By Scott Morgan
The situation in Gabon has reached a crisis proportion. For almost a month, the health of President Ali Bongo has been in question: he is believed to have suffered a stroke and was hospitalized in Saudi Arabia.
When the President became incapacitated the contention began: who would actually take control of the Country? There are already signs that his brother Frederic, the head of the Intelligence Services, is actually running the country with the backing of hardline generals that are close to the Bongo clique.
Under the Constitution, the next in line to succeed the President is the President of the Senate.
The move by the Bongo Family manages to keep the reins of government in the hands of the family who have retained power since 1967. However, the attempts to have the Bongo Family in power have not gone unnoticed either.
The defeated Presidential Candidate (and former Chairman of the AU) Jean Peng has cried foul and has been put under house arrest. He still considers himself the victor of the controversial 2016 polls and, therefore, the President. So, silencing his voice is paramount to the Bongo family during this effort to consolidate power.
On October 6th, the first round of municipal and legislative polls which had been twice delayed were held. Even though the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party lost 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 is still 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 to participate in talks with the President of the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) - Denis Soussou-Nguesso - by the Sudanese President, Omar Bashir. 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 moves 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 is yet to be seen.
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