/ 5 September 2009

Gabon quiet, opposition vows court fight

Leading Gabon opposition figures said on Friday they would mount a legal challenge to the victory of ruling party candidate Ali Ben Bongo in a presidential election.

The coalition, which includes former Interior Minister Andre Mba Obame and veteran opposition figure Pierre Mamboundou, who each secured just over 25% of the vote to Bongo’s 41,7%, said the result was illegitimate.

”We denounce — the electoral hold-up perpetrated by [ruling party] the PDG and its candidate Ali Ben Bongo,” the collective said in a statement.

Bruno Ben Moubamba, spokesperson for the opposition figures, told Reuters they planned to mount a legal challenge against the result, which the constitutional court confirmed on Friday.

Gabon’s main cities were calm a day after riots and attacks on French interests following Thursday’s announcement that Ben Bongo, son of former ruler Omar Bongo, had won the election.

An overnight curfew remained in force in the oil hub of Port Gentil after Thursday’s attacks on the French oil firm Total and US oil services firm Schlumberger, as well as former colonial power France’s consulate there.

French soldiers, of which about 1 000 are stationed in the Central African country, intervened without shooting to free some French nationals who were briefly trapped by demonstrators, the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday.

”It is calm now — there is evidence of pillage from yesterday,” Port Gentil resident Guiroger Ragoula told Reuters.

”People are inspecting the damage from last night. The ‘Grand Village’ market was looted and burned. Many shops have been looted.”

Port Gentil bore the brunt of the violence but there were also clashes in the capital Libreville.

A Reuters witness said Libreville was calm on Friday, with residents slowly starting to go back to work or shopping in the market after most spent the previous day keeping off the streets during sporadic clashes.

Prolonged challenge?
”The contest is over. There are methods of appealing. The Gabonese people must not be held hostage,” Ben Bongo told the French newspaper Le Monde.

French Secretary of State for Cooperation Alain Joyandet said election observers had seen only minor irregularities.

”That the results sparked such rare violent unrest and attacks on companies perceived to be French shows that dynastic politics sits less well with the Gabonese than it does with the French government which has endorsed the result,” said Tara O’Connor, founder of Africa Risk Consulting.

Observers and financial markets have played down the risk of major instability in Gabon — rare among sub-Saharan countries in that it has a Eurobond — but a degree of short-term unrest in the immediate aftermath of the results was expected given the breadth of opposition to Bongo.

A prolonged challenge may reduce Ben Bongo’s capacity to form an effective government.

”There is then a risk that this process drags on, creating medium-term uncertainty about the political outlook, and potentially increasing the pressure on Ali Ben Bongo to trade off reduced fiscal discipline for greater political support,” said Standard Bank analyst Michael Hugman.

Gabon’s government said it would immediately step up security after the post-poll violence.

Omar Bongo’s long rule brought stability and prosperity to a volatile part of the continent, but not without accusations that he had used petrodollars to enrich himself at the expense of his people.

Analysts say the fact that a majority of Gabonese actually voted against Ben Bongo, and that Gabon’s oil reserves are dwindling, will mean that the new president is likely to try to form a government that can command a broad consensus. – Reuters