Djibouti: President for Life?

Yesterday, the parliament in Djibouti voted unanimously to remove presidential term limits. President Ismail Omar Guellah is serving his second term, and his mandate was due to expire in 2011. I will be curious to see whether France, the United States, of China decries this move, as they have when other African leaders moved to extend their time in office. All three powers have a major presence in Djibouti:


Djibouti, a former French colony which separates Eritrea from Somalia, hosts France’s largest military base in Africa and a major U.S. base. Its port is used by foreign navies patrolling busy shipping lanes off the coast of Somalia to fight piracy.

Dubai World has a deep-sea base at Djibouti port, which serves as the principle access point for goods entering and exiting land-locked Ethiopia.

Last month, Guelleh told Reuters China would be Djibouti’s biggest investor next year and in 2012 and that he planned to make Djibouti port the biggest hub in the region at a cost of nearly half a billon U.S. dollars.

Guellah has expressed his willingness to run for a third term, and has framed the constitutional amendment as a response to popular demand in Djibouti. Opposition politicians warn of the consequences to removing term limits, and are planning to unite in a broad coalition for upcoming elections. If I had to guess, though, I would say that Guellah is here to stay.

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