Gabonese President Bongo Odimba’s visit to the US from 6-9 June has generated an outcry in Gabonese civil society. Its members sent a letter of inquiry to President Barack Obama asking him to take stock of a country with a democracy devastated by ruinous governance, but also to remind him of the meaning of his speech in Accra, which must be the basis of relations with African leaders.
Excellency, Mr President
It is in the name of the cardinal democratic values that are the foundation of the United States of America that Gabonese civil society comes to you as you prepare to receive Mr Ali Bongo Odimba, President of the Republic of Gabon, in order to expose to you, who presides over the Security Council of the United Nations, the catastrophic situation of governance and democracy in Gabon. Independent since 1960, Gabon suffers from two principal pathologies which affect all segments of society.
1. THE SICK STATE OF DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE
The main characteristic of this disease lies in the state’s refusal to allow any democratic change, through the confiscation of power by fraud; rigged elections; the results of elections being known in advance; the housing of the electoral list in the Ministry of Interior, where it is subject to systematic manipulation; and trafficking of all kinds in order to maintain a corrupt system hated by the people. Ballot results are thus reversed in favour of the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), the party-state, in power for 44 years and one of the last remnants of political monolithism in Africa, which has been responsible for the widespread bankruptcy and ruin of the country.
Yes, Mr President, Gabon is in ruins; democracy is devastated.
Institutions as a whole have no credibility because they are ideologically and politically loyal to the Gabonese Democratic Party. Their sole purpose is the survival of the regime. The last constitutional amendement, decided upon unilaterally by the PDG, was for the sole purpose of strengthening the unlimited power of, and creating a life presidency for, Mr Ali Bongo. This is a perfect example of the democratic stagnation of Gabon.
Similarly, the Constitutional Court is one of the obstacles keeping Gabon from a real march towards democracy and the rule of law. This institution, headed by the lovely mother of Ali Bongo and composed of former chiefs of the ruling party, firmly blocks democracy. She stubbornly refuses the establishment of legal mechanisms for holding reliable, transparent and democratic elections with the direct involvement of civil society in all phases of democratic elections (pre-electoral, electoral, and post-election) in the country. The Constitutional Court has consistently opposed the introduction of biometrics in the electoral system, whereas all political actors and the civil society have unanimously made the providential choice in favor of biometrics.
We make the bitter report that the actions, methods, and practices of the Gabonese government are contrary to international norms and standards of democracy.
Journalists are imprisoned and threatened with death simply because they expose corruption and anti-democratic actions and accuse people from the government or the president’s family. The journalist Désiré Ename, managing director of the weekly ‘Voices of the North’, was abducted and detained by the police, an act instrumentalised by a relative of the president, Frederik Bongo. Thanks to the rapid mobilisation of the civil society, Désiré Ename was released.
Every day, the freedom to unionise is threatened. Trade unionists defending their rights have been imprisoned. Some trade unionists, members of CONASYCED, saw their salaries suspended for several months for demanding that the government respect the commitments made to them.
Newspapers that are heavily critical of those in power are suspended or destroyed by agents in the service of power. Meanwhile, the two public television channels conduct a shameless manipulation of public opinion.
Forms of democratic expression such as peace marches are banned or brutally suppressed by security forces, whose treatment of the civilian population is similar to forces of occupation and repression.
The opposition parties are also marginalised, and their activities subject to numerous disturbances. Several members and supporters of a dissolved opposition party were removed from the public service or prosecuted.
As can be seen, Gabon is not a democracy. Political power is dictatorial, based on fraud and the repression of democratic forces, as the mechanisms used for sustaining political power are at odds with the democratic values on which the United States are based. It is indeed this same family which confiscates power and diverts public funds for the sole benefit of its small barony.
2. THE CORRUPTION OF THE RULING ELITE, WHO ENRICH THEMSELVES INDEFINITELY, AND THE EXTREME POVERTY OF THE GROWING POPULATION
Since the arrival of Mr Ali Bongo Odimba, many decisions to improve the management of the state have been announced, but the implementation of these initiatives is still pending.
Meanwhile, corruption, particularly related to public procurement and management of revenues from extractive industries, is affecting all segments of the Gabonese government. The most significant example this year concerns deals for the 2012 CAN football tournament: The companies who have secured the largest contracts, SOCOBE and Entraco, both belong to the president’s family. Similarly, oil revenues are completely in the hands of the president’s family or relatives.
In the same trend of diversion, these rotating festivals, a true financial drain which has absorbed more than 500 billion CFA, have allowed various political barons and deans to shamelessly use the state’s coffers with impunity. Most recently, the president has even built, at the taxpayer’s expense, a sumptuous building in Paris worth €100 million, while Gabonese children suffer from poor education and social inequality continues to grow.
Additionally, audit measures undertaken by the National Audit Office show the extent of embezzlement and economic crimes attached to festivals in Gabon. At the institutional level, the National Commission for the Fight Against Illicit Enrichment lacks effectiveness, independence, and the means of action to match its ambitions, for lack of political will. While the barons of the regime empty the coffers of the state, poverty is increasing by leaps and bounds. The country lacks everything.
The work of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initative (EITI) has come to a halt and the government does not seem to attach importance to this noble venture, whose last conciliation report was conducted in 2006.
Mr President, as you see, Gabon is in ruins. Gabon is strongly affected by these two conditions – bad governance based on a fraudulent electoral system, and the corruption of the regime. The country was recently ranked highest among African countries in a corruption index.
Faced with this situation, civil society denounces in the strongest terms the intention to organise the next elections under the current fraudulent and anti-democratic conditions. It recommends on the one hand, the return of two rounds of voting for all elections, and on the other hand, the establishment of limitations for presidential mandates, the legislature, and the constitutional bodies of the state.
Armed with this, consider your historic speech to Africa in Accra, where you said: ‘Governments that respect the will of their people, who govern by consent and not coercion, are more prosperous and more stable than those who do not.’
‘It is not just a matter of holding elections; we must see what happens between elections. Punishment takes many forms and too many countries, even those that hold elections, are experiencing problems that condemn their people to poverty.’
‘Nobody wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the law of the jungle and to corruption. This is not democracy; this is tyranny, and even if we occasionally sow an election here and there, it is time that this style of government disappears.’ You added that ‘a strong democratic country is based on the stability of its democratic institutions and not politicians.’
Your speech in Accra resonates in our ears and was favourably received from those Gabonese who aspire to live in a country freed from tyranny and corruption; a country where citizens can express their views freely; a country that will see the advent of reliable and democratic institutions. Gabon today is trapped in a predatory and corrupt system which steals billions of dollars in state resources.
Mr President, such a system should no longer prosper. You must, on behalf of democracy and freedom, tell Mr Ali Bongo Odimba of your opposition to the militarisation of Gabon, to the installation of a reign of terror where the forces of the second and third categories are deployed on the street daily, like in a country under seige!
With this in mind, kindly send a clear message to Mr Ali Bongo Odimba on democracy and freedom and committing to:
- Organising impartial democratic elections with the involvement of the civil society and under the supervision of the international community to ensure a peaceful transition to democracy, desired by the entire population of Gabon.
– Adopt the institutional reforms proposed by the civil society to strengthen democracy through international standards of responsible governance specific to democratic systems.
Libreville, 8 June 2011
For Gabonese civil society:
– Ona Essangui, President of Brainforest, Goldman Environment Prize 2009: (241) 07294140: firstname.lastname@example.org
– Georges Mpaga, Chairman of the Board of Directors Network of Civil Society Free for Good Governance in Gabon (ROLBG): (241) 07519932: email@example.com
– Alain Moupopa, President of African NGO Horizons of Human Rights: (241) 07751503
– Dieudonné Minlama Mintogo, President of the National Observatory of Democracy: (241) 07948719: firstname.lastname@example.org
– Joel Celestin Mamboundou, President of the NGO Governance Democracy and Environmental Health (DILDOS) and TAI Network Coordinator: (241) 07943034
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* Translated from French by Ifeoma Morah.
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