PROTESTS in Gabon are rooted in the country’s history that saw its first President Leon M’ba collapsing dictating a one-party state in 1964. At his death three years later, Albert Omar Bongo, his successor, ran Gabon for 42 years. Only death, in 2009, at 71, abbreviated Bongo’s tenure.
Riots are on again as the Front of Indignant Gabon tries to expand democratic frontiers in the country of 1.5 million people. Main opposition leader André Mba Obame, last year declared himself president, contesting results of the 2009 election that made Bongo’s son, Ali, his father’s successor. Bongo learnt well from his friend, Gnassingbe Eyadema, ruler of Togo for 38 years. Eyadema died in 2005. He had groomed his son, Faure, to succeed him.
Unlike Faure, Ali is having a tough time holding down the opposition. He is propped up by French paratroopers who have protected Gabonese dictators since 1964. Repression against the media is on the increase. Two journalists fled into exile after security agencies queried their report of an alleged illegal use of the Gabonese presidential aircraft for a trip to Cotonou.
Tiny Gabon will not attract much international attention. Only its oil and timbers are important to the world and the French ensure the supplies. Africa suffers from sit-tight rulers. They cripple opposition and their deaths leave their countries rudderless. Instability crosses borders as conflicts in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Rwanda, Somalia, and Congo have shown, put their neighbours under perpetual pressure.
Dissatisfaction with government is no longer contained with a country’s borders. The December 2010 riots over unemployment and corruption, in Tunisia, took down its government, led to the demise of Libya’s Colonel Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi and his 41 years of dictatorship and inspired Egyptian riots that landed Muhammad Hosni Mubarak, 82, in jail after almost 30 years in power.
These dictators are the envy of other African leaders scheming to perpetrate themselves in power. They are the biggest obstacle to the continent’s development. Their countries are in trouble, but the depth of the decay is never known, until they leave, after decades of destructive conversion of their countries to private estates.
A short list of Africa’s unrelenting dictators includes Eduardo Dos Santos of Angola, 70, Equatorial Guinea’s Theodoro Mbasogo, 69, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, 87: in power for 32 years each. In Cameroon, Paul Biya, 78, is marking 29 years, without any indication that he intends to quit. Uganda’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, 68, and in his 25th year is a younger member of the club.
Gabonese riots serve more tension on a continent suffused in war and want – one of the telling realities of dictatorship.