Why the world should keep an eye on Djibouti

Apr 13th 2011, 18:36 by C.H. | LONDON


WITH the world's Africa-watchers distracted by bloody events in Libya and Côte d’Ivoire, and elections in giant and chaotic Nigeria, it's easy to forget about a presidential election in Djibouti. The tiny state in the Horn of Africa, wedged between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, has only 860,000 inhabitants. But Djibouti’s importance is underscored by the presence of 5,000 or so French and American troops, a legacy of its status as a former French colony (it won independence in 1977) and a current western ally in the wars against terror and piracy.
Results from the election on April 8th were swift and predictable: President Ismail Guelleh of the People's Rally for Progress, who has ruled since 1999 (when he took over from his uncle), was re-elected by a landslide. According to Djibouti's electoral commission, around 80% of the votes were cast for Mr Guelleh, slightly down on the 100% he officially achieved in 2005. Turnout was also reported as high, with 70% of the 150,000 registered turning up to vote. Polling day itself was, according to most accounts, a serene affair by sub-Saharan African standards.
Closer examination reveals a less serene picture. Mr Guelleh's victory came in the face of weak opposition with only one candidate, an independent, standing against him. Last year, he forced through constitutional changes to allow himself a third six-year term in office. Opposition groups had called for a boycott of the election after the suppression in February of Middle-East-inspired protests, partly provoked Djibouti's high rate of unemployment, in which two people were killed. In early March, the president kicked a team of international election observers out of the country.Continued

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