On January 25, as Egypt began the first day of its revolution, Andre Mba Obame declared himself president of Gabon and set up his own government, stating “We have information that Obame got 42% and Ali Bongo 37%, and that the results were practically inverted.”. The incumbent president, Ali Ben Bongo, the late president’s son, came to power after a widely criticized election in August 30, 2009 which was followed by days of riots. Gabon was further inflamed in December when the parliament adopted a constitutional amendment allowing the president to extend his mandate in the case of an emergency. Opposition leader Zacharie Myboto at that time objected that “This leaves the door open to dictatorship.”
On December 28, Wikileaks released a July 2009 US US state cable which showed senior Gabonese officials in the Bank of Central African States (BEAC) accused of embezzling more than 18.3 billion CFA (about US$36 million) from the pooled reserves of the six states of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) over the past five years. “According to the Embassy source, senior Gabonese political`leadership, including the late President Omar Bongo and his son, Defense Minister and presidential hopeful, Ali Bongo benefited from the embezzlement. The source said Gabonese officials used the proceeds for their own enrichment and, at Bongo’s direction, funneled funds to French political parties, including in support of French President Nicholas Sarkozy. Asked who received the funds, the BEAC official responded, “both sides, but mostly the right; especially Chirac and including Sarkozy.” The BEAC official said “Bongo was France’s favorite President in Africa,” and “this is classic France Afrique.” The BEAC official said his own government and others would seek jail time for some of the officials, but that there would be pressure to deal delicately with the new Gabonese Government. Ali Bongo, he said, is close personal friends with BEAC Governor Anzembe.”
On February 2, IQ4News noted that although some 5,000 opposition supporters took to the street in support of Obame calling for President Odimba to step down, and riot police fired tear gas in the country’s capital, Libreville injuring reportedly twenty people, these protests have gone largely unnoticed by the media because of the focus on Egypt. Julie Owono wrote in GlobalVoices of a demonstration organised at Carrefour Rio in Libreville, on January 29, where more than 2,000 of opposition leader Mba Obame’s supporters went to protest against Ali Bongo’s government and faced public security forces including an attack on the United Nations Program for Development (UNDP) building in Libreville, where Mba Obame and his Government sought asylum. Voice of the Gabonese People reported 2,000 people demonstrated in Bitam, on January 31, 2011 and riots in many districts of Libreville on February 2.
On February 5, Gabon opposition politician Bruno Ben Moubamba announced demonstrations in Paris to denounce the Bongo presidency:
On February 8, Direct Scoop.netdescribed thousands of young people claiming victory for Andre Mba Obame through a peaceful march were violently dispersed by security forces.
Julie Owono reports that “self proclaimed ‘President’ Obame has sought asylum in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) building in Libreville, along with other members of his ‘government’ for two weeks now. National Union, Gabon’s main opposition party, was dissolved on the order of Ali Bongo at the beginning of the political crisis.”
Jean-pierre Rougou, a source reputed to be close to the unofficial ‘government’ wrote on his facebook profile “Tension has gone up a notch here with the UN officials. The Algerian representative was quite embarrassed to tell us that his superiors in NY were wondering if we could willingly depart the premises because they cannot force us to leave. Additionally, they asked that we let go of all our communication devices and only use the fixed line in the only office that we can access.”
Òwono reports, “The unofficial opposition Gabonese government accused the United States’ ambassador in Gabon of keeping a guilty silence on violations by Ali Bongo and his regime against civil liberties.”
Lately, the protests against the election seem to be gaining momentum and are becoming more widespread. La Voice Du People Gabonais documents the latest stories. On February 10 LVDPG reports that students at the University Omar Bongo (UOB) held a protest demanding:
1. Payment of their monthly scholarship which they have not received since July 2010.
2. The return of three teachers removed because they are part of the current “unofficial” government in hiding in the UNDP building.
3. Remedy of overcrowded classrooms.
4. Toilets within the University (currently only available for the minority of residence students).
5. Reverse the action taken by the Government of Ali Bongo on the relocation of UOB.
6. Opening of the university canteen.
Violent clashes later broke out between students and army to prevent them from protesting.
On February 12, LVDPG published a series of articles calling for revolution in Gabon. La Révolution Gabonaise demands the immediate departure of Ali Bongo, the creation of a new republic, and a new constitution with two presidential terms. They are asking for a 100,000 people to protest on February 21. They ask why they should continue to live in misery, “dying like dogs”, when their country is rich. LVDPG received another letter from the Membre du Collectif pour la libération Totale du Gabon demanding the punishment of the people who murdered at least 9 people in Port-Gentil and the freeing of General Jean Philippe Ntoumpa Lebans and accusing the Bongo government of launching, since January 25, 2011 “a true death squad against the worthy son and daughters of the nation of Gabon, who want to live free in a country freed from the dictatorial sham Bongoïste”. This group and several others call for the people of Gabon to follow the examples of Tunisia and Egypt.