accused of supporting the opposition. Prior to the campaign period, the independent nonprofit media freedom watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists reported in January that Djibouti police detained two local journalists and held them without contact with the outside world for a week.
For more background on today’s election, here are three things you can read to get up to speed:
- Aden Omar Abdillahi of the Africa Research Institute in London wrote an expert briefing in advance of today’s election in Djibouti. In it, he gives a short overview of Djibouti’s political history since achieving independence from France in 1977. (The Africa Research Institute has been compiling a number of expert briefings on upcoming elections.)
- For a richly sourced and thoughtful academic piece on what it means to be a citizen of Djibouti, I direct you to an award-winning article by Samson Bezabeh that was published in 2011. Bezabeh’s article shows that political parties formed prior to independence encouraged people to organize along ethnic lines, and these divisions continue to structure whether one is a full citizen in Djibouti.
- See also “Djibouti’s unusual resource curse” (ungated), an article by political scientist Jennifer Brass. Brass argues that while Djibouti is not rich in mineral resources, it extracts significant income from its geo-strategic location. Djibouti houses military bases of major world powers, including a U.S. military base for which the Djibouti government charges $30 million per year in rent. Brass’s work shows that Djibouti is like many resource-rich states in that it “is a government inclined towards authoritarian, highly consolidated power, [and] repressive tactics,” which is consistent with what we’re seeing in this election.