Gabon's "Illegitimate" President Comes To New York

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When U.S. officials meet with M. Ali Bongo Ondimba, the Obama Administration should side with the people of Gabon.

[Commentary: Africa]

On Monday 1st of March, Gabon assumed the rotating presidency of the Security Council of the United Nations. In order to mark this event, M. Ali Bongo Ondimba, president of Gabon will be in New York, this week.

Despite the main international issues to be discussed this month at the UN, the world must be aware of the fragile and dangerous political situation in this small central African country: Gabon.

An illegitimate power is governing in Gabon Since September 2009, Gabon has been ruled by an illegitimate non-elected president, M. Ali Bongo Ondimba. He is the son of the late President Omar Bongo Ondimba. He is in power due to: an unfair constitutional court; military forces; and violent repression.

As a candidate in last year's Presidential election in Gabon, I was one of the challengers who denounced the published results. I compared Ali Bongo's victory to "a constitutional coup d’état."

The present calm in the country is due to the non-violent history of Gabon and its people. But, how long it can last is anybody's guess.

M. Ali Bongo Ondimba is well known by American authorities. On February 4, the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Homeland and Security Affairs released a report following two years of investigations into how lawyers, lobbyists, real estate agents and others in the United States have helped hide the existence of hundreds of millions of dollars coming from people in, or close to power, in African oil-producing nations.

The report said the late long-time president of Gabon, Omar Bongo, and his son, Ali, the current president, paid millions of dollars to hire an American lobbyist, to help secure the purchases of military transport aircraft and armored vehicles.

This is unbelievable for a country where hundreds of mothers, newborn babies and children continue to die each year from preventable diseases. Despite the country's abundance of natural resources more than 60% of Gabon's inhabitants still live below the poverty line. The new authority is continuing the bad governance.

Gabonese deserve new transparent electoral rules for the coming legislative election; some concerns are emerging related to foreign partners, especially France. 

New deal between France and Gabon; many worries: On 24 of February, the French president Nocolas Sarkozy visited Gabon and signed new military and economic agreements. This trip was essential to restore the image of France among disgruntled Gabonese, who have accused France of a murky ‘’France-Afrique’’ collaboration, among other issues.

Sarkozy was one of the first leaders to congratulate Ali Bongo after his contested win in last September's election. Opposition leaders accused France of meddling in the election and of having propped up the elder Bongo for decades. While President Sarkozy has promised fundamental change in France’s relationship with Africa, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Today, more than ever, Gabonese people need international support to prevent it from a dangerous crisis, especially after the 2011 legislative elections. In order to prevent an escalation of the violence the international community must also act to ensure that legitimate, democratic institutions are seated in Gabon.

Gabonese people need strengthening of democracy and political pluralism: The United States has considerable influence throughout Africa. Like the majority of the Gabonese people, I would like to see the U.S. government calling for holding of 2011 legislative elections that are free, transparent, legitimate and inclusive with broad participation in order for the results to reflect the will of the Gabonese people and be accepted by them.

They should stress in particular the true preparation of electoral lists--for a transparent and consistent process.

When U.S. officials meet with M.Ali Bongo Ondimba, the Obama Administration should side with the people of Gabon. In their discussions, there should be a call for the establishment of a new autonomous, independent, credible and neutral electoral commission, as well as the remodeling of the constitutional court.

Bernard Oyama, and Entrepreneur and U.S. resident is Chairman and CEO of ABO Capital Group.

He is a former presidential candidate in Gabon and President of the Progressive & Republican Gabonese Movement

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