President Uhuru Kenyatta arrived in Djibouti Saturday to witness the inauguration of President Ismael Omar Guelleh, who is set to start his fifth term.
The event, which is being held in the country’s capital, started at 9.30am local time.
Other leaders in attendance are: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Somaliland president Muse Bihi Abdi , Somalia Prime Minister Hussein Roble, Guinea’s President Alpha Conde and representatives from Sudan’s transitional government.
All the Western powers, China, India and Gulf countries are also expected to send their representatives, having congratulated him for the victory back in April.
President Guelleh will begin his fifth term in office, after collecting the highest vote percentage since he came to power in 1999.
The vote in April went ahead despite rising Covid-19 cases in the country, with more than 215,000 registered votes taking part.
And at 73, Guelleh will be among the oldest leaders in the region, leading a country of about one million people in the Horn of Africa. This could be his last term, after the 2010 Constitution limited age of Presidential contenders to 75 or lower. Guelleh, for now, is seen as a stabiliser in a region where neighbours are fighting one security crisis or another.
“President Guelleh provides IGAD of leadership needed to strengthen peace and security, and deepen regional integration,” Nuur Mohamud Sheekh, Spokesperson of the regional bloc, Intergovernmental Authority on Developmen (IGAD), headquatred in Djibouti.
“His win is definitely testimony to the outstanding achievements of his leadership especially in the areas of infrastructural development, consolidation of peace in his country and the region.”
Djibouti is a force contributing country, the African Union Mission in Somalia forces and hosts a number of military bases for the US, China, Japan and NATO, signalling its importance to the global security. Russia was inkling to establish one too.
For this contribution, Djibouti’s partners are willing to look the other way when the vote falls short of certain principles of democracy, as long as Djibouti’s stability is guaranteed.
“The international community like it when Djibouti is stable and peaceful. It allows them to focus attention on the insecurities in the Indian Ocean and the Red sea,” said Dr Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, a Kenyan researcher on the Horn of Africa at the South link Consultants in Nairobi.
“It is a very convenient place.”
Yet even in IGAD itself, there are silent quarrels. For example, Somalia’s President Mohamed Farmaajo is skipping the event in the wake of recent accusations Somalia levelled against Djibouti.
In April, when Djibouti chaired the African Union Peace and Security Council, Somalia protested a dispatch the Council gave, rejecting in totality Farmaajo’s term extension by two years. Somalia had levelled the same accusation of interference against Kenya when it chaired the Council in March. But the beef between Somalia and Djibouti began in January after Guelleh’s special envoys, under Igad, found no evidence in accusations that Kenya was interfering with Somalia’s internal affairs. At the time, Somalia threatened to quit IGAD.
It didn’t. Muse Bihi, the leader of Somaliland, a region that wants to break away from Somalia, was, however, attending the function in Djibouti.
Guelleh himself hasn’t been in good terms with neighbouring Eritrea with which there remains unresolved border claims and accusations that Asmara secretly buried Djiboutian soldiers arrested by Eritrea. Eritrean leader Isaias Afwerki, who has never held an election, still boycotts IGAD events accusing the bloc of being biased against him.
With the smallest population in the Horn, Djibouti has remained largely stable even with troubled neighbours Somalia, Ethiopia and Yemen across the sea in the Strait of Bab el Mandeb which sees 23 per cent of the global shipping traffic and could have hydrocarbons. That and its location in a busy shipping region makes it crucial, observers said.
“Djibouti is now effectively a geopolitical anomaly because of the presence of, and intense military activities by extra-regional powers in that country,” said Dr Mustafa Y Ali, Chairman of the Horn International Institute for Strategic Studies, in Nairobi. He was referring to military bases set up by the US, France and Japan, as well as China; all of who are competing for the ear of Djibouti.
“With these vast geo-economic interest, human rights issues are not prioritised. They are sacrificed.”
Exiled opposition groups under the banner of Charter for Transitional Democracy (CTD) had called on the world to help “remove a dictator” and secure the country’s “independence.”
Omar Ali Hassan, once a Commander of the Rapid Intervention Battalion, but who turned critic of Guelleh claimed the country has been run as a family affair of the President. Opposition groups say Djibouti is heavily indebted to foreign lenders, despite its investment in ports and drawing huge fees from leasing land for military bases.
Under local laws, Guelleh will finish this term, but he may be barred by a 2010 Constitution which imposed an age limit at 75. He could change the law, however.