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Gabon: Two Rival Presidents, One Accused of Embezzlement

14 March 2011 14 March 2011 Tags: No Comment Print This Post Print This Post

by Julie Owono

This post is part of Global Voices special coverage of Gabon Unrest 2011

Gabon opposition leader Andre Mba Obame hailed by supporters on arrival at Libreville's airport 30 December 2010 Reuters/Wils Yanick Maniengu

After spending one month in refuge at the offices of the United Nations Program for Development (UNDP) in Libreville, Gabon, self-proclaimed president André Mba Obame and his government finally left the building on February 27. An agreement was reached with the official government of President Ali Bongo thanks to mediation by the UN, but this has not stilled the movement for change in Gabon. The unrest has been ongoing since January 25, when the unofficial president Mba Obame took his oath.

Bongo in trouble at World Bank

As the power struggle continues, Ali Bongo now stands accused of “misappropriation of shares for personal profit” during his time as the chairman of the board of directors of the Office of Ports and Harbors of Gabon (OPRAG). French businessman Jacques Dupuydauby filed a legal complaint on February 22 with the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). According to the news weekly ‘Jeune Afrique’, deals Bongo made regarding two Gabonese ports are under scrutiny (via A bas le masque [fr] ).

(Dupuydauby is a historic rival of another French businessman dealing in maritime trade, Vincent Bolloré, who is a friend of President Sarkozy, and has spoken favorably of Bongo’s standing.)

In France, Bruno Ben Moubamba, a Gabonese politician who was appointed minister of foreign affairs in the unofficial government, held a rally on March 7 in front of Ali Bongo’s €150 million mansion in Paris. In a speech in front of the property, which is located in one of the city’s most luxurious areas, he urged the French government to stop being tolerant of African dictators like Bongo. On March 3, Moubamba posted a video of himself speaking, wondering where the money used to purchase the expensive property comes from (in French with English subtitles):

Has Ali Bongo used OPRAG funds to serve his own interests, for example to acquire this “palace” in Paris: Pozzo di Borgo?

YouTube Preview Image

The ICSID already ruled in May 2010 that President Ali Bongo’s government should pay €240 million to a Belgian consortium [fr] in an suit related to fraud in railway contracts.

This new trade dispute comes at a time of an already unfavorable context for Ali Bongo.

Uneasy truce as Mba Obame leaves the building

Only one day after Mba Obame left the UNDP building, Bongo’s government announced that all members of the unofficial government would soon face “justice”. According to a post by Camarade on the website Koaci [fr], some were already summoned by Gabonese intelligence services for questioning.

Upon Mba Obame’s exit of the UNDP building, many supporters offered caustic and suspicious reactions online. LVDPG (‘La voix du peuple gabonais‘ – Voice of the Gabonese people) was one platform where netizens shared their concerns [fr]. Some, like ‘Le Début‘ assume there must be a deal between Ali Bongo and André Mba Obame:

Transparence oblige, il y a forcément une contre-partie, c’est la logique des négociations et du prix à payer pour sortir d’une termitière!!! AH POLITIQUE QUAND TU TIENS!!!
Alors on attend le véritable compte rendu.

Transparency requires it, there must have been some compensation, it is the logic of negotiations and the price to pay to get out of an anthill! AH POLITICS! Let us wait for the real proceedings.

Suspicions like these have only been reinforced by the fact that Mba Obame has not issued any official statements since his exit from the UNDP. Diplomatic rumors aired in Camarade’s post [fr] on Koaci.com seems to confirm this theory:

Une source interne au PNUD-Gabon a également affirmé que la sortie d’exil du gouvernement Mba Obame n’est qu’une première étape du processus de décrispation du climat politique gabonais. [Ce] qui expliquerait l’annulation de la déclaration envisagée par les exilés le jour de leur sortie du PNUD.

An inside source at the UNDP-Gabon has also said that the exit of the exiled government of Mba Obame is only a first step in easing the political climate in Gabon. [This] would explain the cancellation of the declaration proposed by the exiles on the day of their release from the UNDP.

For others, like @chrisseminarist on Twitter, Mba Obame is a strategist who put an end to his exile to continue the struggle for revolution:

@chrisseminarist (March 1): André Mba Obame continue le combat pour être reconnu président du Gabon

André Mba Obame continues the struggle to be recognised as the President of Gabon

Revolution ahead

In spite of the alleged incapacity of the Gabonese opposition to lead a revolutionary movement, Charlie M. writes on his blog, ‘Le Gabon Enervant‘ [fr] (The Irritating Gabon) that he is convinced a revolution will happen in the country, no matter what politicians do:

Au Gabon il est clair pour tout observateur averti, que si les tenants du pouvoir n’apprennent pas à servir leurs peuples avec justice et dignité, et non tout le folklore qu’ils font en ce moment, le Gabon aura sa révolution, tôt ou tard. C’est inévitable.

In Gabon it is clear for any informed observer, that if those in power don’t learn to serve their people with justice and dignity, instead of the folklore they are currently showing, Gabon will live its revolution, sooner or later. It is inevitable.

Protest in Meyo-Kyé, a small city in northern Gabon, 2 February, 2011. The banner reads: "In Tunisia, Ben Ali left. In Gabon, Ali Ben out." From Global Voices's coverage of the Gabon protests. Source: www.cp-africa.com

Julie Owono is a Cameroonian citizen living in Paris. Holds a Postgraduate degree in International Law at the Sorbonne Law School, preparing the Bar exam. Aspiring lawyer, currently consultant in International Relations, interested in issues related to development and Governance in Africa, ICT4D. Grew up in Moscow and worked at the International Organisation for Migration in Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

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