Gabon is a country located in the region of Central Africa. When Omar Bongo, who ruled Gabon for over 40 years, passed away in 2009, son Ali Ben Bongo Ondimba was elected new president and he has been in power ever since. The Bongo family’s long power holdings can be explained by the country’s large oil revenues as well as a weak and divided opposition, but also by the fact that father and son Bongo, unlike the leaders of many other African countries, managed to keep the ethnically divided country together.
For Bongo who comes from the small téké people, it has been important to stay well with other people groups. Before the last parliamentary election (held in 2011), for example, President Bongo tried to ally himself with one of the opposition leaders, Pierre Mamboundou, who belonged to the punu-lumbu people group. This group constitutes one fifth of the population and is mainly located in the southwest with the economic “capital” Port-Gentil as the center. Even within the government, the items have been distributed among different groups of people.
- Countryaah: Country facts and history of Gabon, including state flag, location map, demographics, GDP data, currency code, and business statistics.
Call for election boycott
After a dispute over procedural issues, a number of parties boycotted the parliamentary elections in 2011. Election was low – only 34 percent – and the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) gained an overwhelming majority in parliament. A spokesman for the opposition parties that boycotted the election said they did not recognize the election result because “it resulted in a parliament representing less than ten percent of the population”.
A new parliamentary election would have been held in December 2016, but it was postponed several times before it was finally held in autumn 2018 (see below).
Increased pressure on Bongo
When the international price of oil fell from 2014, dissatisfaction with the Bongo’s family increased. The government did not consider itself able to raise the minimum wage or pensions as promised. The result was great concern in the labor market with extensive and prolonged strikes among teachers and healthcare personnel, as well as in the oil and telecom sectors. The protesters also showed dissatisfaction with the luxurious liver of the Bongo family.
The Bongo family owns many expensive cars and luxury properties overseas while the majority of residents live in poverty; critics believe that the family manages Gabon as their private property. Among other things, Bongo has bought a luxury property in one of Paris’s finest neighborhoods, and French judges have investigated the possibility of bringing Bongo to justice for corruption and misappropriation of state funds, but the preliminary investigation was closed in the fall of 2017. (At the same time, a French court sentenced Equatorial Guinea’s vice president to conditional prison for the same crime, read more here.)
Riots also erupted in April 2015, when one of President Bongo’s main rivals, André Mba Obame (see Modern History), passed away in neighboring Cameroon. Mba’s supporters accused the government of poisoning him.
After Obama’s death, former Foreign Minister Jean Ping emerged as Bongo’s main challenger in the August 2016 presidential election. Ping, who has two children with Bongo’s sister, had previously been a member of the PDG but was now supported by a large part of the opposition.
While the votes were counted, both Bongo and Ping declared themselves victors, but according to the Election Commission’s ruling, Bongo won with 1.6 percentage points of the vote, which corresponds to 5,500 votes. Ping appealed the result, and even the outside world criticized the process, pointing out that the turnout in Bongo’s home province was unlikely to be high. After recalculating the votes, Bongo’s victory was determined, and the margin between Bongo and Ping was set at just under 3.5 percentage points.
The outcome of the election triggered unrest. According to the opposition, 26 people were killed in the violence that followed, while the government indicated the number to three. Over 800 people were arrested. Both sides reported the other party to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity in connection with the election. The ICC decided to initiate an investigation.
The Constitution is amended
In an attempt to resolve the political crisis, in the spring of 2017, President Bongo initiated a national dialogue with 1,200 organizations and a number of parties. The dialogue was boycotted by all major opposition parties, including Ping and his party the Coalition for a New Republic (CNR). The process culminated in a proposal for a revised constitution that meant strengthening presidential power (see Political system). The proposals were adopted by Parliament in early 2018.
At the end of April 2018, the Constitutional Court dissolved the Parliament and ordered the government to resign. The motivation was that the government failed to organize and conduct parliamentary elections as planned (see above). The Senate was obliged to take over the legislative powers of the lower house pending parliamentary elections. Prime Minister Emmanuel Issoze Ngondet filed his and the government’s resignation application on May 1. Two days later, Ngondet was re-elected as head of government. Half of the outgoing government ministers were in the new ministry.
Bongo is affected by stroke
In October 2018, the first round of the heavily delayed election to the National Assembly was held during what was described as peaceful forms. The day after, the presidential office came out, claiming that PDG won a big victory. The opposition was divided; some parties had called for election boycotts, including Ping’s camp, while others lined up with candidates. The AU election observers described the election as “satisfactory”, while other organizations reported on attempts to vote.
When the second round of elections was held later that month, the final result showed that PDG with allied small parties won an overwhelming majority of parliamentary seats. The opposition had only managed to collect 17 of 143 seats. The turnout was low.
The second round of elections was also conducted in a calm way, but the unrest in the country was still great. A few days earlier, Bongo had fallen ill during a visit to Saudi Arabia and the uncertainty about the president’s health was great. In mid-November, the president’s office admitted that Bongo was seriously ill. Later, the Vice President announced that Bongo had suffered a stroke and that he had been taken to Morocco for further care. The President’s powers were distributed between the Vice President and the Prime Minister in accordance with a decision of the Constitutional Court.
Failed coup attempt
In early January 2019, the presidential office announced that a coup attempt had been averted. Six military commanders are said to have taken control of a state radio station in Libreville and announced that they had seized power to “restore democracy.” The coup makers called for a popular uprising against Bongo. Two coup makers were killed when government forces entered the radio station and four insurgents were arrested. Lieutenant Ondo Obiang Kelly was appointed as the coup leader. The details of a coup attempt amaze observers as the military has so far been loyal to the Bongo family.
In the middle of the same month, a new government was presented via a video link from Morocco. New prime minister was Julien Nkoghe Bekale. In addition, all ministers, except the Foreign Minister, were allowed to remain in the old government. The hours before the installation, Bongo was brought home from Morocco to attend the ceremony.
Already in June 2019, the government was reformed after a smuggling scandal led to the departure of the Vice President and Minister of Forestry. The number of ministers was reduced and the proportion of women in the government increased.
Bongo’s son steps forward
In December 2019, President Bongo’s eldest son Noureddin Bongo Valentin was appointed Chief of Staff of the President’s Office, which means that he becomes the father’s right hand and handles all kinds of matters that lie on his desk. President Bongo’s former Chief of Staff Brice Laccruche Alihanga was fired in November after being suspected of being involved in a major corruption scandal. Laccruche’s influence had increased significantly following President Bongo’s stroke in 2018.
Read more about the events in the Calendar.
FACTS – POLITICS
Republic of Gabonaise/Republic of Gabon
republic, unitary state
Head of State
President Ali Bongo Ondimba (2009–)
Head of government
Prime Minister Julien Nkoghe Bekale (2019–)
Most important parties with mandates in the last election
Gabon Democratic Party (PDG) 98, Parties Allied with PDG 20, Democrats 11, Collection for Heritage and Modernity 4, National Union 2, Independent Members 8 (2018)
Main parties with mandates in the second most recent elections
Gabon Democratic Party (PDG) 114, Gabon Collection (RPG) 3, Social Democratic Party (PSD) 1, Liberal Reformist Circle (CLR) 1, Union for the New Republic (UNR) 1 (2011)
60% in the 2016 presidential election, 35% in the 2011 parliamentary elections, 59% in the first round of the 2018 parliamentary elections
parliamentary elections 2023, presidential elections 2023