The wave of democratisation of the 1990’s in Africa tore apart the continent. From civil wars and genocide to the demise of certain heads of states in Africa, Gabon has remained unshaken politically and economically stable. The country has developed a culture of peace and dialogue over the decades.
It is not surprising that for the most its political leaders, intellectuals and religious leaders prioritise peace in the country as this is essential in stability, development and economic prosperity. That is one of the main reasons that Gabonese authority, politicians and civil society organisations (CSOs) would always resort to political dialogue and consensus when facing a crisis. However, under severe circumstances, will these values prevail?
Gabon held its first multi-partyism elections in 1993, and the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG, ruling party) has been the dominant party in this country’s politics. It has won most of the elections in Gabon, whether presidential, legislatives or locals, despite critiques from opposition parties and CSOs that the ruling party have failed to curb corruption; to fight social inequality and injustice; and improve citizen’s social conditions. From the results of the elections held in Gabon over the years, it is undoubtedly that the Gabonese Democratic Party enjoys strong support in Gabon.
Gabon’s democratic maturity was tested following the death of President Omar Bongo Ondimba on 8th June 2009 in Barcelona, Spain, after ruling the country for almost four decades; plunged the country into uncertainty. While some analysts suggested that eruption of civil rifts, political tensions and demonstrations were unavoidable; the country managed an exceptional political transition with peaceful, fair and credible elections.
Gabon’s economy relies essentially on oil and manganese production, with the economic diplomacy, launched under leadership of the new President, Ali Bongo Ondimba, known as “Gabon Emergent”, the economy has slightly improved compared to when he took office. The President has launched vast economic reforms, economic diversification and established social policies aimed at improving the lives of its citizens, and the effect was the GDP per capita reached an estimated $16,800 in 2012.1
The new mineral codes and other natural resources exploitations have attracted the interests of important investors at regional and international level. Thus, the business and private sectors are more investment-friendly than in the past. Also, the on-going construction of roads, ports infrastructures, and other major projects will put the country on a path towards sustainable development. With a projected economic growth of 6.5 % this year, expectations for social transformation are high amongst populations.2
While democratic governance remains an absolute challenge in most central African states, Gabon faces rising problems of inequality, redistribution, youth unemployment and poverty. Financial crisis along with the lack of economic diversification, as the country relies entirely on oil production, have hindered the development process. Also, social developmental frameworks initiated prior 2009 have rarely delivered on social transformation expected due to corruption, mismanagement, lack of accountability and poor governance.
Four years down the line, the political transition and the state cohesion remains steady and satisfactory. President Ali Bongo constantly engages with CSOs and opposition parties to bring about social equality and justice, while putting the issues of youth unemployment and poverty as priorities on the country’s developmental agenda. It is important to stress that President Ali Bongo took office in a tense social and economic environment, while its predecessor work on preserving peace, unity and national solidarity, social and and econmic transformation were still lagging behind. Under the impulsion of President Ali Bongo, public and the private sector, civil society along with other stakeholders have all agreed on a common understanding to put forward the national transformational agenda through the implementation of the Gabon Emerging Strategic Plan 2025.
There is no doubt that there is a strong political will from Ali Bongo Ondimba’s position to deliver on people’s needs and the country’s social and economic transformation, but its success will eventually depend on how effectively its policies are carried out, and further delivered for social transformation and its capacity to stir up economic prosperity. It is instrumental to mention that social constraints are often the drivers of violent demonstrations and conflicts in most uprisings in the world, therefore adressing issues of natural resource governance, uneven redistribution, and poverty eradication continue to remain crucial for the interests of moving forward.
Article by Ulrich Buestro Bouelangoye