Electoral violence returns to haunt Gabon | Africa | DW | 01.09.2016
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Africa

Electoral violence returns to haunt Gabon

Violence erupted in Gabon for a second day after President Ali Bongo was declared winner of last week's election. Analysts say the international community should have foreseen the present political impasse.

In the Gabonese capital Libreville, the parliament building was engulfed in flames, the opposition's headquarters raided by the police and street on upon street was wrecked by violence and looting. At least two people were killed and many were injured after thousands took to the streets in protest on Wednesday following the announcement that President Ali Bongo had been reelected.

On Thursday, there were further reports of three deaths and 1,100 arrests as the violence continued.

The Electoral Commission took its time counting the votes. The process lasted four days even though the number of registered voters was fewer than 600,000. The opposition accused Bongo of electoral fraud even before the results were announced. Official results show that Bongo's lead over his rival Jean Ping was less than 6,000 votes. European Union (EU) observers have cast doubt on the transparency of the poll and are calling on the government to publish detailed figures for every polling station.

Gabun Libreville Ausschreitungen nach Wahlen

Riots raged in at least nine Libreville neighborhoods on Thursday morning

Dramatic scenes

"We are seeing a repeat of what happened in 2009," Kamissa Camara, an expert on Gabon, told DW. This was the poll in which Bongo came to power following the death of his father, Omar Bongo, an autocrat who had ruled the country for 41 years. There were deadly clashes between opponents of the government and the police in Gabon in 2009. "Ideally Ali Bongo and Jean Ping should now be working together," Camara suggested as a possible way out of the crisis, but that seems unlikely.

There were dramatic scenes in Libreville in the early hours of Thursday morning. One of Ping's associates, Jude Bertrand Mecam told a DW reporter in real time how the police were surrounding the opposition headquarters. "They are making their way up the building floor by floor, they'll be here any moment to arrest us. They are now breaking down the doors," he said.

Failure to plan

The close result shows that Gabon is yearning for a new beginning, Camara said. "It is not as if Jean Ping was particularly popular in Gabon." As a longtime foreign minister, he was for many years a member of Omar Bongo's regime. Ali Bongo's sister is also the mother of his two children. "He is benefiting from the fact that the Bongo family dynasty is not as strong as it was ten or twenty years ago," Camara said.

Bildkombo Ali Bongo und Jean Ping Gabon

Official results show that President Ali Bongo (left) beat Jean Ping by a tiny margin

Gabonese political scientist Jean-Delors Biyogue was not surprised by Wednesday evening's clashes. He believes the responsibility for the escalation in the violence lies with the international community. "Everybody knew that it would come to this impasse, but nobody saw fit to create a robust mechanism for mediation," Biyogue told DW last night while army helicopters were circling above the capital.

France condemns the violence

Attention is now shifting to France which could help solve the crisis. The former colonial power has a military base in Gabon. Many French nationals reside in the country. "France is very worried by the situation in Gabon," said Roland Marchal from the Center for International Studies and Research in Paris. "The French government would have preferred to have seen free and fair elections."

In 2009, the Gabonese opposition accused France of having helped Ali Bongo come to power, as his father had close ties to high-ranking French political figures. But this time political loyalties appear to be aligning themselves in a different direction. At the beginning of the week, the Socialist Party of President Francois Hollande said that a change of government would be a positive sign for Gabonese democracy.

Marchal warned against attaching too much significance to such remarks. He believes France will refrain from intervening in the crisis."The French Socialist Party is not the same as the French state," he said. And when all is said and done, it is the people of Gabon who are the decision-makers.



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