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Voice of America on Gabon

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  • bobutne
    Gabon Faces Challenge to Reform By Jeffrey Young Washington, D.C. 07 July 2006 The West African coastal state of Gabon has had only one president for nearly 40
    Message 1 of 16 , Jul 9, 2006
      Gabon Faces Challenge to Reform
      By Jeffrey Young
      Washington, D.C.
      07 July 2006

      The West African coastal state of Gabon has had only one president
      for nearly 40 years. Omar Bongo Ondimba, Africa's longest serving
      head of state, has presided during decades of oil-based prosperity
      that may not be sustainable.

      Libreville, Gabon. The shops in the capital of the Gabonese
      Republic, Libreville, are filled with expensive goods from Europe and
      Asia. Government ministry buildings are plush and built on a grand
      scale. The administration of Gabon's President, El Hadj Omar Bongo
      Ondimba is stable, with key posts filled with his family members.
      Per capita income last year was estimated at $6,800, in large part
      because the country's population is only some 1.4 million people. On
      the surface, Gabon appears to be a success story. But beneath that
      veneer are problems with fair governance and the country's economic
      future.

      The Bongo Strategy. Omar Bongo was elevated from the post of vice-
      president in 1967 when Gabon's first President, Leon M'Ba died
      suddenly. Former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria Princeton Lyman, who is
      now with the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, says that
      along with the presidency, Mr. Bongo inherited M'Ba's taste for
      autocratic rule. "He's part of an earlier generation of African
      leaders who are virtually 'presidents for life.' You've got a very,
      very dominant government [political] party, and an opposition that
      haven't really got their feet on the ground and been able to operate
      very effectively. So all the decisions are really made by the
      president. There isn't a lively [i.e., independent] parliament," says
      Lyman.

      The existence of a political opposition in Gabon is a relatively
      recent phenomenon. In 1968, Omar Bongo declared Gabon to be a one-
      party state, controlled by his Gabonese Democratic Party, the P.D.G.
      In the early 1990s, President Bongo reverted back to a multi-party
      political system.

      But Mark Rosenberg at the Freedom House human rights monitoring group
      in New York says the resumption of multiple parties in Gabon was
      actually a cynical ploy by Omar Bongo to maintain control of the
      state. "There's certainly an element of 'divide and conquer' here.
      You have 35 registered political parties in Gabon. 29 of them belong
      to an alliance with Bongo's P.D.G. The P.D.G. has been in power
      since independence [from France in 1960]. That's an overwhelming
      political dominance," says Rosenberg. "Even if these parties in the
      alliance decide to buck [i.e., oppose] Bongo or his party, they
      wouldn't have much space to do so."

      This can be seen in the country's last three presidential elections,
      in which Mr. Bongo's vote totals have gone from 51 percent in 1993 to
      72 percent last year. Meanwhile, the P.D.G. - controlled parliament
      has abolished presidential term limits, removing an obstacle for Mr.
      Bongo's continued rule.

      Within the government, Omar Bongo has prevented challenges to his
      rule by putting his family members or others very close to him in key
      positions such as Minister of Defense. That post is held by his son,
      Ali, who many analysts expect to claim the presidency when his father
      dies or leaves office, despite a constitution that does not place him
      directly in the line of succession.

      Jennifer Cooke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies
      in Washington says along with avoiding strife within the government,
      Gabon has largely been spared the inter-ethnic and class-related
      problems that affect other African states. "Bongo himself is from a
      minority group, which may take away some of that [inter-ethnic]
      friction. Another point is that given the wealth of the country and
      the fairly high per capita income, everybody is doing well enough
      that it doesn't really come down to the hard core divisions [i.e.,
      between 'haves' and 'have-nots.']," says Cooke.

      Gabon's high level of government spending during Mr. Bongo's rule has
      been maintained even during times like the 1990s, when oil prices
      plunged, by borrowing massive amounts of money from international
      lenders. As a result, the country's public debt level is now nearly
      30 percent of its gross domestic product.

      Gabon has enjoyed oil-based prosperity since the late 1960s. But
      Keith Myers, with the Royal Institute for International Affairs in
      London, says that economic underpinning won't last
      forever. "Gabon's 'Achilles heel' is that oil production peaked a few
      years ago and is [now] on a steadily declining track. And so has
      G.D.P. As a result, poverty is starting to get worse, and the
      government badly needs to implement a diversification policy to wean
      itself away from oil dependence," says Myers.

      Gabon's oil production last year was about 268,000 barrels per day,
      down by a third from its peak in the mid-1990s. Many industry
      experts say its reserves could be depleted in less than a decade.

      C.S.I.S. analyst Jennifer Cooke says that, so far, Gabon's president
      and his government have not adequately prepared for a future without
      oil. "Bongo is not looking toward 2015, when the country is going to
      really have to deal with declining oil revenue," says Cooke. "Yes,
      tourism is one thing [i.e., a way to replace oil revenues]. The
      logging industry and the timber industry - - there's likely to be a
      great deal more demand there down the line. And Gabon is rich in
      precious timbers. But there hasn't really to date been the
      investment in other sectors that are going to diversify the economy
      and carry the country through [this transition from an oil-based
      economy]."

      Omar Bongo Ondimba is more than 70 years old and many observers
      predict that he may not live to the end of his current term in 2012.
      But so long as he remains in power, they say that the status quo in
      Gabon will continue and that solving the country's problems may be a
      task faced by his successor.

      http://www.voanews.com/english/NewsAnalysis/Gabon2006-07-07-voa54.cfm
    • bobutne
      I ve never understood what this force is doing. Are the elections taking place in Gabon? Christophe Mboso, one of Congo s 32 presidential candidates, said
      Message 2 of 16 , Jul 26, 2006
        "I've never understood what this force is doing. Are the elections
        taking place in Gabon?" Christophe Mboso, one of Congo's 32
        presidential candidates, said sarcastically during a televised debate
        last week.

        Full article: http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L25562447.htm
      • gouaf
        I heard one theory that says that the force is there in fact to provide backup and logistical support for Ivorian rebels, who will be launching a major attempt
        Message 3 of 16 , Jul 27, 2006
          I heard one theory that says that the force is there in fact to
          provide backup and logistical support for Ivorian rebels, who will be
          launching a major attempt to overthrow President Gbagbo sometime soon.

          In a nutshell:

          1. ONUCI (UN force in Cote d'Ivoire) complains about allegations of
          violence and gross human rights violations by the Gbagbo government;

          2. The UN responds by a resolution condemning the government and
          severely restricting its ability to engage in hostilities;

          3. The Forces Nouvelles (rebels) launch a major attack on Abidjan,
          aided in this by the EU force.

          4. They will seize the palace, as it seems they will be waiting for
          President Gbagbo to travel to New York for the UN summit in September.

          That's what I heard.

          *Francois

          --- In gabondiscussion@yahoogroups.com, "bobutne" <bobutne@...> wrote:
          >
          > "I've never understood what this force is doing. Are the elections
          > taking place in Gabon?" Christophe Mboso, one of Congo's 32
          > presidential candidates, said sarcastically during a televised debate
          > last week.
          >
          > Full article: http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L25562447.htm
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