Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba recently announced that he intended to run for a third consecutive term. This decision provoked reactions from all sides. Indeed, it must be said that Gabon has been run autocratically by the Bongo family, which sees the country as its private property. Indeed, before Ali Bongo came to power in 2009, it was his father, Omar Bongo Ondimba, who ruled the country for 41 years until he died in 2009.
Gabon is, therefore, practically ruled as a monarchy where political power is transferred from father to son while constitutionally, it is a republic with supposed democratic institutions. It is, consequently, normal that Ali Bongo’s candidacy is deemed controversial. The Gabonese people have only known one family ruling the country for more than half a century.
Bongo's decision to run for a third term has been met with mixed reactions. Some people support his decision, arguing that he has the experience and knowledge necessary to lead Gabon into the future. Others oppose his decision, arguing that it is undemocratic and that he is trying to establish a dynasty.
Ali Bongo’s candidacy is controversial for several reasons. First, Gabon is a republic with a presidential form of government. The president is the head of state and the head of government. The president is elected by universal suffrage for a seven-year term. The Gabonese constitution limits presidents to two terms in office. Ali Bongo has already served two terms, so his candidacy is technically illegal.
Second, Ali Bongo has been accused of corruption and embezzling public funds. These allegations have been made by both opposition politicians and international human rights groups.
Third, the Gabonese political landscape has been dominated by the Bongo family. Ali Bongo's main opponent in the upcoming election is his former defense minister, Jean Ping. However, Ping has been accused of corruption himself, and he is not seen as a credible alternative to Bongo.
The political system of Gabon has been criticized for being undemocratic and for favoring the ruling party, the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG). The PDG has been in power since independence in 1960, and it has won every presidential election since then. The opposition parties have accused the PDG of rigging elections and of using its control of the government to suppress dissent.
The problem is far more fundamental than Ali Bongo’s mere candidacy. It is a problem that affects almost every African country. This problem is the lust for political power. Except for a few countries such as Morocco that officially have a kingdom, most African political systems are republics with a very strong presidency, including Gabon.
In the Gabonese political system, the president has extensive powers, including the power to appoint the prime minister, the cabinet, and judges of the Supreme Court. The president also has the power to dissolve the National Assembly and call early elections. This makes the president virtually a king without saying that he is a king. Political power in African politics is deeply ensconced in the executive branch. The concept of checks and balances between the three branches of government is nothing but semantics of political theory in African political contexts.
The future of the political system of Gabon is uncertain. And this candidacy of Ali Bongo does not facilitate the appeasement of social tensions as well as resentments within the Gabonese people.
The presidential election will be held on August 26, 2023. Bongo is the clear favorite to win, but the opposition is hoping to unite behind a single candidate in order to challenge him.