Polls open in Djibouti as veteran ruler Guelleh seeks fifth term

Main opposition parties boycotted the vote, leaving Zakaria Ismail Farah, a 56-year-old political newcomer as incumbent leader’s only challenger.

Video Transcript

CATHERINE SOI: Many people in Djibouti say they already know who will win the election. President Ismail Omar Guelleh has been the country's leader for two decades, and he's hoping for another run. He changed the Constitution in 2010 scrapping term limits while also introducing an age limit of 75. He's now 73. His political rallies with a campaign platform of continuity have been attended by thousands of supporters. He says he still has much to accomplish in this country of one million people.

INTERPRETER: We are a small country. We need to regroup to build our country and to share benefits. We'll also continue to defend peace in our country.

CATHERINE SOI: Djibouti is a desert nation but strategically placed in the Horn of Africa and on one of the world's busiest trade routes. It's at a crossroads between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and the president has exploited this geographical advantage by investing heavily in ports and other infrastructure.

His plan is to transform Djibouti into Africa's largest trade and logistics hub. The country has also attracted foreign military bases, including the US, several from Europe, China, and Japan. But many Djiboutian are poor and unemployment rates are high.

The president has also been accused of cracking down on his opponents in the past few years, something this man wants to change. Zakaria Ismail Farah is Guelleh's only challenger. He's an independent candidate and widely seen as a political novice who has not been campaigning much.

INTERPRETER: It's challenging for me to compete against the president because he's been in power for so long, but I believe in the promises I'm making to the people. The government has never really prioritized them.

CATHERINE SOI: All the other more established opposition leaders have boycotted the poll claiming it will not be free and fair. Guelleh did face protests last year, but analysts say any opposition is fragmented and disenfranchised. Catherine Soi, Al Jazeera.