Gabon Election Update: Violence as Bongo is Declared Winner

Gabon election protests

After the official results of the presidential elections, unrest broke out in Gabon's capital. (AFP PHOTO / ISSOUF SANOGO)

The results of Gabon’s presidential election, held this past Sunday, were officially announced  today, as the Ministry of the Interior proclaimed Ali Ben Bongo the winner with 42% of the vote. As we reported on Tuesday on our weekly Human Rights Flashpoints blog, all three leading candidates for the Gabon presidency – Bongo, Pierre Mamboundou, and Andre Mba Obame – had proclaimed they had won the election before official results were announced. Moreover, tensions had been rising in Gabon since Sunday’s election, with troops being stationed at several key locations in the capital, Libreville, and with widespread accusations of election fraud by opposition candidates.

Since the election results this morning, leading news sources have reported clashes between police and supporters of the opposition candidates. According to the BBC, the police have been using teargas and batons against protesters in Libreville. Most worrisome are reports that opposition candidates Pierre Mamboundou and Andre Mba Obame were among the thousands of protesters wounded by the police’s indiscriminate use of force.

Reuters also reports that the French consulate in Port Gentil, an oil city in Gabon, was torched by protesters. France is widely considered to be supporting the proclaimed winner of the election, Ali Ben Bongo, who is the son of Gabon’s late president Omar Bongo. Bongo had ruled Gabon for the past 41 years and had been a close ally of France, its former colonial ruler. Critics argue that the poll was fixed in order to ensure a dynastic succession and some have called the situation a coup d’état.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who has been in touch with all three candidates, has confirmed that Mamboundou had been wounded.  According to the French daily Le Monde, Kouchner also advised its 10,000 citizens living in Gabon to stay at home and assured that France was prepared to protect its citizens if the situation deteriorated. France keeps close to 1,000 troops on a permanent military base in Gabon.

Juliette Rousselot contributed to this post.

Human Rights Flashpoints-September 1, 2009

Burma – New Fighting in Northeast
The last few days have seen renewed violence in Myanmar (Burma). Fighting erupted between government forces and one of the so-called ceasefire groups, when the army clashed with the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) in Myanmar’s northeast Shan state. 37,000 people fled to the neighboring Yunnan province in China.  Even more noteworthy, the fighting and the resulting displacement led to a surprising criticism by China, the military regime’s strongest supporter.

The MNDAA is one of the 17 ethnic armies that have signed a ceasefire agreement with the government. Last week’s fighting broke a 20 year old ceasefire and might be the beginning of increased clashes between the army and ethnic armed groups ahead of next year’s elections. Tensions have increased due to government demands that the groups convert their forces into border guard units under the command of the national army. Many analysts agree that the aim is to disarm ethnic insurgents and neutralize their threat ahead of the elections.

Must Reads


We are working together with the Chinese authorities to try to get access to the area. While we believe their material needs are being taken care of, we haven’t been able to assess what their needs for international protection are – Kitty McKinsey, UNHCR spokeswomen, September 1, 2009.

This is an irrational and short-sighted move by the army. Not only have they increased tensions and caused distress with the ethnic groups, they’re straining ties with China – Aung Zaw, editor of Thailand-based Irrawaddy magazine, August 29, 2009.

There’s a degree of brinkmanship that’s extremely precarious and things could get out of control. When both sides are engaged in brinkmanship, the potential for miscalculation is considerable and dangerous – Anthony Davis, security analyst at Jane’s, August 29, 2009.

The United States is deeply concerned over the attacks by the Burma army in Eastern Burma against several ethnic nationality groups and we continue to monitor developments there very closely. The brutal fighting has forced thousands of civilians to flee their homes for safety in Thailand and China, and has reduced both stability and the prospects for national reconciliation in Burma. We urge the Burmese authorities to cease their military campaign and develop a genuine dialogue with the ethnic minority groups as well as with Burma’s democratic opposition – Ian Kelly, US Department of State, August 31, 2009

Gabon – Poll Uncertainties
Sunday’s presidential elections to replace late President Omar Bongo – who passed away in June after 41 years in power in this oil-rich country – are leading to uncertain results. Three different candidates – Bongo’s son, Ali Ben Bongo, veteran opposition leader Pierre Mamboundou, and former minister Andre Mba Obame – have all claimed to have won the election. The BBC reports that the vote was generally peaceful but tense, especially due to long lines at polling stations.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Gabon’s security forced stepped up patrols in the capital on Tuesday, after election officials delayed announcing the results of the election until Wednesday. Witnesses said anti-riot police had been deployed to one of the squares often used for political gatherings in Libreville, Gabon’s capital, and that Republican Guard soldiers had reinforced the usual gendarme presence outside several government buildings.


Democracy is about accepting success and defeat – Interim President of Gabon Rose Francine Rogombé, August 31, 2009

The Secretary-General […] calls upon all Gabonese to continue to support the democratic process, to ensure the will of the people is respected, and to heed the appeal by the Interim President of Gabon, H.E. Ms. Rose Francine Rogombé, for calm and responsibility as the vote counting process continues – Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, August 31, 2009 .

The [AU] mission calls on the candidates … and the entire population to ensure peace and democracy is maintained in Gabon by sticking to dialogue – Albert Tevoedjre, head of the AU election observer team in Gabon, September 1, 2009.

Must Reads
Freedom House: Freedom in the World 2009: Gabon

Coming Up

  • September 1: Day of commemorations in Poland to mark the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of WWII
  • September 1: The United States assumes the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council for the month of September
  • September 1: Libyans celebrate the 40th anniversary of Colonel Qaddafi’s rise to power
  • September 2: Meeting of the International Special Representatives for Afghanistan and Pakistan in Paris.

Juliette Rousselot contributed to this post.

Human Rights Flashpoints is a weekly column about countries at risk of escalating human rights violations and is brought to you by AIUSA’s Crisis Prevention and Response team