Gabon coup: A result of rich nation, poor people?

Gabon is a Central African country, very rich in natural resources which include uranium, oil, wildlife, iron ore and timber. It is the world’s second-largest producer of manganese and holds a 12 percent global timber and tropical hardwood exports. The former French colony is a very rich country that can make its income through the oil, eco-tourism and exports of timber and other natural minerals rich in the soil. It has an estimated population of about two million, according to the World Bank in 2017.

In 1964, army officers staged a coup against then President Leon Mba but with the help of French President Charles de Gaulle who was honouring a 1960 treaty between France and Gabon, Mba took control of the government within days and declared “no pardon or pity” as he arrested many who participated in the failed coup as well as his political opponents.

The natural resources rich country fell into the hands of Omar Bongo who was elected the Vice President to President Leo Mba in 1966. When Leo died Omar took over and ruled the nation with iron fist for 42 years. He consolidated his political power by winning over many of his opponents. When he died in 2009, his son Ali was elected to succeed him. He slightly won a highly marred election with claims of violence and protests in 2016 to remain in office.

President Ali Bongo, 59, has been hospitalized since October. He suffered stroke and would hang on to power despite his failing health.

Throughout the long reign of Omar, he impoverished the country further with poor infrastructure while controlling the fortunes of the rich nation.

Gabon is France’s closest ally in Africa supplying uranium that France uses to develop it nuclear bombs. Omar Bongo was a key figure in trades and became a strong political ally between France and other former African colonies. Bongo reportedly said, “Gabon without France is like a car with no driver. France without Gabon is like a car with no fuel,”, “He was a great figure of Africa,” a “man who had influence”, French Defence Minister Hervé Morin reportedly said about Omar Bongo.

Rich nation, poor people

Gabon’s government is a centralised, autocratic presidential bureaucracy where power is distributed largely through patronage, says Amnesty International. The coup plotters complained that Ali is working for himself, his family and local elites and not for Gabon and its people.

Yesterday a group of soldiers headed by Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang, who announced the overthrow of the president through national media, identified himself as deputy commander of the Republican Guard and president of the Patriotic Youth Movement of the Gabonese Defense and Security Forces.

He led the “Operation Dignity” to avenge the “young compatriots” who he claimed were, “assassinated on the night of August 31, 2016 in a cowardly way.” This was in connection with the 2016 election.

It is obvious that there is frustration among the impoverished people of Gabon. Through the Bongo family, alongside the corrupt willing partners, France still controls the resources of the mineral rich country.

In 1970 when Elf was looking for an operational base, Omar Bongo made sure it chose Gabon. The Independent reports, “The Paris trial in 2003 of former Elf chairman Loik Le Floch-Prigent revealed the extent of the corruption and shady dealings in the resultant oil boom where the company was allowed to operate as a “state within a state”.The Gabonese president shrugged off revelations of huge kickback payments to his personal accounts, dismissing them as a “French matter”.

“A police investigation into French real estate owned by the president and his family uncovered 33 properties in Paris and on the Riviera worth an estimated $190m. A decade ago, a US Senate probe into private banking operations at Citibank estimated that the president held $130m in personal accounts and concluded that there could be “no doubt that these financial assets were sourced in the public finances of Gabon”.