Ismaïl Omar Guelleh

Ismaïl Omar Guelleh is the President of Djibouti.

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Ismaïl Omar Guelleh (Somali: Ismaaciil Cumar Geelle. Arabic: اسماعيل عُمر جليه) (born 27 November 1947)[1] is the President of Djibouti. Guelleh was anointed as president in 1999 as the handpicked successor to his uncle, Hassan Gouled Aptidon, who had ruled Djibouti since independence 22 years earlier. Gammeh was recently sworn in for a third term as president after he won 80 percent of the vote in a presidential election in April that was largely boycotted by the opposition amid complaints over widespread irregularities. He is often referred to in the region by his initials 'IOG'. Guelleh has been referred to as a dictator, and his rule has been criticized for by some human rights groups.[2]


Guelleh was born in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, into the politically powerful Mamassan subclan of the Issa clan.[1][3][4] In the late 1960s, Guelleh migrated to Djibouti before finishing high school. He later joined the police, becoming a junior non-commissioned officer. 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. "As the head of Djibouti's security agency under his uncle's regime, Guelleh gained an intimate knowledge of the country's political forces and has used it to practice a politics of divide and rule, supplemented by repression and intimidation when expedient."[3]


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.[5] As the joint candidate of the RPP and moderate wing of the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD), 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.[6][7] He took office on May 8.[8] Moussa Ahmed Idriss was arrested the following September for "threatening the morale of the armed forces" and detained at an undisclosed location.[9]

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.[10]

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[11] and was the only candidate in the presidential election held on April 8, 2005.[12] 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.[13]

However in 2010, Guelleh persuaded the National Assembly of Djibouti to amend the nation's Constitution, allowing him to stand for a third term.[14][15] 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 region. 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.[16] Human Rights Watch has questioned whether the election could be called fair when opposition leaders were jailed twice prior to polling.[17] He has again said that he would not run for another term.[18]


  1. Biography at Presidency website (French).
  2. "The world's enduring dictators". CBS News. May 16, 2011.
  3. "Reality Check On Ismail Omar Guelleh", Somaliland Times, Issue 211, 4 February 2006.
  4. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2007, report to Congress, U.S. Dept. of State, August 2008 (on Issa in Djibouti)
  5. "Djibouti: President Gouled Aptidon to retire in April after 22 years in power", AFP (, February 4, 1999.
  6. "Proclamation du Président de la République de Djibouti par le Conseil Constitutionnel.", Journal Officiel de la République de Djibouti (French).
  7. Elections in Djibouti, African Elections Database.
  8. "SUDAN: President holds weekend talks with Ethiopia", IRIN, May 11, 1999.
  9. "Horn of Africa, Monthly Review, September - October 1999", UN-OCHA Archive (accessed 23 February 2009)
  10. "Witnesses describe 'coup attempt'", IRIN, December 8, 2000.
  11. "Le RPP plébiscite son candidat", La Nation, October 11, 2004 (French).
  12. "No challengers for Guelleh as presidential campaign kicks off", IRIN, March 29, 2005.
  13. "Guelleh sworn in for second presidential term", IRIN, May 9, 2005.
  14. IOL News, Djibouti lawmakers remove term limits, April 11, 2010
  15. Djibouti politics: Issa job?, Economist Intelligence Unit Report, April 20, 2010
  16. Djibouti: President Ismael Omar Guelleh wins third term, BBC News Africa, April 9, 2011
  17. Djibouti: Allow Peaceful Protests, Human Rights Watch statement, April 4, 2011
  18. Djibouti president vows third term would be last, AFP, April 7, 2011