Ali Bongo Ondimba, son of the Gabonese patriarch Omar Bongo Ondimba, has announced plans to seek another term in office – giving his family over a half century of rule in this West African nation if he wins.
Announcing his candidacy, President Ali Bongo pledged to fight “unwarranted privilege” even as he stands as one of the richest men in the region with 39 properties in France, 11 French bank accounts and 29 luxury cars in France worth more than $18.5 million, at last count.
Gabon enjoys close relations with France whose oil company, Total, is one of the biggest oil producers in the country, pumping around 230,000 barrels per day. The country also enjoyed protection from France for years under a system known as “la Francafrique” whereby Paris granted political and military support to long-ruling African presidents in exchange for commercial favors.
A recent corruption probe by France into the actions of President Bongo’s closest advisor ended after the president cited diplomatic immunity.
President Ali Bongo is unlikely to be toppled in the upcoming polls as Gabon’s one-round electoral system is seen as favoring the incumbent. The opposition’s only chance to unseat Bongo this year is to rally behind a single candidate—something it has so far never managed to do. In the 2009 election, there were 17 candidates competing with Bongo for the presidency.
In December 2014, despite a ban on demonstrations, hundreds of dissatisfied Gabonese gathered in the capital Libreville to call for the President’s resignation, chanting: “Ali, get out! 50 years is too long!” Police filled Rio square where the rally was held and shots were fired.
The opposition issued a press release: “In response to a peaceful demonstration… the head of state mobilized special units of the gendarmerie and the police and directed the weapons of the republic against peaceful, unarmed Gabonese.”
“We have already recorded three deaths, many serious injuries and numerous arrests,” it said, condemning “killings committed in cold blood and [with] live ammunition”.
Still, opposition to one-family rule appears to be mounting. A series of protests and strikes, including a teachers’ union strike that paralyzed Gabon’s education system, was recorded last year. The growing social unrest has affected Gabon’s economy, with its health, petroleum and telecommunications sectors all feeling the impact. A strike by Gabon Telecom employees last February cut the country off from the Internet for 48 hours.
As oil profits fall, informal miners are striking out in the equatorial forest of the Belinga mountains searching for gold. The production was small and labor intensive but now Gabon’s government requires that these gold miners must sell what they find to the government.
And some fear that a new partnership between the Gabon mining firm SEM, and a Chinese company Myanning may further deplete the bounty artisanal miners hoped to find in the area.