by Aly Jonas

Gabon: 56 years of catastrophic rule by the Bongo family

Gabon : 56 ans de règne catastrophique de la famille Bongo

The Gabonese Democratic Party holds the presidential palace, and the majority in the National Assembly and the Senate. It also controls the courts and municipal administrations.

President Ali Bongo Ondimba (since 2009) introduces himself again in the elections scheduled for August 26 in Gabon. He is, to state the obvious, supposed to win it. The Constitution has in fact been modified several times in recent decades to ensure the continuity of Bongo power.

First, limiting the number of mandates was removed from the Constitution. Ali Bongo could thus be president for life.

Second, the traditional two-round elections were transformed into a single round, thus protecting the incumbent candidate from an opposition rally in the event of a second round.

Thirdly, it is no longer the absolute majority but the relative majority, that is to say the plurality, which will allow one to be elected, and therefore, in all likelihood Bongo can win the elections. This means that a majority can be less than 50%, as long as the winner gets the most votes. If it was necessary to obtain the majority of votes, Ali Bongo, with 49.8% in the 2016 elections, would not be president today.

Fourth, in April this year, the presidential term was reduced from 7 to 5 years , guaranteeing the simultaneity of presidential, legislative and local elections. In the past, after the presidential election, opposition parties would organize against the ruling party of Bongo, father and son, to win seats in legislative and local elections. From now on, all institutions of government power can be conquered by President Bongo and his party in a single election.

A divided opposition

Nineteen are running for president. Among them are the former Prime Minister Raymond Ndong Sima, the former vice-president Pierre-Claver Maganga Moussavou, the leader of the National Union of Opposition Parties coalition that challenged Bongo in 2016, Paulette Missambo, and the former Minister of Mines Hughes Alexandre Barro Chamberpier. For a year, the latter has tried to rally the other opposition leaders to the idea of ​​a single candidacy, without success. Chambrier may be best placed to muster the most votes against Ali Bongo and the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), but the Gabonese opposition is, once again, divided .

Ali Bongo, son of former president Omar Bongo (1967-2009), is for his part supported by the CEO founded by his father. This party has monopolized power for more than half a century in this oil-rich Central African country. Through the institutions of one-party government, neo-patrimonial corruption and political kinship, the Bongo clan retained power for 56 years.

However, Gabon is not a monarchy, but a republic, a “dynastic republic”. The dynastic republic is an oxymoron, because, in the words of the philosopher Cicero , a republic is res publica : “the public thing”, and not the private heritage of its rulers. The widespread practice of nepotism, as governance, violates the classical ideal of the republic.

In dynastic republics, presidents concentrate power in their hands and establish systems of personal rule before passing state power to their families and relatives – not only sons and daughters, but also wives, brothers and sisters. , half-brothers and half-sisters, cousins, uncles and aunts, nieces and nephews (the term nepotism derives from the Latin nepos or “nephew”), sons and daughters-in-law, ex-wives, illegitimate children, household members and so on.

The classical ideal of a legal-rational state, where position and rank are distributed based on merit, in the name of rational (efficient and effective) functioning of the institutions of government, is thus corrupted.

A dynastic republic

All the dynastic republics of the world (in 2023, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Togo, Syria, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, North Korea and, more recently, Cambodia) have institutionalized traditional family power through the modern tool of the party. It is essential to understand that no one rules alone. Only with a vast party apparatus can one man and his family govern a republic of millions.

But why did the elite (or the “selectorate”) tolerate the power of a man and his family? The answer is simple: they need him to maintain their own positions.

The Economist Gordon Tullock hypothesized in 1987 that dynastic succession attracts non-family elites who are wary of a struggle for leadership. The administration professor Jason Brownlee tested this hypothesis on a dataset of 258 non-monarchical (republican) autocrats and found that “in the absence of prior experience in selecting a leader through a party, regime elites accepted filial heirs apparent when the holder and his successor came from their party”.

Political scientists Bruno Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith support:

essential supporters (“selectorate”) are much more likely to retain their privileged position when power passes within a family from father to son, from king to prince, than when power passes to someone outside the regime.

Formerly announced as the “Kuwait of Africa” due to its small population 2.3 million inhabitants and its large oil reserves, Gabon, a small country rich in resources, has a population that is becoming poorer.

Income per capita of Gabon of 12,800 dollars is contradicted by a population where a third of citizens live below the poverty line, unemployment exceeding 20 to 35% among young people.

A reality which must lead to questioning the positions of those who see nothing wrong with dynastic rule.

Douglas Yates, Professor of Political Science, American Graduate School in Paris (AGS)

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license.