Media coverage of Djibouti is sparse. Few will have heard of the large anti-government protests which wracked the country recently, nor the subsequent iron-fisted suppression of political opposition. Nestled in the armpit of Africa, between Somaliland, Ethiopia and Eritrea, the politics of the former French colony has been going slowly backwards.
Now, presidential elections are looming. Scheduled to take place on April 8, in all probability they will be farcical. The incumbent despot, Ismail Omar Guelleh, will retain his authoritarian grasp on Djibouti's beleaguered population, precarious economy and, with the emergence of a democratic Somaliland, increasing regional irrelevance. In the last elections, he was the only candidate. His predecessor was his uncle. Since it is impossible to hold democratic elections in a one-party state, discussion of Djibouti's parliamentary processes as legitimate seem redundant. Djibouti's first president was in office from 1977 until 1999. Guelleh has been in power since then. Much of the nation is addicted to qat, deprivation is widespread, and the country ranks lower than Lesotho and Angola on the UN's Human Development Index. Half of the country is perennially unemployed, and due to its dependence on geographical location for trade, there has been almost no investment in home industries: the country makes nothing of its own, and so is largely dependent on trade passing through for revenue.
There has been resistance from Djibouti's populace. In recent months, there have been demonstrations against Guelleh, generally seen as part of the wider wave of anti-government protests sweeping the Middle East and North Africa. Unreported in the Western media, Guelleh's government responded by beating some people up, killing others, and throwing the leaders in prison. This is to be expected from a government which routinely jails journalists and opposition figures.
In all likelihood, the upcoming elections will change none of this. Recent events indicate that Guelleh will probably remain in office and continue his disastrous reign. Consider this: he recently modified the constitution to allow him to stand for another term in office, election monitoring groups have been expelled from the country, and most opposition groups are boycotting the election, leaving Guelleh with one opponent. The election will probably end up being rigged in any case. All hail the dear leader.