By Kimani Njenga and Ian Juma
Gabon’s impending elections paint a vibrant tableau against the backdrop of a nation entrenched in a delicate dance between continuity and change. Imagine a tapestry woven with over half a century of the Bongo family’s rule, each thread representing a year of influence, power, and legacy. This political dynasty, spanning 55 years, has sculpted Gabon’s narrative in profound ways, a narrative that now stands on the cusp of transformation. Ali Bongo, inheritor of this formidable legacy and a seasoned player in the nation’s political theater, has just thrown his hat into the electoral ring once more, evoking a sense of suspense and speculation that crackles in the air like electricity before a storm. With the Gabonese Election Centre spotlighting 19 contenders out of 27 applicants – a numerical crescendo from the last elections – the nation seems poised to embrace change, or perhaps grapple with the ghost of continuity.
At the heart of this political drama lies the ruling PDG party, a monolith that has held the reins of power since its inception in 1967 by Omar Bongo, faithfully guided by the Bongo family’s leadership. The very foundation upon which Gabon’s political landscape was built. Contrastingly, the stage welcomes a mosaic of contenders: there’s the tenacious Hughes Alexandre Barro Chambrier, who’s ventured beyond party lines with his RPM platform, embodying the spirit of divergence in a sea of conformity. Raymond Ndong Sima, an enigmatic independent candidate, steps into the fray, a lone wanderer navigating the complex currents of Gabon’s political transformation. Meanwhile, Paulette Missambo graces the narrative with her UN party’s banner, leading a coalition of opposition forces that seek to challenge the prevailing order.
In an April twist, the Gabonese parliamentary playbook unfolded with a constitutional rewrite, trimming the presidential term from seven to five years. This move, however, struck a discordant chord among segments of the opposition, who saw more than met the eye. The omission of the two-round voting mechanism, decried as a convenient runway for President Bongo’s potential re-election, heightened the symphony of dissent. Yet, it was the electoral code’s freshest brushstrokes that painted controversy on an already intricate canvas. A cap of three observers per polling station, each representing the ruling majority, opposition, and independents, appeared as a gesture towards equilibrium. But under this surface shimmer lay a puzzle, a landscape where supposed opposition parties could thrive without abundant candidates. Amidst the stagecraft of change, the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), orchestrated by Mr. Bongo, orchestrates its melody of dominance, a tune that echoes through both parliamentary chambers, casting an arresting silhouette over the political landscape.
Following the changes in the electoral law, the opposition’s disillusionment with Gabon’s electoral system has grown palpable, amplified by recent shifts orchestrated by the CGE. Recent changes have ignited accusations of veiled opacity within the electoral process, casting shadows of mistrust over the upcoming elections. In the course of the campaign, a unified opposition coalition raised its voice against the haphazard management of the electoral list revision, issuing a stark warning that they might outright reject the forthcoming lists. Amidst this backdrop, several opposition figureheads resoundingly voice their discontent, citing a dearth of transparency that seems woven into the fabric of the electoral process itself. The prevailing political discord between the government and the opposition continues to surge, a tempest that fans fear of potential violence on the horizon as the elections draw nearer. As these voices of apprehension resonate, it’s the ending of the two-round voting mechanism that particularly strikes a nerve, painted by some as a crafty maneuver to facilitate the “re-election” of President Bongo.
Amidst Gabon’s verdant landscapes, a resolute clamor for change reverberates, a symphony composed of fervent hopes to dismantle corruption’s grip and dismantle the shackles of unemployment. With the approaching election as their stage, the Gabonese spirit surges with a collective aspiration to break free from the shadow cast by the Bongo dynasty, deemed incongruous for a nation of 2.3 million. Beyond this façade, a harsh reality lurks where one-third grapple with poverty and 37% of the youth wrestle with joblessness. As they stand on the precipice of this electoral juncture, they echo a singular wish, for a seamless, non-violent process, a sharp contrast to tumultuous elections in distant lands. This plea is sewn with a deeper yearning, a quest for a transformed destiny, a change of guard that aligns with the pulse of their aspirations. Gabon’s soul awakens as the battle lines are drawn, propelling them forward into an uncertain future, ignited by the fire of renewal and unburdened horizons.
As Gabon approaches its election, the people’s call for change is strong. They want to fight corruption and unemployment. The election is a chance for them to shape their future. They hope for better days and a fresh start. With determination, they’re working towards a brighter tomorrow.