Djibouti, a country in the Horn of Africa, will head to the polls on Friday as President Ismail Omar Guelleh seeks a fifth term in this small but strategically important country which houses military bases for the United States, China and other.
Guelleh, 73, faces only one challenger, independent candidate Zakaria Ismail Farah, who halted his campaign early while claiming he could not do so safely. In protest, he appeared with his mouth sealed with duct tape.
Critics call the president an authoritarian dictator, but others in Djibouti see him as an engine of the country’s development and relative stability. The country is located on the Red Sea, along one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
Guelleh has been in power since 1999 after the death of his predecessor, Hassan Guled Aptidon, the country’s first president. Djibouti gained independence from France in 1977.
Guelleh told reporters a few days ago that he was no longer interested in power, but was simply responding to the will of the people.
“It is my people, the Djiboutians, who asked me to introduce myself again and not to leave them for the prosperity of the nation,” he declared.
Over 205,000 people have registered to vote in Djibouti, which has a population of over 600,000. The country is a mixture of Somali, Afar and Arab ethnicities.