Violence in Gabon: No end in sight

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Gabonese are refusing to accept the Bongo dynasty without a fight as vandalism and civil break down continue to destabilize the country in the wake of election results that many describe as nepotism. Gabonese Interior minister has warned that a state of siege will be declared in the city of Port Gentil, if unrest continues. Meanwhile, the opposition is getting ready to officially reject the contested election results.

Civility broke down in Port-Gentil, Gabon’s second-largest city and an opposition stronghold after the disputed poll victory of Ali Ben Bongo, son of the late former President Omar Bongo. Protesters have set up barricades on main roads, set houses on fire and destroyed government property. There has been widespread looting despite a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

“The president and the prime minister do not want to put Port-Gentil under a state of siege, but if peace, order and harmony are not restored, we are going to solicit authorization to do so from parliament. There would be a ban on movement without special authorization. Do not turn Port-Gentil into a battlefield,” Jean-Francois Ndongou, interior minister is quoted as saying.

Hundreds flee

According to government sources, at least three people have so far been been killed since the Port Gentil riots began. Saturday, Thierry Mombo, an 18 year old man, was was killed when the police returned fire on armed protestors. Several people have fled the rioting city, hundreds by canoe.

Armed Port Gentil rioters also attacked a police station on Friday and freed more prisoners. The protesters extended their rage to French establishments in the city because of perceived Bongo support by the French. Some facilities belonging to Total – the main oil company in Port-Gentil was set on fire, as well as the French consulate. Total has since evacuated its staff from the city. Meanwhile, commercial airlines have suspended their flights to Port Gentil.

Port-Gentil, is well known for its anti-Bongo sentiments; the late former president Omar Bongo barely ever visited Port Gentil and if he did, he made sure he slept in an undisclosed location for fear of being murdered in the night, reports claim. The raging city has been on edge since Sunday’s election. Most of the crowd has been dispersed with tear-gas and observers are warning of more violence.

A private radio station in the oil-rich city was closed on Friday for spreading “hatred and tribalism”. According to reliable sources, the Gabonese government would a consider legal action against opposition leaders and activists who are behind the acts of vandalism perpetrated in Libreville and Port Gentil since the announcement of the August 30 presidential election results. Ali Bongo emerged winner with 41.73 votes.

Official rejection of polls

Meanwhile, the opposition is set to hold a press conference Monday, to officially reject the presidential election results. Talking to the VOA, Desire Ename, publisher of Echos Du Nord, an independent newspaper said “we are waiting for the declaration of the coalition of the candidate from the opposition (…) They will first of all reject the validity of that election because on Saturday, they had already said something’s in that way. And they said that all the results that have been published were fake results, and I think that this morning they will just confirm that position.”

Gabon is sub-Saharan Africa’s fourth biggest oil producer, Africa’s second biggest wood exporter, and a country rich in manganese, and uranium; but most of its 1.4 million people continue to live in poverty. The election, many believe, consolidates the growing trend of electoral democracies in Africa, whereby politicians manipulate the ballot box to justify their hold on power irrespective of public opinion or constitutional provisions. This is done to avoid being tagged as dictators. The African Union (AU) indicated that some “irregularities” and “shortcomings” had occured during the electoral exercise.

Ali Bongo, meanwhile, is duty-bound to assure Gabonese especially those in Port-Gentil that he will lead a government for the good of people of Gabon, as well as diversify the country away from oil, since oil-revenues have began to decrease, and manage regional tensions that persist over three small islands in oil-rich off-shore waters claimed by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

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