Gabon: Conflict remains after the football has left | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 07.02.2017
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Gabon: Conflict remains after the football has left

The 2017 Africa Cup of Nations is over, Cameroon are the champions. But what is left for the politically divided and financially stricken country of Gabon? DW's Adrian Kriesch reports from Libreville.

The African Cup of Nations was a great time in Madame Bioguy's life, though less in a sporting sense than an economic one. Shortly before kick off in the final, just as she had with all the other games in Libreville, she stood by her small food stand selling her baguettes and snacks.

"It's super. During the Africa Cup, I can earn a bit for myself and my family," she said with a smile. "And it's fun too."

She earned up to 100,000 CFA Francs - around 150 euros. Half of that is pure profit, and it's a lot of money in Gabon.

A few kilometers away, 50 women and men have their fists in the air and are singing Gabon's national anthem loudly. Applause and a collective prayer follows. There is no game here - just a trade union meeting on a decayed basketball court. Suddenly another picture of the tournament comes in to sharp focus. "The government has decided to invest in entertainment," said Jean Remy Yama, president of the trade union federation Dynamique Unitaire. "Sectors like health and education have been neglected."

Gabun Librevile (DW/A. Kriesch)

Trade union leader Jean Remy Yama

Pay cuts loom for civil servants

The sporting event is already burning through the country's money. Gabon's oil-dependent economy is in crisis after the price of raw materials fell. The government wants to diversify society, but has hardly anything to show for it.

Instead, the 2017 budget has been reduced by five percent on last year. The government owes oil companies around 400 million dollars in tax returns. There are proposals to reduce the income of civil servants - something the trade unions in Libreville are pushing for strongly. The two parties are stubborn. For months, civil servants working in the health or education sectors have been waiting for bonuses. After a demonstration last year, Yama was arrested for three months - without charge, he claims. The trade union is seen as close to the opposition. And they are at war with the government.

Gabun Librevile (DW/A. Kriesch)

The trade unions called for a boycott of the tournament (point three)

Despite protest: A reissue of the Bongo dynasty.

Rewind to August 2016 and Gabon's elections. The acting president Ali Bongo won with a 6,000 vote advantage under mysterious circumstances. In his home region of Haut-Ogooue, 99,93 percent of people submitted their votes - notably more than in the rest of the country, where the turnout was around 59 percent. International election watchdogs called for polling station results to be revealed. The governement declined. Libreville rioted. Demonstrators sent fire to the parliament, government troops shot at the headquarters of the opposition. Even today, it's unknown how many people lost their lives in those two days. The opposition spoke of more than 100, the governement of less than 10.

Bongo's opponent Jean Ping still sees himself as the rightful winner of the election. "I won the election with 60 percent of the votes -and they cheated me. They manipulated the results, as always," he said in an interview with DW. But the Bongo family has had a firm grip on the country thanks to a decade-long patronage. Ali Bongo has been in power since 2009, and took over from his father Omar, who was in charge for 42 years. 

Gabun Librevile Oppositionsführer Jean Ping (DW/A. Kriesch)

Jean Ping, Ali Bongo's biggest challenger, doubts the nature of his defeat in the 2016 elections

Jean Ping has a close relationship to the presidential family. The former head of the commission for the African Union had a number of ministerial positions under Omar Bongo and is married to one of his daughters. The trade union members and their boss Yama still believe he is trustworthy: "President Ping has testified to the people that he is ready to fight. And the people are ready and await instruction." But the more time drags on, the less the people of Gabon believe in change. France and the EU have grown quiet after initially voicing their criticism. Real sanctions haven't followed. Ping and his followers can expect very little, if any, help from them in the future.

A medal for Bongo

The African Football Association (CAF) are, as ever, impressed with the organisation of the host country. They even hung a medal around the neck of Preident Bongo for his good work. But what about the half-empty stadiums during the tournament? Are they linked to the boycott calls of the opposition? "Football fans have nothing to do with the opposition or politics," CAF General Secretary Hicham al-Amrani told DW.

Gabun Librevile Hicham al-Amrani (DW/A. Kriesch)

CAF General Secretary Hicham al-Amrani

The unity the government hoped the tournament would be bring has failed. The two parties are stubborn. So what is the legacy of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations? No one was willing to answer the question in the government, despite repeated interview requests.

There were answers elsewhere. "Two new, fancy stadiums in the middle of the jungle," joked one trade union worker in Libreville.

There's also a full purse for Madame Bioguy, who packed her stuff together after the final. On Monday she returns to work as a chef in a restaurant. Nothing has changed.

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