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Gabon: Opposition Leader Takes Oath as New President

This post is part of our special coverage on Gabon Unrest 2011

The double presidential power struggle in Côte d'Ivoire seems to have inspired Gabon's political opposition as well.

This afternoon on January 26, 2011, former candidate for the Gabonese presidential election Bruno Ben Moubamba announced on his blog that André Mba Obame, another candidate who is regarded by many as the probable winner of the 2009 election, has taken oath as president and formed his own government [fr].

André Mba Obame swears himself in as 'President' of Gabon. Image by Jean-Pierre Rougou.

André Mba Obame swears himself in as 'President' of Gabon. Image by Jean-Pierre Rougou.

Opposition 'President' André Mba Obame (center right), his 'Prime Minister' Raphaël Bandega-Lendoye and Gabon's 'unofficial' government. Image by Jean-Pierre Rougou.

Opposition 'President' André Mba Obame (center right), his 'Prime Minister' Raphaël Bandega-Lendoye and Gabon's 'unofficial' government. Image by Jean-Pierre Rougou.

The news of Mba Obame's self-appointment was heavily commented upon on Ben Moubamba's page on social networking website Facebook, which more than 1,000 people have subscribed to ‘like'. On the page, Daniel Engo writes:

Il ne faut pas diviser notre Gabon comme la Côte d'Ivoire

Let us not divide our Gabon like Côte d'Ivoire

Philippe Ludovic Tassy thinks the opposite:

Felicitations M. LE MINISTRE DES AFFAIRES ETRANGERES. Nous voulons la fin de cette françafrique et la dissolution de cette monnaie de singe qu'est le FCFA

Congratulations Mr. Minister of Foreign Affairs. We want the end of Françafrique and the dissolution of this monkey currency that is called the CFA Franc [Central African Franc]

In the same afternoon, Mba Obame and his supporters marched towards the United Nations (UN) building in Gabonese capital Libreville to demand official recognition of the country's new ‘president'.

André Mba Obame and his supporters marching in Gabonese capital Libreville. Image by Jean-Pierre Rougou.

André Mba Obame and his supporters marching in Gabonese capital Libreville. Image by Jean-Pierre Rougou.

Ben Moubamba currently resides in France and has been appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation for the new ‘unofficial’ government. He is a former journalist and a prolific user of social media. He has more than 650 followers on his Twitter feed, although he is said to be at odds with the instant update service after claiming his account has been hacked.

He is currently being sued by the Agence France Presse (AFP) for libel [fr].

Ben Moubamba was contacted by the author of this article via Facebook and he agreed to give his first interview as ‘unofficial' Minister of Foreign Affairs. Here is the conversation:

Julie Owono: The results of the presidential election in Gabon were published in August 2009, and already at that time, voices were protesting against irregularities. Why has Mr Mba Obame only taken his oath as Gabonese President today?

Bruno Ben Moubamba: Like President André Mba Obame said whilst taking his oath, the Gabonese society has been in crisis since the anticipated presidential election of 2009. When his father [former long-standing President Omar Bongo] died, Ali Bongo [current official Gabonese President], who was at that time the Minister of Defense, set up the conditions for an electoral coup. The death of President Omar Bongo was an opportunity for Gabon to start from scratch after more than 40 years of an autocratic, unproductive regime. Gabonese people mobilised to manifest their will for change. Ali Bongo stopped the counting of the papers vote by the Electoral National Permanent Comity (CENAP) and had the Minister of Interior proclaim fake results. Those results were then confirmed by judges of the Constitutional Court whose mandates had been expired for three years! President Mba Obame, our party the National Union and the Gabonese people, found ourselves in a situation in which staying silent became unacceptable.

Why today? Because as seen with the elections in Haiti and Côte d'Ivoire, the international community seems to say that it will not accept self-proclaimed election winners anymore.

JO: On December 28, 2010, the Gabonese parliament adopted a constitutional modification. What are the concrete political consequences of this modification?

BBM: Considering the state of crisis of the political authority's legitimity, the confiscation of power for more than 40 years, and regarding the current political tension in Gabon, the constitutional reform should have been a great moment for affirmation and protection of political and civic liberties for the Gabonese people. Much to the distress of the Gabonese people and the international community, this reform leads to the instauration of a de facto presidential monarchy: the Parliament has been depossessed of its core prerogatives to the benefit of the ruling power.

JO: Will you ask for international recognition of André Mba Obame's Presidency?

BBM: Yes… soon steps will be taken to this effect. I will soon make propositions to the Council of Ministers for the international recognition of the legitimate President and Government of Gabon.

JO: Do you think you can have support and recognition from other countries or international organisations?

BBM: The international community has now a new look on credibility of elections. We have recently seen this in Côte d'Ivoire and in Haïti; the international community now subordinates its recognition to a democratic imperative. It thus can't have double standards. It has to be consistant if it wants to be taken seriousely by dictators of the world. We have no doubt concerning our international recognition.

JO: Official President Ali Bongo could be sued by the French Justice in the ‘ill-gotten gains affair': you published on your blog the report of the American senate on the misappropriations and embezzlement. Do you ask the freezing of Bongo's assets, like it is now the case for President Gbagbo and his close aides in Côte d'Ivoire?

BBM: Politically the Congress or the White House have to follow up on the Senate report on corruption which accused Ali Bongo over 70 pages. It seems to me that American authorities have all the information to act for protection of their interests and those of the Gabonese people. We will follow up on this issue and we assume that American authorities will make political decisions in accordance with the conclusions of the report.

JO: Talking about Côte d'Ivoire, what conclusions do you draw for Gabon on the position taken by the international community after the presidential ballot of November 2010 ?

BBM: I draw no conclusions. If there is a similarity, it consists of the implication of the international community in the Côte d'Ivorian electoral process as a referee for democracy, who scrupulously makes sure no one changes the rules to their own profit. The Ivorian precedent, if the latter leads to the winner recovering his rights gained through the ballot boxes, should reinforce democracy in Africa. But this will not be obvious. It will need commitment and determination of African democrats to seed the Ivorian Case Law.

JO: Thank you Mr Ben Moubamba.

BBM: Thank you.

This post is part of our special coverage on Gabon Unrest 2011

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