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Gabon: The Invisible Revolt

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

Protests in Gabon have failed to make a dent in the international news cycle as all eyes are still turned towards the Egyptian crisis. Mohamed Keita of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)  was wondering if “fake news wasn't drawing real censorship” in Gabon, as he discussed  the closing of the first private Gabonese TV channel, TV+.

According to Keita, the overreaction by the Ali Bongo's government is a sign of a deeper concern: what was considered ridiculous by Ali Bongo and his partisans before seems to have created subtantial political turmoil in this little West African nation.
The rhetorical strategy of Bongo's camp seems to consist of the total denial of the opposition party, National Union.

Sekou Oumar Doumbia, a Bongo partisan, writes on Ali Bongo's Facebook page:

Continuez de travailler et laissez les ridicules rêver.

Keep on working  and let the ridiculous people dream on.

Nevertheless, the situation appears more complicated. In the last five days, the country has witnessed civil unrest. But IQ4News, a columnist style magazine website dedicated to African related issues, noticed that protests in Gabon “have gone largely unnoticed by the media because of the focus on Egypt”.

Mass Protests in Libreville and the UNDP Building Attack

Thanks to locally based activists, there has a been some coverage of protests; they have also been advertised through different social networks.

Last Saturday 29 January, 2011, a demonstration was organised at Carrefour Rio in Libreville, Gabon's capital city. More than 2,000 of opposition leader Mba Obame's partisans went to protest against Ali Bongo's government and faced public security forces.

Demonstration, Carrefour Rio in Libreville, 29 January, 2011

Demonstration, Carrefour Rio in Libreville, 29 January, 2011

This demonstration was followed by violent clashes between Mba Obame's partisans and Ali Bongo's Police forces, who were trapped by groups of demonstrators in slums near the place where the demonstration started.

The same day, military forces were ordained to attack the United Nations Program for Development (UNDP) building in Libreville, where Mba Obame and his Government sought asylum. Camarade, a Gabonese activist, posted on his blog [fr] pictures showing some victims of the attack:

Opposition protestor after UNDP attack on 29 January, 2011 (c) Camarade on LePost

Opposition protestor after UNDP attack on 29 January, 2011 (c) Camarade on LePost

Voice of the Gabonese People (La voix du Peuple Gabonais LVDPG) reports on its website [fr] that 2,000 further people demonstrated in Bitam [fr], in the north of the country on Monday 31 January, 2011. On the same site, it is said that riots occured in many districts [fr] of Libreville on 2nd February. In Atong Abè, one policeman was wounded.

Franklin explains on Twitter :

Gabon: Crise politique:Soulèvements populaires en cours; quartiers pauvres de Nkembo, Cocotiers, Gare-routière, Atong Abè. Un blessé grave.

Gabon: Political crisis: Uprising of the people happening now; poor districts of Nkembo, Cocotiers, Gare-Routière, Atong Abè. One serious wounded.
Meyo-Kye, North Gabon, 2 February, 2011. Banner reads: "In Tunisia, Ben Ali left. In Gabon, Ali Ben out."

Meyo-Kye, North Gabon, 2 February, 2011. Banner reads: "In Tunisia, Ben Ali left. In Gabon, Ali Ben out."

Cars burnt in Atong Abè, Libreville, after riots on 2 February, 2011.

Cars burnt in Atong Abè, Libreville, after riots on 2 February, 2011.

Wave of Arrests

A dozen of executives and sympathisers of the National Union (NU) main opposition party, have been arrested during the last five days. Koaci.com published a press release by President of NU:

A 5 heures du matin plusieurs compatriotes ont été arrêtés, brutalisés et transférés au camp Aïssa (caserne du Bataillon des parachutistes gabonais), puis au camp de gendarmerie de Gros-Bouquet, avant d’être finalement gardés à vue, à partir du 28 janvier, dans les sous-sols de la Direction générale des Recherches de la Gendarmerie Nationale et ce, au mépris de la loi qui interdit toute garde à vue au-delà de 72h.”

At 5 am several comrades were arrested, brutalised, and transferred to the Aïssa camp ( Barrack of the Gabonese Paratroopers’ battalion), then to the Gros-Bouquet police station's camp, before being placed in custody, from 28 January, in the cellar of the Research General Direction of the National Gendarmerie. Doing this they violated the law which forbids holding suspects for more than 72 hours custody.

The opposition party's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Ben Moubamba, tweeted this morning about the kidnapping of the son of a Gabonese MP, Alexis Bengone:

Organized Repression & Brutality in Gabon. Former Prime minister’ Son kidnapped by hooded men. #revogab#egypt #tunisia #civ2010

Some assume that his arrest is related to his online activism. He manages the Gabao Res Publica social network and may have tried to inspire youth uprisings with his article, 'Gabon: A generation in quest of democratic sense'.

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

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