Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version

Following the election of Ali Ben Bongo to the Gabonese presidency, Tidiane Kassé considers the reaction of commentators in the African press to the victory. With the death of his father and long-time dictator Omar Bongo in June, many regard Ali Ben Bongo's election as the mere continuation of the Bongo dynasty, Kassé notes, a continuation decidedly in the interests of the French former colonial power.

Gabon's constitutional court has confirmed the results of the country's presidential elections of 30 August, putting Ali Ben Bongo in power. Beyond the accusations of meddling and violence that have marked the electoral process, the malaise surrounding the installation of a new power in Libreville stems from a deep fault around the management of state affairs passing from a late father to his son. Whatever the democratic façade endorsing the election, the patrimonialisation of power in relation to Africa's oil – with France's blessing and in the clear interests of the 'Françafrique' – is worrying. Following Ali Ben Bongo's victory, Pambazuka News presents a review of the responses of the African press.

After Omar Bongo, Ali Ben Bongo. After the father, the son. Forty years of a paternal presidency – which only death would bring to an end last June – and a dynasty in power continues. The Gabonese presidential elections of 30 August leave a bitter aftertaste around the prospects for democracy in Africa.

The 41.73 per cent which allowed Ali Bongo to succeed his father scarcely reflect the perverse symbol of his comfortable victory. It's clear that as a silent epidemic develops, a new, nascent illness starts to threaten the democratic process in Africa. For a long time, power has been a matter of clan or tribe. The changes – desired and forced – witnessed by the continent's people via the ballot box came to change things at the beginning of the 1990s. Today however, in a supreme historical irony, the devolution of power is returning to its 'origins' and turning in on a yet more nuclear unit: the family.

The African press this week regarded the results of the Gabonese elections as the success of developments played out both in the open and behind the scenes; a story whose end was clear from the beginning and which did not lack for precedents, and whose reoccurrence is to be feared. This is the take of the Senegalese daily, Sud Quotidien. In an article entitled 'Dévolution du pouvoir en Afrique: les héritiers présomptifs arrivent' ('The devolution of power in Africa: the heir presumptives arrive'), Madior Fall writes:

'Following the era of the fathers of the nation, that of coups, national conferences, multipartyism, here comes the hour of the heir presumptives! The son of Kabila in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Faure Gnassingbé in Togo yesterday, Ali Bongo Odimba in Gabon today. Tomorrow, who will be the next king's son to take the place of his father? After the speech of La Baule and the national conferences it gave rise to, multipartyism and democratic changes, the dynasty is on the rise in Africa. It's the coming of the bosses' sons.'

Thus from now on every look will be towards the court of these bosses to see who among their children will become the 'men of tomorrow'. Sud Quotidien evokes a circle where one would find the pictures of Mohamed Gaddafi, Hannibal Gaddafi and/or Seif el Islam Gaddafi in Libya, as well as Gamal, the son of the Egyptian President Hosni Moubarak, along with Karim, the eldest son of Abdoulaye Wade in Senegal – all involved, at an important level, in the running of their fathers' countries and well-positioned to succeed them.

This picture also belies, in France's African backyard, a sure formula to guarantee the future of the Françafrique. In Gabon, behind the screen of neutrality displayed by Paris, the contradictions and the faults of language have been numerous and significant enough to forge certain convictions. The fact that the Gabonese attacked French interests en masse as soon as the announcement of the official results came out reflects that their view is clear. Analysing this 'anti-French' sentiment, Noël Kodia, the Gabonese literary critic and writer, writes in

'For the Gabonese, of whom 70 per cent live on less than one dollar per day in a country that paradoxically is rich, France appeared complicit in the anti-social and anti-economic policies perpetuated under Bongo Sr. and to want to carry on in the same vein with his son authorising the numerous French multinational monopolies working away from scrutiny…

'In welcoming the progress of the vote in Gabon a few days after 30 August 2009 and in declaring its confidence in Gabonese institutions' ability to oversee a calm process, did France not look towards Ali Bongo? Had Bongo himself not last December been received at the Elysée by President Sarkozy? … In declaring that France did not favour a candidate in Gabon because the country itself is sovereign, was Bernard Kouchner (the minister of foreign affairs) not contradicting the words of Alain Joyandet (the secretary of state for cooperation), who confirmed that his country was simply waiting for Ali Bongo to be confirmed by the constitutional court as Gabon's new president?'

Thus Sarkozy's words at the time of Omar Bongo's funeral in Libreville on 16 June 2009 to the effect that France wished for no particular candidate are entirely unconvincing, particularly in a country where the deceased president was regarded as the godfather of the 'Françafrican mafia'. This is a country where, with a population of 1.2 million, one can count 10,000 French nationals, a country where France has one of its most important military bases, and finally a country where Total is the king of oil, where Eramet invests in manganese and where Areva controls uranium.

All this leads L’Intelligent d’Abidjan to think that 'France indeed had an influence, as elsewhere in francophone Africa, in the election results in Gabon, because quite simply France needs Ali Ben Bongo as a dynamic tool to assure it own interests.'

Long groomed by his father while defence minister, Gabon's fourth president has been risen to power under particular conditions that could mark his exercise of power. His 41.73 per cent indeed won him an electoral victory, but he lacks legitimacy, with a combined 51 per cent of the vote having been achieved by the other leading candidates of Pierre Mamboundou (25.88 per cent) and André Mba Obame (25.23 per cent).

This majority led Dieudonné Zougrana to write in Burkina Faso's L’Observateur: 'The opposition won the presidential race, but lost the presidency.' For Zougrana, 'The two elected new challengers together constitute a majority. They would have been able to balance the votes of the victor if they had been together as a union with this type of ballot (a single round) – "It's a coup Ko." … Obssessed by an "anti-Bongoism", the "Manboundou–Mba Obame" duo and the 'TSA' (Tout sauf Ali (Anything but Ali)) camp did not anticipate the danger represented by a ballot where Ali Bongo was the runaway favourite, with the name, the electoral machinery and all the money.'

The Bongo dynasty goes on, but the context has changed. The exercise of power cannot continue on its own. In the Kinshasa daily Le Potentiel, Bienvenu Marie Bakumanya notes that 'Gabon has entered a period of uncertainty.' This is due in part to the fact that 'the Bateke (Bongo's ethnic group) are not the majority group in Gabon' and because the clan could suffer from the fragility resulting from the post-election contests and political conflict sure to emerge. From there on, Bienvenu Marie Bakumanya continues, 'the solution lies in forming a government which involves even the losers.' Ali Bongo has launched an appeal to this effect, albeit around his own programme. 'But flexibility in Gabon's interests should not be ruled out', Bakumanya notes.

* Tidiane Kassé is the editor of Pambazuka News in French.
* Translated from the French by Alex Free.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.