The Coup in Gabon and Lessons for African Leaders


The African continent appears to be in moments of coup ferment. Surprises against the state are not new in these parts. Last July, the military took over in Niger from the elected government of President Mohamed Bazoum ostensibly for ‘army reason.’ The aftermath has been about whether the regional grouping, ECOWAS, should intervene militarily or not. While the hoopla of the Niger coup has yet to settle, another coup happened in the Central African state of Gabon, reinforcing fears of democratic reversal on a continental scale.

The junta in Gabon led by army General Brice Oligui Nguema, said the takeover of power from President Ali Bongo Ondimba became imperative due to a disputed election in which Ondimba declared himself president to the discomfiture of the opposition forces in the country.

Mr Bongo had led the oil-rich West African country since 2009 when he succeeded his father who was in power for more than 40 years. The family had strong links to France, the former colonial power in Gabon. The coup marked the end of more than five decades of the Bongo family’s dynastic rule in Gabon.

The coup has been roundly condemned in Africa and the West, including France. But the people of Gabon are jubilant. The coup is the triumph of earlier attempts to upstage the Bongo family. In 2018, the president suffered a stroke that left him invalid. In 2019, there was a coup attempt that was put down by Gabon’s Gendarmerie Intervention Group which assaulted the Radio Télévision Gabonaise in which the pro-coup forces were holed up.

However, the junta has established a self-styled Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions (CTRI). It has installed Raymond Ndong Sima as interim Prime Minister with the promise of transition to civil rule in yet unclear transition timetable.

Gabon’s ousted president Ali Bongo Ondimba has been freed with leave to travel abroad if he needs medical assistance, in a benign move by the junta. The coup, however, raises several questions that are not alien to keen observers of the political processes in the continent.

While unconstitutional take-over of government is condemnable amidst shared belief that military rule is an aberration, the Gabon coup is, no doubt, a setback for stability and development in the African continent and by the same logic, a blow to the well-being of an impoverished population. Therefore, a military takeover of government hardly constitutes a permanent solution to bad governance in Africa.

Nevertheless, some coup drivers must be averted and addressed. The idea of longevity in power by undermining tenure limits is counterproductive to the consolidation of democracy in Africa. African leaders must wean themselves from this power virus. The Bongo family had ruled the oil-rich state for over half a century installing what in every measure amounted to a dynasty. Today, many African countries are ravaged by sit-tightism syndrome, from Uganda, Eritrea, Cameroun, and Congo Brazzaville, to Rwanda just to mention a few. For these countries, it is time to allow the democratic wind to strengthen governance.

African leaders take pleasure in subverting well-laid-out electoral processes to access and retain power. This has engendered political turmoil in many parts of the continent. Several African countries have been caught in this web. For example, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Cameroun, and Uganda to mention a few. In all this bedlam, the people are usually the victims. Even our country, Nigeria, has not been free from electoral malfeasance but has managed to continuously address the contradictions through electoral reforms.

Misrule emanating from self-interested leadership has hobbled good governance to the detriment of the people that they claim to govern. African leaders must wake up to the necessity to govern responsibly and in the interest of their people. It should be added that the people are always the alpha and omega of government policy, the self-aggrandisement of deluded leadership. Only when the people are given centre-stage in running the countries’ affairs can soldiers be checked from intruding into politics instead of keeping to their traditional role of defending the country from external aggression such as Boko Haram, ISWAP, ISIS, etc. that are currently plaguing parts of the continent.

The new junta in Gabon should match words with action, sanitise the polity, and hand over power without delay to a democratically elected government in that country. For stability in the continent, democracy has proven to be the most legitimate and convenient way to govern in twenty–first century Africa if Africans are to avoid the cycle of crises that has bedevilled the continent. There are lessons to be learnt from the turbulent political history of the continent.

As we have argued in coup-related editorials, the African Union has evolved the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), an African self-monitoring tool. The APRM states that “The primary purpose of the APRM is to foster good governance by the adoption of policies, standards, and practices leading to political stability, high economic growth, sustainable development, and accelerated sub-regional and continental integration through sharing of experiences and reinforcement of successful and best practice.” It is worth reiterating that African leaders should embrace this mechanism to improve governance, learn what works, and avoid the pitfalls that are counterproductive to democracy and development.

Source: The Guardian