Guelleh points to his recent achievements: The World Health Organization hailed Djibouti for its meticulous management of the Covid-19 pandemic, the government has used the country’s geo-strategic location to build an attractive logistical hub for military bases and foreign direct investment, and the economy has been buoyed by a 6% growth rate as well as a €12bn ($13bn) national development plan.
Despite the country’s successes, it still has its points of fragility. These include its trade dependence on Ethiopia (a country that is currently in crisis), the risk of over-indebtedness, the still difficult business environment, endemic poverty and unemployment, as well as restrictions on freedoms.
These are many challenges for a 74-year-old president who has been in power since 1999 and who was re-elected to a fifth term just a year ago. Guelleh began his career as a French colonial police official. He was eventually dismissed for having pro-independence sympathies before becoming the right-hand man and then successor of the first head of state, Hassan Gouled. He was also a pious advocate of ‘Middle Way’ Islam, whose iron fist in a velvet glove resisted the jolts of the Arab Spring and the Muslim Brotherhood’s plans.
In this interview, which was conducted at the end of February at the Ras Dika Palace, Guelleh touches on all these subjects – including the most sensitive ones from the point of view of this modest and secretive man.
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