By Abayomi Azikiwe
Gabonese soldiers, led by the presidential guard, detained President Ali Bongo during the early morning hours of August 30, ending a more than five decades-long political dynasty within this oil-rich West and Central African state.
In announcing the coup, members of the military appeared on Gabon television calling themselves the Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions (CTRI).
Spokespersons for the CTRI have accused the Bongo government of committing a series of crimes against the interests of the Gabonese people. During the television announcement of the coup, CTRI stated that:
“Today our country is going through a grave political crisis. We have observed an ‘irresponsible, unforeseeable governance that has resulted in the steady degradation of social cohesion which risks leading the country to chaos […] we have decided to defend peace by putting an end to the regime in power,’ the armed men said. [Dear] ‘people of Gabon, we are finally on the road to bliss, may God and the souls of our ancestors bless our country.”
The coup represents a rash of such occurrences over the last three years within former French colonies where Paris has maintained a strong economic and military presence. In Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Niger, new military-dominated governments have achieved state power. Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger do not want a continued French presence in their countries.
Amid threats of military intervention in Niger, ostensibly to reimpose ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, Burkina Faso and Mali have pledged assistance to the CNSP government in Niamey in the event of an intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). All three states: Mali, Guinea-Conakry and Niger, have been subjected to sanctions preventing vital food stuffs and medicines into the country.
Gabon, along with Togo, two former French colonies, have also joined the Commonwealth of Nations which is dominated by the British. The United States has purchased over the years several billion dollars of crude oil. There have been no immediate statements from the U.S. State Department and other western capitals as to whether sanctions will be imposed on the CTRI government.
While the United Nations and numerous foreign governments condemned the seizure of power by the military, there was no analysis of the social and economic conditions prevailing in these impacted states. There is obviously a trend developing in which the contradictions within the system of governance in West Africa are propelling military interventions in politics.
In Libreville, the capital of this western state in Central Africa, there was jubilation by many after hearing news of the seizure of power by the military. General Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, said to be 48 years old, was designated as the leader of the transitional government. General Nguema was a leading force in the military and intelligence apparatus of the former administration headed by Ali Bongo’s father, Omar Bongo, who remained in office from 1967 to 2009, the time of his death.
At present Nguema is the commander of the presidential guard, and it was stated that the other branches of the military supported the new leader unanimously. Although there were reports of gunfire prior to the television broadcast by the military government, no figures have been given of any possible casualties.
Ousted President Ali Bongo took office in 2009 and each re-election since then has been marred by allegations of fraud. France has activated its military presence in Gabon in previous years during periods of unrest and instability inside the country of nearly 2.5 million. The number of French troops remaining in Gabon has been estimated at 400.
Total, a leading French energy firm, has substantial investments in the oil industry. The country’s reputation, cultivated by the West, of being a stable government, has been shattered with the advent of the coup on August 30.
Nonetheless, even in France, the Bongo family has been subjected to criminal investigations by the government. News reports over the years have claimed that the former president’s family owned over $20 million in properties located in France.
Since the rise to power of the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Homeland (CNSP) in Niger on July 26, an alliance involving Niamey, Burkina Faso and Mali has clearly emerged. At present the character of this grouping is anti-French—rejecting the neo-colonial construct imposed and carried on since the dawn of independence in the 1960s.
The direction of the new military regime in Libreville will be revealed in the days and weeks to come. What has been articulated as the cause of the coup is the widespread corruption within the Bongo government. An election was held just days prior to the overthrow of Bongo where the incumbent was declared the winner with over 62% of the vote.
However, opposition parties were skeptical of the outcome suggesting there was large-scale vote-rigging to ensure a victory for Bongo. Opposition coalition candidate for president, Albert Ondo, has said that the elections were not free and fair.
As soon as the election results were announced the presidential guard struck by detaining Bongo and leading members of his family. Bongo has appeared in a video requesting help from anyone around the world.
The borders of the country have been closed along with its airports. Internet services were shut down by the Bongo government prior to the release of the results from the most recent election. Since taking power the military has restored connectivity.
Gabon Endowed with Natural Wealth
The country of Gabon exports crude oil to various geopolitical regions around the world. In addition to oil, the country has natural gas, manganese, iron ore, uranium, diamonds, gold, forest areas and arable land.
However, due to the heavy reliance on oil, which accounts for 96% of its foreign exchange, the agricultural sector has been ignored. Oil revenues from exports have raised the income levels in Gabon to be substantially higher than many other states in the region. This dependency upon revenue generated from oil exports has made the country subject to the negative consequences of periodic volatility in the global oil market.
One source on the economy of Gabon notes:
“Consequently, a rich nation has turned poor over the years. The Human Development Index ranks Gabon 109th, which is miserably low given its potential of oil and other natural resources. Data shows that about 30 percent of the population remains vulnerable, living with a monthly income below the guaranteed minimum wage of $1. Further, it has become increasingly difficult for people in 60 percent of the regions to have access to basic social services such as healthcare and drinking water…. [Gabon] is one of Africa’s richest countries because of its natural resources: however, one-third of Gabon’s citizens live below the poverty line, and the unemployment rate is 20 to35 percent among young people. Why is Gabon poor when the country is rich in natural resources?”
The answer to the question posed by the article can be found in the way in which neo-colonialism remains the major impediment to African development. Despite its tremendous wealth from the export of valuable natural resources, the maintenance of a system where corruption and unequal exchange characterizes all levels of governance, does not allow for the empowerment of the workers and youth in Gabon.
If the current CTRI administration is to win over the necessary sustainable support from the masses, it must reorient the national priorities to serve the interests of the majority. This broad-based popular support will be critical if the CTRI government takes positions similar to the military-dominated governments in other West African states.
The advent of another coup staged in a West African nation where the civilian governments have acted in conjunction with Washington’s foreign policy imperatives on the continent, has undoubtedly sent further shock waves through the administrations closely allied with imperialism. The imperialist states in North America and Western Europe, which are waging a renewed cold war to maintain influence in Africa, must realize that the methods utilized over the last several decades have had the opposite effects of what they intended.