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Gabon: Presidential Candidate Uses Social Media in Historic Election

Bruno Ben Moubamba, presidential candidate in Gabon, uses new media to spread his message.

Bruno Ben Moubamba, presidential candidate in Gabon, uses new media to spread his message.

As Gabon prepares for its first election since the death of Omar Bongo, one candidate is trying to make history with the aid of social media.  Bruno Ben Moubamba, journalist and director of the Edith Stein Institute in France, has returned to Gabon to run as an independent candidate.  His rivals who include the current prime minister, Jean Eyeghe Ndong, and Bongo's own son.  Moubamba is trying to level the playing field.

Taking a page from Obama's playbook, his campaign is using the internet to mobilize a network of activists and supporters within Gabon and throughout the Diaspora.  The Ben Moubamba campaign not only has a blog, but has made extensive use of other social media platforms, including Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, YouTube, and hi5.  Of course, it is unclear how many Gabonese can be reach through these platforms; only an estimated ten percent of citizens have internet access, whether privately or via public cafes.

Before his death on June 8th at the age of 73, Bongo was Africa's longest-serving ruler, having spent 41 years in power.  With Bongo's son as the ruling party's official candidate, Gabon's lack of a democratic tradition, and with the August 30th election fast approaching, Moubamba faces an uphill battle.

Born in 1967, the year that Bongo came to power, Moubamba represents a younger generation of African leaders.  On his blog, Moubamba has harsh criticism for the powers that be, whom he has referred to as “specialists in repression,” and calls for intergenerational dialogue:

Je suis en ce moment en train de recomposer mon équipe pour passer de la pré-campagne à la campagne. Je travaille avec une centaine de volontaires. Je m’aperçois que les autorités de ce pays sont massivement rejetées par la population. Les participants des meetings des candidats gouvernementaux reçoivent entre 75 et 200 euros pour leur participation! On est en train d’acheter les Gabonais avec leur propre argent!

At this moment, I am reorganizing my team to transition from the pre-campaign to the campaign.  I am working with 100 volunteers.  I have found that the authorities of this country are massively rejected by the people.  Those who participate in the meeting of the government's candidates receive between 75 and 200 euros for their participation!  They are buying the Gabonese people with their own money!

Or, voilà plusieurs semaines que le Parti démocratique gabonais actuellement au pouvoir tergiverse sur la désignation de son candidat aux futures élections présidentielles. Les tensions semblent fortes. M. Eyéghé Ndong, l’actuel Premier ministre, a par exemple déclaré ses dernières heures qu’il se plierait à un rejet de sa candidature, si cela s’effectuait dans des conditions démocratiques.

Yet it has been several weeks that the Gabonese Democratic Party, currently in power, has been putting off the designation of its candidate for the upcoming presidential elections.  The tensions seem high.  Mr. Eyéghé Ndong, the current prime minister, for example, declared a few hours ago that he would submit to a rejection of his candidacy if it happened under democratic conditions.

Je me demande si ces tergiversations n’illustrent pas une querelle générationnelle naissante entre les quarantenaires et les soixantenaires, habitués du pouvoir.

J’ose espérer que la génération de nos aînés ne va pas opter pour la continuité sans transformation sous prétexte de défendre ses intérêts. Car il semble en fait que leurs intérêts, comme ceux de tous les Gabonais, se situent dans le changement et dans le dialogue intergénérationnel !

I wonder if these delays don't signal a fight between the generations born in the forties and the sixties, used to being in power. I dare to hope that the generation of our ancestors will not opt for continuity without transformation under the pretext of defending its interests. Because it seems in truth that their interests, like those of all the Gabonese, lay in change and intergenerational dialogue!

Bongo's son was eventually declared the official candidate, and Eyéghé Ndong, in protest, declared himself an independent candidate.  Patrick Ageron, a supporter of Ben Moubamba, writes on the Facebook page of Bongo, Jr's nomination:

Une nouvelle preuve encore que le système de la royauté (où le fils devient le successeur du père) toujours en vigueur dans nos contrées a bien été exporté sur le continent Africain.

C'est particulièrement dommage.
Quand cela cessera-t-il?
More proof that the system of royalty (or of the son becoming the successor of the father) is still strong in our parts has spread all over the African continent.

It's really a shame.
When will this stop?

Lucien Ntole offers words of encouragement:

Bruno, vous êtes enfin sur la ligne de départ! Je vous souhaite bonne chance pour la suite de cette belle aventure. Pour beaucoup d'entre nous vous incarnez le rêve d'un nouveau Gabon, bâti sur la justice et le droit; un pays où ” les gens de peu” relèvent enfin la tête. Du courage et bon vent!

Bruno, you are at last at the starting line!  I wish you good luck with the rest of this beautiful adventure.  For many of us, you embody the dream of a new Gabon, built on justice and law; a country where the havenots rise at last to the top.  Courage and may the wind be at your back!
  • Dan Merry

    From my Gabonese experience I learnt that Politics is in this country more about financial hunger than the popular’s one. It is a shame! Unlike many sub Saharan countries Gabon has enjoyed for many years comfortable revenues mainly from Oil and others commodities but failed to create a decent standard of living for the many (1 million inhabitants often inflated to get some line of credits from the IMF).

    Our recent history offered two clues about elections:

    1 – You need some money but I mean a serious amount, if you want to stand a chance at least. So if you don’t have the appropriate purse you need to get in touch with private corporations (needless to explain the consequences)…

    2 – Gabonese people do not like strangers. I do not want to be mean but the guy does not stand a chance this time may be in seven years (yes that is the presidential term).

    An election in Gabon has nothing to do with its equivalent in the western world. There we are talking about daily extravaganzas where people get money (food), champagne and so on.

    People are unquestionably fed up but at the same time they are indoctrinated by the dodgy ethno geopolitics the late president engineered.

    Ali Bongo belongs to an ethnic group accounting for about 5% of the population and is notoriously unpopular, but he has the magic trick: unlike the others candidates he decided to keep his position in the government as Minister of Defence.

    I think the burning issue is to know whether the opposition will manage to make Ali Bongo steps down on the grounds of obvious conflicting interests.

    I hope Mister Moubamba is not one of those political bling-bling seekers, anyway I trust the Gabonese people they are pretty experienced now.

    This country is a preserve and I can hardly imagine how the imperialist corporations will not make a coup. The opposition needs to outsmart them.

    A French statesman captured the essence of this reality by saying “Les états n’ont pas de sentiments, ils n’ont que des intérêts”.

    Growing evidences are collected in the country of the upcoming electoral scam.

    I am myself a Gabonese French now living in the UK brought up in a family of activists and I am yearning for change. Let’s be pragmatic we won’t have the “Grand soir” but Gabon will never be the same and this perspective invites us to focus on the future.

    I found this blog very refreshing by the way thank you for the opportunity and the dedication.

    Dan

  • gildas

    I totally agree with the previous comments. Politics in Africa is not cheap!! Ben Moubamba has shown a lot of courage when he decided to send a letter to the late President Omar Bongo, questionning his running of the ressources of Gabon. However, the candidat is more popular abroad than in Libreville.
    Also he suffers from being very new on the gabonese politic scene and I doubt he benefits from the support of a western power. Gabon is a strategic country in Africa on many grounds, and to be able to visit all nine regions, one’s needs to have very deep pockets!!!

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