Post-election violence returns to haunt Gabon


Security forces in Gabon have arrested more than 1,000 people during a second day of violence following disputed presidential elections, the BBC reports:

Three people were killed in clashes in the capital, Libreville. Protests began after the announcement that President Ali Bongo had been narrowly re-elected in Wednesday’s vote. Opposition leader Jean Ping, who is in hiding, told the BBC that his party headquarters had been bombed. The UN, US and former colonial power France have called for restraint and greater transparency about the results.

Gabon has spent five decades under the thumb of the same family.

“We are seeing a repeat of what happened in 2009,” Kamissa Camara (above), an expert on Gabon, told DW. This was the poll in which Bongo came to power following the death of his father, Omar Bongo, an autocrat who had ruled the country for 41 years. There were deadly clashes between opponents of the government and the police in Gabon in 2009. “Ideally Ali Bongo and Jean Ping should now be working together,” Camara suggested as a possible way out of the crisis, but that seems unlikely.

Mr Ping was a long-time ally of Mr Bongo until falling out with the ruling party in 2014. The Gabon-born son of a Chinese businessman, he is also a former chairman of the African Union. It was unclear whether Mr Ping would be able to contest the result of the election, The Financial Times adds:

“Even if the army manages to suppress the violent protests in the short run, Bongo’s second term will be an extremely rough ride, given unfavorable economic conditions generated by low oil prices and his questionable mandate”, said Maja Bovcon, senior Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a consultancy.

“Côte d’Ivoire was plunged into post-electoral crisis in 2010, when Alassane Outtara and Laurent Gbagbo both declared themselves winner,” explains Camara, a program manager at the Washington-based NGO National Endowment for Democracy.

“If both candidates [in Gabon] are already declaring themselves winners, it means that their respective supporters are already getting ready to celebrate a victory and, since there is only one presidential chair, I don’t see how this could not go down into violence,” she told Radio France International.

In an address on state television Thursday, President Ali Bongo said he would take any decision necessary to guarantee peace in the country, blaming “small groups” that were trying to sow chaos for the unrest, Bloomberg adds:

“Bongo’s remarks didn’t do anything to ease the tension,” said Cailin Birch, a political analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit. “People aren’t just out because of the elections, but because they’re fed up, they’re frustrated with the lack of infrastructure, the lack of progress.”

Gabon’s opposition says it was cheated of victory, after official results showed a turnout of 99.93% in President Ali Bongo’s home region, with 95% of votes in his favor, the BBC adds. Elizabeth Blunt has witnessed many elections across Africa, as both a BBC journalist and election observer and looks at six signs of possible election rigging.

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