Presidential elections in the tiny African state of Djibouti are exposing the hypocrisy of global superpowers jostling for sway over the key shipping routes into the Red Sea and Suez Canal.
President Ismail Omar Guelleh is standing for a fourth term in the April election despite promising to stand down amidst claims violently repressing opposition candidates and reaping the riches of Alliances with the US and China while his country languishes in poverty.
Djibouti is a small state with a population of around 900,000 holding a key position on the Horn of Africa dominating the sea lanes in and out of the Red Sea.
Despite Guelleh’s vicious grip on power, last year President Barack Obama signed a 20-year lease to secure the only US base in Africa and now the Chinese government is ready to build the country’s only offshore military outpost neighbouring the American stronghold.
People in poverty
Washington and Beijing are spending millions of dollars in Djibouti, but according to the United Nations, the population is captive to poverty.
Fewer than half the people have electricity and a third are without clean water and sanitation.
Guelleh acts more as a dictator than a democratic president.
He wants to barter his country’s strategic site to turn the nation into another Dubai or Singapore.
However, he rules with a rod of steel and has come under criticism for unilaterally altering the constitution to allow his third term as president and pledged to stand down for the forthcoming April presidential election, but has changed his mind and reneged on his promises to his people.
Guelleh has ripped up his promise to stand down, allow free elections and end political repression.
Washington and Beijing are both silent on his intentions and abuses of human rights.
Opposition leaders are routinely arrested and jailed. Demonstrations are broken up by riot police. Around 20 protesters have died on the streets, with more wounded.
Western oil companies and businesses have closed claiming legal and political differences make staying in Djibouti too challenging.
Governments that extol their virtues in policing dictatorships are turning a blind eye to Guelleh’s excesses because his country gives them a military advantage.
Washington launches drone strikes and special forces operations from Djibouti, while the Chinese claim their new base is to support naval escorts for merchant shipping in the Indian Ocean.
Neither can explain why they attack pirates and militants from a country where the suppression of political freedom is a daily fact of life.