APA – Libreville (Gabon) – Immediately after announcing his re-election for a third term, Ali Bongo, 64, was deposed by the head of the Republican Guard.
On Wednesday 30 August 2023, many Gabonese woke up smiling. And with good reason: the dynasty that had ruled the country with an iron fist for 55 years had fallen.
“The coup was greeted by jubilation throughout Gabon, but particularly in Libreville, the capital. People were singing the glory of the soldiers who freed the country from the hands of the Bongos and the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG),” a local journalist told APA.
Ali Bongo, who was declared the winner of the presidential election on 26 August with 64.27 percent of the vote against 30.77 percent for Albert Ondo Ossa, his main challenger, did not really have time to celebrate this victory, which was contested by the opposition, which had previously denounced massive fraud.
General Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, head of the Republican Guard, the elite unit responsible for the security of the Gabonese Presidency, decided otherwise.
In his name, a group of military and police officers gave a televised address justifying the putsch by the “truncated” nature of the vote, the results of which had been “annulled” because “the conditions for a transparent, credible and inclusive ballot so much hoped for by the people of Gabon” had not been met.
One term too many
There is nothing easy about walking or gesticulating for Ali Bongo. The moving images in which he appears are quite edifying in this respect. His health has been shaky since a stroke in October 2018 while he was in Saudi Arabia for an investment conference. He remained in Riyadh for more than a month before being transferred to Morocco for further special care. In all, Ali was absent from Gabon for ten months, an eternity.
On 7 January 2019, a commando led by Lieutenant Ondo Obiang Kelly, aged just 26, attempted to overthrow the shadow president. But the mutineers failed to rally the majority of the army to their cause, and were killed or arrested by a gendarmerie task force in the hours following their declaration of seizure of power on national television.
On his return to the country, Ali Bongo took control again. And thanks to a revision of the constitution by parliament, including in particular the reduction of the presidential term of office from seven to five years and the restoration of single-round voting, he is seeking a third term in office in this Central African country of 2.3 million inhabitants with an area of 257,670 square kilometers.
Groomed by Omar Bongo
Ali holds a doctorate in law from the Sorbonne (France), after primary and secondary education in private Protestant and Catholic schools in France. The son of Patience Dabany, the famous Gabonese singer who gave birth to him on 9 February 1959 in Brazzaville, in neighbouring Congo, he inherited from her a pronounced taste for music.
In 1977, the year he passed his baccalauréat, Oumar Bongo’s son even released a funk album called A Brand New Man, produced by Charles Bobbit, the manager of music legend James Brown. As the eldest son, he had to prepare for his father’s succession.
His father entrusted him with the regal Ministry of Defense for ten years. Long before that, Ali held the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and the Francophonie until 1989. A constitutional change requiring ministers to be over 35 years of age then forced him to leave the government.
Succeeding his father
In 2009, on 8 June to be precise, Omar Bongo died in a private clinic in Barcelona, Spain. Named Albert-Bernard before his conversion to Islam in the 1970s, the deceased had presided over Gabon’s destiny since 2 December 1967. Omar, Leon Mba’s vice-president, succeeded the father of independence on his death, in accordance with the provisions of the fundamental charter in force at the time.
After 42 years, Rose Francine Rogombe, President of the Senate, had taken over as interim head of state. Just long enough for her to organise an early presidential election on 30 August 2009, without taking part. Despite a low turnout (45 percent), Ali Bongo emerged victorious with 41.73 percent of the votes cast, ahead of Andre Mba Obame (25.9 percent) and Pierre Mamboundou (25.2 percent), among others.
The opposition cried hold-up. Several candidates called for a recount. Looting and violence causing deaths were reported in Port-Gentil, the country’s second largest city. The constitutional court complied with their demands. But the trend remained unchanged. Ali Bongo was still in the lead according to the final results published on 12 October 2009.
A repeat of 2016
Born Alain-Bernard, Ali Bongo officially won the 27 August single-round election by a narrow margin. He was credited with 49.80 percent of the vote against 48.23 percent for Jean Ping. Once again, there are calls for a recount, especially in the province of Haut-Ogooue where the turnout is close to 100 percent.
Jean Ping’s supporters took to the streets, attacking the National Assembly in particular. Its headquarters were bombed from the air and attacked on the ground by the Republican Guard. According to the government spokesman, the reason for the attack was the need to arrest the “criminals” who had set fire to the hemicycle.
This post-election violence is unprecedented in the political history of Gabon, the eighth French colony in Africa to gain independence on 17 August 1960. The opposition claims that around thirty people died. Nevertheless, the government congratulated itself on the “proper conduct” of the election and Ali Bongo was sworn in for a second seven-year term in September.
Gabon is rich in oil. The country is the fourth largest producer of black gold in sub-Saharan Africa. And the world’s second largest producer of manganese. But the poverty rate has risen sharply over the past five years. It has risen from 33.4 percent in 2017 to 33.9 percent in 2022. A third of Gabon’s population lives on less than $5.50 (3,386 CFA francs) a day. Unemployment peaks at 28 percent of the working population.
The ruling class has not pursued effective policies to diversify the oil-dependent economy and create enough jobs in a country that is not lacking in potential. In Gabon, the oil sector has accounted for 80 percent of exports, 45 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 60 percent of tax revenues over the past five years, according to World Bank figures.
But every year, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the country loses between 400 and 500 billion CFA francs to corruption. This scourge, it adds, “undermines the country’s growth efforts by slowing the emergence of a middle class through the redistribution of profits generated by the State.” In 2021, Gabon ranked 124th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, proof that poor governance has become a way of managing public affairs.