Monday, October 12, 2009

The Presidential Election in Gabon

I arrived in the end of August, just prior to the presidential election.

The former president died in June 2009. He was in power for 42 years. His son, Ali Bongo, was favored to succeed him (and he did). There were several opposition parties, although a visitor would not notice because there were posters for Ali Bongo everywhere (i.e. every lampost on the blvd) and I only saw one billboard for an opponent.

There was a heavy military presence on the streets. I suppose there is always a heavy military presence on the streets. People were stocking up at the markets for fear of protests and businesses closing. Prior to the actual election, teams of supporters from different parties (those who can afford it) walk the neighborhoods and literally buy votes. The #’s I’ve heard are anywhere between $5000 - $20,000 CFA ($10-$40). This is all done quietly, but appears to be the standard “way of working”. What’s amazing to me is that citizens honor their promise. Wouldn't you just say yes to everyone and collect the buyout. I suppose they are afraid of being tracked by their vote buyer.

Total Control of Communication
The existing government, supporting Ali Bongo during the election, control all of the media here. There are a few independent weekly newspapers, but they don’t have large coverage and it appears they are constantly hassled by the authorities. Obviously, the owned media spend their time supporting their benefactors and dismissing any opponents.
Cell phones are ubiquitous and text is the local email, because you can send the same message to everyone in your address book. During elections, the government shut down text capabilities; I suppose to dissuade protest organizers. They also closed the airports and shut down the internet…that’s power!

In the End
In general, compared to other countries in the region, it was a seemingly peaceful process. There was a riot in Port Gentil. The government said 3 people were killed in a clash with protesters, the opposition says 15. After the election, the opposition got together and disputed the outcome, bringing it to the constitutional courts. There was a recount and Ali was confirmed President of Gabon with 42% of the vote. If the 2 major opposition parties had gotten together earlier, they may have actually won the election, representing 52% of the vote.
There was obviously favoritism and corruption, but that is the way of life across the entire continent. In the end, Ali Bongo is the President and all of those ‘vote for me’ posters where exchanged with ‘thank you’ posters…an interesting touch. He already seems to be making positive changes and attempting to cut some of the corruption, we’ll keep our fingers crossed for the Gabonese.

Click on the link in the title for pics during the election in Gabon.

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