A Worn Out Welcome

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The leaders of the Aug. 30 coup that ousted President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon from office recently appointed one of his opponents, economist Raymond Ndong Sima, as interim prime minister.

Sima served as prime minister under Bongo from 2012 to 2014, but then became a fierce critic of the president, Deutsche Welle reported. He even ran against Bongo unsuccessfully in 2016 and in last month’s general election.

Bongo’s family ruled the oil-rich Central African country for more than five decades. He assumed office in 2008 when his father, Omar, who ruled the country for 40 years, died. The elder Bongo’s wealth grew enormously while he was in office in part due to his cozy relations with France, the country’s former colonial power, said the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Meanwhile, though Gabon’s oil wealth technically makes it a middle-income country, a third of Gabonese citizens live in poverty.

Bongo had suffered a stroke in 2018, leading many voters to question whether he was fit for the job, the BBC explained. When voting irregularities and other problems marred the August election, military leaders who dubbed themselves the Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions saw an opening to depose the president and take over, the Associated Press reported.

A “mixture of ineptitude and willful incompetence and chaos” marked the Aug. 26 vote, argued St. Petersburg College political scientist Gyldas Ofoulhast-Othamot in the Conversation. Bongo also cut the Internet and imposed a curfew soon after the polls closed, a sign that he might have been preparing to flout the will of the people if election officials declared that he failed to win reelection.

Gen. Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, who now serves as Gabon’s interim president, said he would conduct “free, transparent and credible elections” within two years to return the country to civilian government, Radio France Internationale wrote. Oligui also released Bongo recently, allowing him to journey abroad if necessary for medical treatment.

Initially, regional and world leaders condemned the coup, noting how it was just the latest in West Africa following ones in Mali, Burkina Faso, and most recently in Niger. The African Union suspended Gabon’s membership, Reuters reported. Still, as the New York Times noted, Bongo was “a Darling of the West” but “Wore Out His Welcome at Home.”

Jules Lebigui, a jobless young man local to Libreville, the capital, attested to that. “I am joyful,” he told Reuters. “After almost 60 years, the Bongos are out.”

Still, the leader of the opposition, Albert Ondo Ossa, who lost the recent election to Bongo, said that military leaders essentially executed a “palace coup,” to continue the family’s reign, the Associated Press reported. Soldiers who toppled President Ali Bongo Ondimba put Bongo’s cousin, Gen. Nguema, head of the elite republican guard, in charge.

Meanwhile, leaders at the Economic Community of Central African States, an important regional bloc, won’t likely stand up for Bongo. “I think there’s no general desire in a democratic era to see leaders who run in perpetuity in power,” David Otto-Endeley, director of the Geneva Center for African Security and Strategic Studies, told Voice of America. “This is more or less a dynasty (within) some kind of democratic institution.”

And, sooner or later, all dynasties end.

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