Updated: March 1, 2021
By Scott Morgan/Washington DC
The oil-rich African country of Gabon is in crisis. For almost a month, President Ali Bongo, who is believed to have suffered a stroke, has remained hospitalized in Saudi Arabia. Some reports have even claimed that he is incapacitated and cannot run the country again.
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As days at the hospital turned into weeks, a contention began to emerge. Who would actually take control of the tiny but wealthy country?
Already, there are signs that his brother Frederic Bongo, the head of the Intelligence Services, is running the country with the backing of hardline generals who are close to the Bongo clique.
Under the Constitution, the next in line to succeed the President is the President of the Senate, but the move by the Bongo family seems to be aimed at keeping the reins of government in the hands of the family, which has been the order since 1967.
However attempts to have the Bongo family retain power have not gone unnoticed.
Former Chairman of the AU and the defeated Presidential Candidate Jean Peng has cried foul and has found himself under house arrest. He still considers himself to be the victor of the controversial 2016 polls and President.
So ensuring that his voice is not heard has to be paramount to the Bongo family during this efforts to consolidate power.
On October 6, the first round of municipal and legislative polls which had been twice delayed were held. Even though the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party did lose seats, it however managed to maintain its two-thirds majority in the lower National Assembly. So in this part of the legislature, the rubber stamp still is maintained for the Bongo family.
The other main actor is France. The Bongo family are long time clients of Paris and the French Military has maintained a presence in the country for years. When Frederic Bongo made his move to consolidate power there were rumors of French Troops on the streets of the capital Libreville assisting Gabonese Troops in maintaining order during this “transition”. Keeping a friendly regime in Libreville seems to be a plank in French Foreign Policy no matter who the President is.
There are a couple of other concerns in the region that this crisis could make other situations worse. There has been a border row with Cameroon that has been allowed to fester. The situation in Cameroon with the separatist violence in the Southwestern part of the Country seems to grow more dangerous by the hour. Any change in Government could bring these tensions once again to the forefront of regional security concerns.
Also the planned peace talks in Sudan regarding the crisis in the Central African Republic which Gabon was invited to remain unclear. Before his illness President Bongo was invited by Sudanese President Bashir to participate in talks with the President of the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) Denis Soussou-Nguesso. These talks have been postponed due to the illness of Ali Bongo once already. The Human Rights climate in the long suffering country continues to grow worse as other actors such as Russia have entered. So it may be imperative that this process move forward despite the parties that are currently discussing the problem.
The country is in need of new economic investment as well. The slump in petroleum prices has hurt the Gabonese Economy. Its location suggests that creating a transportation hub or investing in the Agricultural sectors could be presented as viable options for economic growth. However with the length of rule by the Bongo family the fears of cronyism are legitimate as well as corruption.
Change is coming to Gabon whether it’s ready or not. How it reacts has yet to be seen.