Ali Ben Bongo Declared Winner in Vote
- New York Tines LIBREVILLE, Gabon The Bongo family extended its 41-year reign over this resource-rich country Thursday, as the son of Africa's longest-serving ruler was declared the winner of a disputed presidential election.
Ali Bongo greeted supporters in Libreville on Thursday after he was declared the winner of a bitter presidential election in Gabon.
Scattered protests and violence broke out all over this small nation of about 1.3 million, an important oil exporter with close ties to France, its former colonial ruler. Supporters of two losing opposition candidates set fire to the French consulate in Gabon's second-largest city, Port Gentil, put cars and tires to the torch here in the capital, shouting hostile slogans and throwing rocks at French people.
French citizens, around 10,000 in number, were advised by their government to stay indoors. The French oil company Total also endured attacks on its facilities.
Ali Ben Bongo whose father, Omar Bongo, died in June after ruling for 41 years was a heavy favorite because of the wealth his family had accumulated after decades in power. The electoral commission said he won Sunday's vote with 42 percent, ahead of the former interior minister, Andre Mba Obame, who received 26 percent, and Pierre Mamboundou, a longtime opponent of the Bongos, who got 25 percent.
Mr. Bongo's father brought him into government at an early age, and he has served as the country's foreign minister and most recently as defense minister, in control of the army.
Throughout a tense week of waiting here, opposition leaders and many ordinary citizens decried the outcome in advance, saying it was rigged. They pointed to the disproportionate number of citizens on the voting rolls, over 813,000, and Mr. Bongo's outsize spending on the race (his poster is omnipresent here) as evidence that questionable electoral practices of the elder Mr. Bongo's era had continued.
All three men had declared themselves winners after the close of voting Sunday; the two losers said Thursday that they did not accept the results. Still Mr. Bongo's majority was considerably less than the huge margins declared by his father, several times over 50 percent.
In the capital, residents expressed anger at the heavy military presence on the streets, and at what they saw as an extension of the rule of the late Mr. Bongo through his son.
Mr. Bongo became immensely wealthy as many in his country suffered, with social indicators like health and living standards often not much better than far poorer African neighbors a juxtaposition frequently observed by citizens here.
"We are ready to die" said Steve Mboumba, an unemployed man, vowing to oppose Mr. Bongo's victory, near Mr. Mamboundou's opposition headquarters in the capital's impoverished Awendje district. "We are suffering too much."
"This is no more than a military coup d'état," said Patrick Pambo, standing nearby. "They have trampled democracy. These results are false."
"This is an electoral hold-up, a masquerade," said Adelie Mengue.
No scenes of joy or acclamation greeted the announcement of Mr. Bongo's victory in the capital's deserted streets Thursday. Masked, heavily armed troops were visible brandishing weapons from the backs of trucks. In a few places, crowds of visibly angry citizens were gathered, and in one, the mob attacked two men it accused of supporting Mr. Bongo, dousing one with gasoline and ripping off the clothes of another.
Everywhere, residents accused France of installing the younger Mr. Bongo, 50, and for meddling in Gabon's affairs over the years. Successive French governments supported the elder Mr. Bongo, coming to his aid with troops after demonstrations in 1990, and his funeral was attended by the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy. One ex-French president even recently accused another of having been financed by the long-serving ruler. But French officials were at pains throughout the campaign to deny that France had a candidate in the race here.
Earlier Thursday, troops using tear gas and rubber bullets dispersed a large crowd of demonstrators near where the electoral commission met. Mr. Mamboundou, the most populist of the three top vote-getters, was slightly wounded in the confrontation, his supporters said. Shortly afterwards, cars could be seen burning on one of the capital's main highways.
As evening fell, Libreville's empty neighborhoods settled into silence, with none of the bustling and festive street life evident on normal days. Military vehicles went back and forth along the palm-fringed seaside boulevard that is the capital's main artery.
"If this man was elected fairly, would this city be dead like this?" asked Frederick Zomo. "Where are the crowds in joy?"
There is little tradition of organized anti-government hostility here, the episodes in 1990 and 1993 being notable exceptions. People went along with the elder Mr. Bongo's one-man rule, in part because he used the country's wealth to co-opt factional and ethnic leaders.
There was some indication that the custom would continue, with the younger Bongo promising in a giant campaign slogan posted at his seafront headquarters "to redistribute in an equitable manner the national riches."
Yet he will encounter deep skepticism. Mr. Bongo's " death was like a salvation, a relief for the people, said one resident, Anicet Nkolo. "We were hoping for a neutral man, a change."