Ismail Omar Guelleh
- Presidency of Ismaïl Omar Guelleh
|Ismaïl Omar Guelleh
إسماعيل عمر جليه
|2nd President of Djibouti|
8 May 1999
|Prime Minister||Barkat Gourad Hamadou
Dileita Mohamed Dileita
Abdoulkader Kamil Mohamed
|Preceded by||Hassan Gouled Aptidon|
|Born||27 November 1946
Dire Dawa, Ethiopia
|Political party||People’s Rally for Progress|
|Spouse(s)||Kadra Mahamoud Haid|
|Children||2 daughters (Haïbado Ismaïl Omar and Fatouma-Awo Guelleh)
and 2 sons (Liban Ismaïl Omar and Aïnanche Ismaïl Omar)
Ismaïl Omar Guelleh (Somali: Ismaaciil Cumar Geelle; Arabic: إسماعيل عمر جليه) is the current President of Djibouti, in office since 1999. He is often referred to in the region by his initials, IOG.
Guelleh was first elected as President in 1999 as the handpicked successor to his uncle, Hassan Gouled Aptidon, who had ruled Djibouti since independence in 1977. Guelleh was re-elected in 2005, 2011 and again in 2016; the 2011 election was largely boycotted by the opposition amid complaints over widespread irregularities. Guelleh has been characterized as a dictator, and his rule has been criticized by some human rights groups.
Guelleh was born in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, into the politically powerful Mamassan subclan of the Somali Issa clan. When Guelleh was younger he attended a traditional Islamic school. In the late 1960s, Guelleh migrated to Djibouti before finishing high school. He later joined the police, becoming a junior non-commissioned officer. He entered the service in 1968.
After Djibouti became independent, he became head of the secret police and chief of the cabinet in the government of his uncle Hassan Gouled Aptidon. He received training from the Somali National Security Service and then from the French Secret Service, and was intended to become his uncle’s successor. “The key to Guelleh’s success is the skillful way in which he has played the cards in his strong hand”, according to PINR.
Presidency of Ismaïl Omar Guelleh
On February 4, 1999, President Gouled Aptidon announced that he would retire at the time of the next election, and an extraordinary congress of his party, the ruling People’s Rally for Progress (RPP), chose Guelleh as its presidential candidate. As the joint candidate of the RPP and moderate wing of the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD), Ismaïl Omar Guelleh won the presidential election held on April 9, 1999 with 74.02% of the vote, defeating his only challenger, the independent candidate Moussa Ahmed Idriss. He took office on May 8. Moussa Ahmed Idriss was arrested the following September for “threatening the morale of the armed forces” and detained at an undisclosed location.
In December 2000, Guelleh sacked the chief of staff of the National Police Force, Yacin Yabeh; policemen loyal to Yacin unsuccessfully rebelled following his dismissal.
Ismaïl Omar Guelleh won 100% of the ballots cast
Guelleh was nominated by the RPP as its presidential candidate for a second time on October 7, 2004, at an Extraordinary Congress of the party. He was backed by several other parties and was the only candidate in the presidential election held on April 8, 2005. Without a challenger, he won 100% of the ballots cast and was sworn in for a second six-year term, which he said would be his last, on May 7.
However, in 2010, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh persuaded the National Assembly of Djibouti to amend the nation’s Constitution, allowing him to stand for a third term. This cleared the way for him to place his name on the ballot in Djibouti’s 2011 election. It also resulted in large protests beginning in 2010 similar to the larger movement for democracy in the Arab countries. The protests were quickly put down.
Opposition parties boycotted the election, leaving only one little-known candidate against him on the ballot. Guelleh won almost 80% of the vote. Human Rights Watch questioned whether the election could be called fair when opposition leaders were jailed twice prior to polling. Ismaïl Omar Guelleh again said that he would not run for another term.
Guelleh was also the winner of the 2016 election with about 87% of the popular vote.
Ismaïl Omar Guelleh began his career as a civil servant with the French colonial administration of Djibouti, 1968, and rose to become a police inspector by 1970; worked as an independence activist for Lingue Populaire Africaine pour l’independence (LPAI), a pro-independence political group, after 1975; launched pro-independence newspaper, Djibouti Today , and served as a foreign delegate representing the LPAI cause until 1977; served as chief of staff to President Hassan Gouled Aptidon, c. 1977-99; elected president of Djibouti, 1999; reelected, 2005.
Ismail Omar Guelleh serves as president of the Republic of Djibouti, the small East African nation strategically located just across the Arabian Peninsula. First elected to office in 1999, Guelleh rules over a nation troubled by longstanding ethnic hostilities between his own people, the Issa, and the minority Afar group. The internal troubles have led to political strife, which eventually resulted in the two main opposition groups boycotting the 2005 presidential election. Ismaïl Omar Guelleh was reelected to another six-year term in that contest, but he was the sole candidate in the election.
Born in 1947, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh originally hails from Dire-Dawa, a city in Ethiopia. He was born into the Mamassans clan of the Issa, who are also known as Somali and are an indigenous group of the Horn of Africa, as the area surrounding Djibouti is called. Djibouti is a tiny, predominantly Muslim nation carved out of territory once known as French Somaliland. It shares borders with Eritrea in the north, Ethiopia on the south and west, and Somalia on the southeast. It was known as the French Territory of Afars and the Issas until it gained formal independence in 1977.
African People’s League for Independence
In his youth, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh attended a traditional Islamic school, and entered the civil service in 1968, when it was still under French colonial administration. He rose to the position of police inspector, but quit in 1975 to join the independence movement. Djibouti’s push for self-rule was organized around the Lingue Populaire Africaine pour l’independence (African People’s League for Independence, or LPAI), which was headed by his uncle, Hassan Gouled Aptidon. Ismaïl Omar Guelleh worked for the LPAI, ran his own pro-independence newspaper, and even traveled abroad to advocate for Djibouti’s independence. When that occurred, Aptidon became president, and Guelleh served as his chief of staff for the next 22 years. He also had special responsibility for overseeing the domestic-security forces.
Peoples’ Rally for Progress
By 1979, LPAI had evolved into a political party, the Rassemblement Populaire pour le Progrès (Peoples’ Rally for Progress, or RPP), and Ismaïl Omar Guelleh held positions within the party as well as his other posts in the government. But the earliest years of independence in Djibouti were marked by hostilities, with the majority Issa gravitating toward the RPP, which dominated the country.
Though some Afar were named to cabinet positions in Aptidon’s first government, disenchantment and longstanding rivalries escalated, and civil war broke out in 1981. Behind the strife was the rebel group, Front Pour la Restauration de l’Unite et de la Democratie (Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy, or FRUD), which was largely Afar in makeup. Aptidon outlawed all political parties, but international pressure forced multiparty elections in 1993, and Aptidon was reelected president with 75 percent of the vote.
An attempted coup that was quelled
Ismaïl Omar Guelleh took on an increasing list of duties for his uncle, who was 81 years old when he won reelection again in 1997, as the president’s health declined. He was named his successor when Aptidon formally stepped down in 1999, and Guelleh bested opponent Idris Moussa Ahmed in a presidential election called that year.
The opposition groups claimed vote fraud had occurred, however. A year later, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh fired the head of the Djibouti national police force, Yacin Yabeh, who later led an attempted coup that was quelled by Guelleh’s security forces. In 2001, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon reawakened U.S. interest in Djibouti, and U.S. Special Forces troops were deployed there. The country lies about 13 miles distant from Yemen, an Arabian Peninsula nation believed to harbor operatives of Al Qaeda, the militant Islamic group that claimed responsibility for the 9/11 attacks.
Guelleh publicly opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq
Despite the rather warm relations between Djibouti and the United States, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh publicly opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March of 2003. His country is the beneficiary of large aid packages from the United States and other countries, and retains strong ties with France, which oversees the largest deployment of French troops anywhere on the African continent.
The foreign aid is sorely needed: Djibouti has an average per-capita income of $1, 200; an infant mortality rate higher than Rwanda, one of Africa’s poorest nations; and a life expectancy rate of just 51 years for men and 53 years for women. The unemployment rate hovers near 50 percent, and many of the country’s 721, 000 citizens live in desperately poor conditions.
Guelleh’s government has been criticized
Ismaïl Omar Guelleh‘s government has been criticized by human-rights groups because of his regime’s determination to maintain political stability. Members of his family’s Mamassans clan hold positions of power in the cabinet and government, the RPP remains the dominant political force, and there have been charges that opposition groups, such as FRUD and the Union of Democratic Alliance (UAD), are unable to operate freely. FRUD has called upon other nations, especially the United States and France, to back a more aggressive transition toward democracy in the country.
To his credit, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh has made some efforts to lessen tensions with the Afar minority, but the potentially troubling situation was not diminished in the election of 2005. He ran on campaign promises to reduce poverty and increase women’s rights and roles in the country, but the UAD called for a boycott of the election, and FRUD subsequently issued a statement of support for the boycott.
Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, who is commonly referred to in Djibouti by his initials, “IOG, ” dismissed claims that his government had harassed its political challengers. “I accuse the opposition of not having the courage to give voters the right to choose between several candidates, ” Ismaïl Omar Guelleh told the French newspaper Le Figaro , according to a BBC News report; the same account noted that opposition banners against Guelleh and the election read “We would rather die standing than follow on our knees.”
Two days before the April of 2005 election, government troops fired tear gas on protesters in Djibouti City, the capital. Guelleh was the only candidate on the ballot, and not surprisingly took 100 percent of the vote. He asserted afterward that he would not run for a third term in 2011.
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