Sunday, March 13, 2011

Middle East/African Revolution/Protest Series: Gabon

The protests in Gabon kicked off on January 26, 2011.
See the whole Middle East/African Revolution/Protest Series.
Gabon is a country I hadn't really heard in the list of countries having popular protests during this time. The name arose, along with Cameroon, while I was researching protests in other African countries. I was actually very surprised that the protests started in January. To say the least, this country hasn't made front page news. But today is the day to learn about them.
Basic History
Gabon's official name is in French, République Gabonaise. This is Gabonese Republic in English. Geographically, it is located in West Central Africa. Important bordering countries include: Cameroon. The capital is Libreville. The population is estimated at 1.5 million people. The language is French, but there are also at least two local vernacular languages.

Gabon's most recent leader is President Ali Bongo Ondimba. Gabon is a republic with universal suffrage and a presidential form of government under the constitution. The president is elected for a 7-year term. A 2003 constitutional amendment removed presidential term limits and facilitated a presidency for life. The president can appoint and dismiss the prime minister, the cabinet, and judges of the independent Supreme Court. The president is the head of state and the Prime Minister is the head of government. The Prime Minister is Paul Biyoghé Mba.

In terms of  independence, Gabon elected its first president in 1961. Before that it had been one of four territories of French Equatorial Africa. The French were instrumental in Gabonese elections and even to this day have troops in Gabon not far from the capital, but the government is run by nationalists.

The Protests
The main causes cited as the reasons for the protests include: dissatisfaction with the ruling party's constitutional changes, discontent over the results of the 2009 presidential elections.

On January 25th, Andre Mba Obame declared himself to be president of Gabon. He claimed this based on a documentary that said the results of the 2009 election showed Obame with 42% of the vote while President Ali Bongo received only 37%.  The documentary said the results that were published inverted these results. Also, President Ali Bongo changed the constitution so that term limits could be extended indefinitely in case of emergency.

This led to protests and clashes between the official and unofficial governments of Gabon that started on January 26th, with the formation of the unofficial government that included  his 'Prime Minister' Raphaël Bandega-Lendoye. Protests were organized and the government worked to get into place army units to suppress the protests.

The official government has mainly responded to the unofficial government with total denial. Pretending something doesn't exist is a tactic bound to fail. Throughout late January and early February, there were many protests and cases of civil unrest. It went largely unreported nationally because of the news in Egypt.

The unofficial government hid out in the local United Nations Development Programme office, while President Bongo shut down TV stations and allegedly kidnapped members of the opposition. After the initial protests, which mainly consisted of oppositionists loyal to Obame, the protests grew to a wider social conflict, with many students joining in the protest.

Something that is quite unbelievable is how difficult it is to find anything on Gabon later than mid-February. I guess there aren't enough journalists to go around to cover this story as well. But I finally found some information updated in the last couple of days. Obame and his cohorts had finally left the UNDP in the capital city of Libreville, Gabon on February 27th after negotiations with Bongo through the UN.

Some of the members of the unofficial government have already been summoned by Gabonese intelligence services for questioning. There have been public remarks about the people in the unofficial government being brought to "justice."

Some people in the country remain convinced that a revolution is on the way. There have also been accusations toward the French for supporting dictators. Dictator may (or may not) be a strong word for an elected president, but it stand nonetheless that Gabon's current president, Ali Bongo is being accused of misappropriating funds from before he was elected President.

As of now, there have been no resolutions to any of the problems causing the protests. I'm hoping there will be more coverage of these protests sooner rather than later.

More information can be found at,,

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