Djibouti is holds presidential election on April 8 under intense scrutiny

Djibouti is to hold its presidential election on April 8 under intense international scrutiny following political violence in the lead up to the poll.

President Ismail Omar Guelleh
President Ismail Omar Guelleh

President Ismail Omar Guelleh, who is going for a record fourth term, has been accused of using strong-arm tactics against his opponents, culminating in the killing last December of 19 people, including a six-year-old girl.

President Ismail Omar Guelleh
President Ismail Omar Guelleh

This led to the International Criminal Court telling the GNA that it was keeping an eye on activities in Djibouti.

The Office of the Prosecutor said: “Djibouti is a State Party to the International Criminal Court and the OTP is following up on the developments in the country.”

President Guelleh, representing the RPP, Rassemblement populaire pour le Progrès (People’s Rally for Progress), is being challenged by Omar Elmi Khaireh of the USN, Union pour le Salut National (National Salvation Union).

Members of the USN believe that the election will not be free and fair, even though the European Union and other electoral watchdogs will be monitoring the poll.

The Head of External Relations for the USN, Abdourahman Boreh, told the GNA that he was not convinced that the observers would be able to make a proper evaluation of the overall preparedness of the electoral process.

“Going by past experience, we believe that the government will present a whitewash to the international community and Guelleh will claim victory again,” he said.

However, he said he was much more confident that the tide appeared to be changing in Africa towards leaders who rig the electoral process in their favour.

Mr Boreh referred to the recent comment by the former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjio, who said some leaders in Africa were to blame for conflict in their countries because they had failed to manage diversity in their societies.

“He is spot on in the case of Djibouti, where President Guelleh has been in control since 1999,” he said.

“So, with the Obasanjo statement and the ICC keeping a watchful eye on events in the country, will the government be able to manipulate things? We will have to wait and see,” Mr Boreh added.

However, the government is continuing to play it hard by expelling a BBC reporting team from the country last week after detaining the journalists for 16 hours.

The BBC reported that team, which included its Africa Security Correspondent, Tomi Oladipo, “had been granted media accreditation and advised by the government director of communications that they had the necessary authorisation to proceed with their work”.

The BBC added: “Having been held overnight, without means of communication, they were put on a plane out of the country on Saturday morning [April 2] without any reason being given.”

Djibouti features badly on the World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders, standing at 170 out o0f 180.

The press watchdog says that Djibouti is a tough place for journalists to work.

“Judicial harassment, illegal searches, exorbitant fines resulting in detention for non-payment – the repressive arsenal used against Djibouti’s journalists has it all,” the organisation noted

“The Freedom of Communication Law is itself an obstacle to free speech and media pluralism.

“It provides for jail terms for media offences and imposes age and nationality restrictions on those who can create a media outlet.

“La Voix de Djibouti, the only independent media outlet, broadcasts from outside the country,” Reporters Without Borders added.

Many observers believe that the government could use the state of emergency, which was declared last November, to either circumvent the electoral process or place obstacles in the way of members of the opposition.

In the 2011 election, President Guelleh won 80% of the votes cast amid claims of irregularities from the opposition.

Source: GNA
(By Desmond Davies, GNA)

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