Despite the complexity of popular revolutionary forces in Gabon, it is clear that colonial military forces must leave the country, argues Explo Nani-Kofi
On 7th January, we entered the new year with an announcement on Gabonese radio, that the government of Gabon has been overthrown by the military, bringing an end to the 51-year rule of the Bongo dynasty. The group took advantage of the President being absent for medical treatment for some months to attempt the overthrow but were beaten back after a few hours. The group referred to itself as the Patriotic Youth Movement of the Gabon Defence and Security Forces. However, given the way they were stopped and their appeal to the population falling on deaf years, they hardly look anything like a popular movement.
Although, oil revenues, with a gross domestic product per capita of US$ 8,600 should have made the Gabonese population quite well off, there is a skewed distribution of income. The richest 20% of the population earn over 90% of the income. French troops have been stationed in Gabon since 1964 and US troops were also sent there at the beginning of this year 2019
Gabon has a long tradition of political uproars. In 1964 when the first President of the country, Leon Mba, wanted to introduce one party rule an uprising attempted to overthrow him. It was the former colonial master, France, which sent in troops to keep him in power after days of fighting. French troops have been stationed in the country since then.
In early 1990, the post-Cold War mass movements for democratisation which swept across the African continent touched Gabon as well. A period of strikes and demonstrations engulfed the country. This culminated in a national political conference and a transitional government. In 1993, when the old President was returned to office through the ballot box, civil disturbances re-emerged. An accord was made between the government and opposition for a government of national unity which later collapsed.
For the 58 years that Gabon has been an independent Republic, it has been ruled for 51 of those 58 years by the Bongo dynasty. Omar Bongo Ondiamba ruled the country for 42 years and now his son, Ali Bongo Ondiamba has just entered his 9th year in office. Ali’s elections both in 2009 and 1016 were greeted with violence and dispute.
After Ali Obongo’s election in 2009, the opposition leader Andre Mba Obame declared himself President on 25 January 2011 and chose a cabinet claiming that he was the people’s choice. Mba’s party was accused of treason and dissolved on 26 January 2011 for threatening the peace, security, and stability of Gabon. In 2016 as well, former African Union chairman Jean Ping, who contested the Presidency against Ali Obongo, declared himself the rightful winner of the elections and called for a recount after Ali was declared the winner. This was followed by violence and sate repression. The violence across the country paralysed transportation and caused food shortage on the market. This led to looting.
Gabon does not have the sort of ethnic tension that many African countries have because the various ethnic groups are spread across the country with widespread inter-marriage. This should facilitate the organisation and galvanising of the widespread anger against the dynasty which has been exhibited during political uproars.
The failure of the recent coup shows that it is necessary to organize from within the masses and not to take for granted that the existing anger will bring people out once a given group rises up against the dynasty. Since the abortive coup, it seems the days of soldiers simply marching up to the broadcasting house and announcing the end of a regime are over. The only coup which has succeeded recently in Africa was the Zimbabwe coup of 2017. However, that was a different type of coup organized from within the ruling class involving apparent consultation with countries which had influence on the Zimbabwean government and could have supported a resistance from within the regime.
Apart from organizing from below within the masses of the people, the political leaders should mobilize the people to demand and ensure that foreign troops from France and USA leave the country immediately. These foreign troops will always support the corrupt regimes which have enabled foreign companies to siphon profits out of the country. All peace loving and democratic forces worldwide should support the Gabonese in demanding that the French and American troops go home.
Explo Nani-Kofi is Societal Affairs Analyst and Social Justice Practitioner. He was born in Ghana where he started his activist as a grass root organizer for popular democracy. He coordinated the Campaign Against Proxy War in Africa and the IMF-World Bank Wanted For Fraud Campaign. He is a member of Counterfire and Director of the Kilombo Centre for Civil Society and African Self-Determination, in Peki, Ghana and London, UK.
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