/ 14 September 2009

Gabonese snub strike call

Many Gabonese snubbed an opposition appeal to stay at home in protest at a disputed presidential election on Monday, with witnesses saying business in the capital and elsewhere was near to normal.

Rivals of Ali Ben Bongo, the 50-year-old son of late ruler Omar Bongo, accuse him of rigging the August 30 vote in the central African oil nation. The election result sparked several days of rioting and street protests earlier this month.

Analysts do not expect the dispute over the election to grow into major instability in the country of 1,5-million people, which hosts oil giants such as France’s Total and is one of few sub-Saharan states to have a traded Eurobond.

However, there is concern Ben Bongo’s election pledges will mean higher government borrowing and that he will struggle to replace revenues as Gabon’s dwindling oil reserves run out.

On Monday a Reuters witness said the morning rush hour in Libreville appeared slightly quieter than usual but that taxis — used by many middle class Gabonese to get to work — were plentiful.

”People are here, they are buying things, others ask for prices and go to other stores — life goes on,” said Thierry Dimo at an electric goods store in central Libreville.

In Port-Gentil, the oil hub that saw the worst of the riots and looting after Ben Bongo’s victory was announced, some firms had advised employees to stay at home as a precaution.

”That is what the oil firm that I work for recommended. But otherwise people are heading for work and the shops are open,” said local resident Benjamin Emane.

Interim President Rose Francine Rogombe appealed at the weekend for workers to ignore the three-day stay-at-home, and some transport and white collar unions urged their members to go to work in defiance of the call by Ben Bongo opponents.

How Ben Bongo, the ex-defence minister — who won with only 41,7% of the total vote and whose political career was spent largely as his father’s protege — handles this and other challenges to his government will be keenly watched.

Opposition leaders have until the end of the week to lodge an appeal against an election outcome that has been rubber stamped by the constitutional court.

Ex-colonial master France and a number of African states have already congratulated Ben Bongo on his victory, and an opposition call for an international inquiry into the security crackdown on protests has largely fallen on deaf ears. — Reuters