Longtime Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh won a fifth term with 97% of the vote in the Horn of Africa’s main trading center.
“Thank you for your trust”, Guelleh tweeted on Saturday, before the publication of the official results. “Let’s continue together!”
According to data from the Ministry of the Interior, the incumbent won 97.4% of the more than 177,000 votes cast.
Guelleh, one of Africa’s oldest leaders, defeated his rival, businessman and political newcomer Zakaria Ismail Farah, who dismissed the results as “exaggerated and incorrect – impossible”.
Farah said other opposition members boycotted Friday’s vote, complaining about the lack of free and fair elections in a country squeezed between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, where around 20% of its million inhabitants live in poverty.
After the opposition protests last year, human rights groups said crackdowns on the security forces had become commonplace, although the country continued to be seen as a the unstable edge of northeast Africa.
Formerly French Somaliland, Djibouti is located on the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a choke point separating the Gulf of Aden from the Red Sea, where the water narrows a few kilometers in front of Yemen. It hosts military bases in France, the United States, Japan and China.
Thanks to its strategic position overlooking one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world for oil cargoes, it has become a hub of international trade.
Guelleh has ruled the country since 1999 after succeeding his uncle, Hassan Gouled Aptidon, who led Djibouti’s independence from France in 1977. Guelleh is credited with creating Djibouti as a base for freight shipments and foreign military, and also set up a sovereign fund. Yet many raised eyebrows in Djibouti 2018 seized a container port built by Dubai-based DP World.
The constitution was amended in 2010 to end presidential term limits, but it set an age cap of 75, meaning that would be the 73-year-old president’s last term.
Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, known as Farmaajo, congratulated Guelleh the Saturday. “It is a victory which strengthens the development and stability of the region,” he said.
Djibouti is the main gateway to landlocked Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous nation, including Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, also congratulated “my brother” Guelleh.