US cites 'strong partnership' with Djibouti - Daily Nation

US cites 'strong partnership' with Djibouti following disputed election

Tuesday April 12 2016

Djibouti's incumbent President Ismail Omar Guelleh casts his ballot at a polling station during the presidential election in Djibouti on April 8, 2016.   AFP PHOTO | HOUSSEIN I. HERSIto the polls today, with iron-fisted ruler Ismail Omar Guelleh expected to extend his 17-year rule in the strategic African nation courted by world powers. AFP PHOTO | HOUSSEIN I. HERSI

Djibouti's incumbent President Ismail Omar Guelleh casts his ballot at a polling station during the presidential election in Djibouti on April 8, 2016. AFP PHOTO | HOUSSEIN I. HERSI 

By KEVIN J. KELLEY
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The United States on Monday affirmed its “strong partnership” with Djibouti following President Omar Guelleh's April 8 landslide victory in his bid for a fourth term in office.

A statement by a State Department spokesman did not include an offer of congratulations to President Guelleh. But it did commend Djiboutians for "peacefully exercising their right to vote."

The US added, "While elections are an integral component of all democratic societies, democracy is also built on the foundation of rule of law, civil liberties and open political discourse between all stakeholders.

“We encourage the government of Djibouti to support the freedoms of peaceful assembly, association and expression for all of Djibouti’s citizens."

Election officials reported that Mr Guelleh had won 87 per cent of the vote in a six-way race.

Three opposition parties boycotted Friday's balloting on the grounds that the government would not allow them to campaign freely.

The electoral process was not fairly conducted, opponents of President Guelleh charged after the outcome was announced. They said some voters were not permitted to cast ballots.

Djibouti holds considerable strategic significance for the US. It is the site of a large US military installation from which a 4000-strong joint task force conducts surveillance of the Horn and carries out air strikes against al-Shabaab in Somalia and Islamist militants in Yemen.

The US leases the Djibouti base, Camp Lemonnier, at a cost of $70 million a year. That outlay contributes substantially to the economy of the strategically situated country with fewer than one million inhabitants.

Djibouti's importance to US aims in Africa is enhanced by the 3,000 troops the tiny Horn nation supplies to the 22,000-strong African Union military force battling al-Shabaab.

These factors cause the US and other powers to mute their criticisms of President Guelleh's 17-year rule, opposition figures say.

"Every day Paris and Washington criticise Burundi, but when it comes to Djibouti, silence reigns," opposition spokesman Daher Ahmed Farah recently told French radio.
The US said nothing when President Guelleh amended the constitution in 2010 to permit himself to seek a third and fourth term in office.

The Obama administration subsequently criticised similar moves by Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza and Rwanda's Paul Kagame while urging DRC President Joseph Kabila not to seek to extend his 15-year rule.

The State Department did call in December for release of opposition leaders detained in the aftermath of violence that resulted in a reported 19 deaths.

Washington also called on Djiboutian authorities to "exercise restraint" and respect freedom of expression.

But in the run-up to last week's voting the government appeared not to have fully heeded that advice.

Djiboutian authorities detained and expelled a three-member team of BBC reporters earlier this month. Two local journalists were arrested in January and held for more than a week without being charged with any offence.

“The United States has a strong partnership with Djibouti,” the State Department spokesman said on Monday.

"We look forward to advancing our shared interests and helping Djiboutians build a more prosperous, secure and democratic future."

The State Department added that it has taken note of African Union recommendations for improving electoral processes in Djibouti.

"We hope to work with the government of Djibouti to advance those recommendations," the US said.

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