On Saturday, Gabon went to polls to decide whether President Ali Bongo will remain leader of the African country or Jean Ping, Bongo’s former brother-in-law will unseat him. Already, there are claims of voter fraud from both quarters with ambitious predictions of victory being announced. Ping who was a close associate of Ali Bongo’s late father and African Union Commission leader turned against the incumbent in 2014. He told the French newspaper, Le Monde that, “Gabon is a pure and simple dictatorship in the hands of a family, a clan.” It is ironic that he claims the country is in the hands of one family yet he was married to Omar Bongo’s eldest daughter with whom he had two children. Meanwhile, Ban Ki-moon called on “all political stakeholders, in particular the candidates to exercise restraint, abstain from any acts of incitement or the use of inflammatory statements, maintain a peaceful atmosphere before, during and after the election.”
The big question: Who will bring change to Gabon
During his last rally in Libreville, President Ali Bongo said, “There is a risk that certain people who did so much harm to our country will come back.” He was referring to Ping who he implied would perpetuate the old system of governance which he said were dominated by disappearing public funds and mismanagement of oil revenues. In fact, his campaign slogan has been “Let’s change together”. Bongo is also on record for calling the opposition “a gathering of witches who want to bring back the old system.” However, Ping has called out Bongo’s attempts to diversify the economy as a mere farce. The opposition has blamed the current government for the current economic distress which it says is due to an inability to diversify the economy. The elections come at a time when Gabon has been affected by the slump in oil prices, a third of the country’s 1.8 million people live in poverty and unemployment among the young hovers in the 35% region. Is Bongo the right person to bring change? The Gabonese people will decide. For his part, Ping has claimed to be “life”. At a recent rally, he claimed Gabon’s economic inequality would persist if Bongo remained in power. His words were, “You have before you two choices. Life and death. If he wins, you choose death. If we win, you choose life.”
The Birther Movement against Ali Bongo
A more secondary contention has been raised by the opposition in Gabon against Bongo. The claim is that Ali Bongo is not the late Omar Bongo’s biological son. Even Onaida Bongo, Ali’s own half sister has claimed that his birth certificate was falsified. This is not the first time issues of parentage have arisen in African politics with the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Joseph Kabila and Cote d’Ivoire’s Alassane Ouattara being accused of having hailed from other countries. The Gabonese Constitutional Court held that Bongo was fit to run for presidency and was a true Gabonese but opposition parties have dared him to have a DNA test. Oumar Ba, a political science fellow at the University of Florida has however said, “I think the debate is more about how to end this family’s rule, rather than who is a real Gabonese and who is not, or what ethnicity matters most.”
The court decision should have been final but continued complaints from the opposition has mainly been an expression of frustration over the 50 year rule of the Bongo family and the establishment of an unofficial dynasty. Bongo says, “It is time to put an end to this story. I truly am my father’s son.”
The results from the Gabonese elections are expected to trickle in in the next few days. Whatever Gabon decides should be respected by the incumbent and the other candidates. Voter fraud should be dealt with through the courts Citizens and leaders should not resort to street arbitration if things do not go their way. That is never a way to build a country. This is an age for African countries to prove to the world they are now politically mature to handle democratic elections without foreign supervision.