Post-Election Violence in Gabon Will Not Unseat Re-Elected Bongo

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Monday, October 24, 2016/ 9.05am /BMI Research 

BMI View: Outbreaks of violence across Gabonese capital Libreville will not be enough to unseat re-elected President Ali Bongo. Bongo's victory in the August 27 presidential election is unlikely to be overturned, and we expect the unrest following the official results announcement, that has seen the burning of the parliament building and a raid on the opposition HQ, to calm in the coming days and weeks.

Incumbent Gabonese President Ali Bongo has retained his office in the closest run presidential election in the country's history, in line with our pre-election view. Bongo defeated challenger Jean Ping by 49.8% to 48.2% in the vote held on August 27.

The close nature of the race saw the result only finalised and released on August 31 after several delays. In the aftermath there have been accusations of fraud and vote rigging that have sparked street protests, the burning down of the National Assembly building, and a raid by armed forces on Ping's electoral headquarters in which two people were killed and 19 injured, according to the opposition.

We do not believe the post-election violence will significantly destabilise the Gabonese political environment to the extent that the result is overturned, or that Bongo is ousted in a coup d'état. In 2009 the country experienced similar violence in the wake of Ali Bongo's first electoral victory, with the French consulate in Port-Gentil burnt and the offices of oil firms Total and Schlumberger attacked by protestors.

Violence subsided in the days following the announcement of the results, and a subsequent recount of the vote by the Constitutional Court also delivered a victory for Bongo.

The Bongo dynasty has ruled Gabon since 1967 when Ali Bongo's father, Omar Bongo, took power following the death of independent Gabon's first president, Leon M'ba. Bongo Senior died in 2009 after over 40 years in power, with his son taking over following a presidential election held later that year.

That sustained period of control has allowed Bongo to build up an extensive network of patronage in Gabon, which will no doubt play a key role in his efforts to maintain his hold on office in the aftermath of the election.

This is despite some division within his governing Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), with the Heritage and Modernity faction, still displeased with Bongo taking over the party following the death of his father.

The response from the international community has been tepid at best for Bongo. In the immediate aftermath of the vote, before official results were released, the governing French Socialist Party issued a statement saying that early results were showing that a Ping victory was likely.

This earned an immediate rebuke from the Gabonese government, accusing France of continuing the politics of 'La Francafrique', a term characterising France's colonial relationship with its former African empire.

The EU and the US both urged calm, but also called upon the electoral authorities to release data from individual polling stations to show transparency. Results in some areas have attracted particular attention, with the turnout in one of Bongo's provincial strongholds recorded at over 99%, leading to accusations by opposition supporters of ballot box stuffing and fraud.

Gabon is likely to remain a relative pillar of stability in Central Africa, with a reasonably strong Short-Term Political Risk Index (STPRI) score of 62.1 out of 100. This puts Gabon in second place regionally, behind neighbouring Equatorial Guinea, another oil-rich coastal nation that has experienced little political change since it gained independence from its former European coloniser.

The lowest-scoring subcomponent in our STPRI for Gabon is 'social stability', with a score of 55.0 out of 100. This is reflective of both the immediate risk of extended violence in the aftermath of the election, but also broader public unrest at government policies and the country's elevated unemployment rate.

Unemployment among the country's young male population – the most likely demographic to engage in public unrest – is high, at 30.6%. This long-standing issue is one that if addressed by the government would serve to significantly reduce political risks in Gabon.

In the longer term, once Bongo's victory is confirmed by the Constitutional Court, we expect little in the way of policy change from the government. The government's efforts to shift the economy's reliance away from oil are notable in their contrast to many other oil-rich African states.

Nevertheless, divisions within the government will delay policy creation and enactment, which in turn will mean economic growth and the associated improvement in individuals living standards, that reduces the risk of social unrest, will be somewhat restrained.

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