Thursday, September 22, 2016

Image result for Pierre Savorgnan de BrazzaOnce upon a time ago, a cruel and barbarous colonial power came to Africa with its friends to rape and pillage and murder and spread disease. The year was 1839 and through the nefarious barrel of cannon, France forced the signature of a treaty with local chiefs that gave it powers over the southern coastal regions of Africa which we presently call Gabon. The arrangement was made upon a gentlemen agreement made by Europeans at the BerlinConference of 1885 which awarded all of the territory discovered by Pierre deBrazza to France. By 1910 this area would become French Equatorial Africa, and would encompass the separate colonies of Gabon, Congo, Chad, and Ubangi-Shari was formed. Fast forward to 2016, and although a semblance of independence has been achieved by Gabon and its fellow French colonized compatriots, nothing has really changed. Like the majority of African countries after colonialism, many in the west seldom hear of, mention or concern themselves about Gabon. In typical fashion, independence from France in this case only meant that the regular abuse and impoverishment of its population and rampant political corruption would happen under the rule of a fellow African instead of a European: an Africa which as in most examples is merely a stooge for the former pre-colonial power.

Gabon like much of ex-colonial Africa is a symbol of how a rich endowment in natural resources is used by the very few for their personal wealth while regular citizens struggle daily just to survive. Although the nation has an illiteracy less than 3% and the population is generally well-educated, it has little economic growth namely due to French neocolonial economic policies and nepotism and inefficiency (despite as a nation it maintains the third largest hydrocarbon resources in sub-Saharan Africa). Just like most of the developed world, in Gabon the richest 20 percent hold 90 percent of the wealth with the rest of the Gabonese population fighting for scrapes and living in poverty. This is why the protest have exploded to a new high after the recent presidential election in which many think Ping was defeated by Ali Bongo via classic sleight of hand corruption.

According to the constitution of 1961, Gabon is a republic in which the president and members of the legislature are directly elected. Leon M'ba, the first president of the republic, died in office in 1967 and was succeeded by Omar Bongo whom introduced a one-party system in 1968. Not until popular protests occurred in 1990 was Bongo forced to make revisions to the constitution to legalize multiple parties and reduce the term of office for president from 7 to 5 years. Bongo, was the sole candidate in 1973, 1979, and 1986, yet was reelected president amid charges of fraud in multiparty elections held in 1993. His party won a clear majority in legislative elections held in December 1996 also but political unrest continued. In 1997 the constitution was revised again to re-extend the presidential term to 7 years, renewable once, beginning with the 1998 elections, after Bongo won again.

Ali Bongo has been the President of Gabon since 2009 after his father, and then President Omar Bongo died.  El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba had served as President of Gabon for 42 years from 1967 until his death. After weeks of violence, the Bongo family is cracking down on a popular protest in an effort to maintain its grip over the nation – a country his family ruled over the country for the last 50 years. However, this would be impossible to do if the family didn’t have the tacit and overt support of France.

One could suggest that France is mostly to blame for this upheaval. Mostly as a function of an antiquated Cold War-era policy known as "Françafrique," whereby France props up dictators in its former colonies in exchange for access to natural resources, military bases, and influence. In the case of Gabon, the country's uranium reserves have been particularly strategic for France. Gabon, like many other post-colonial African nations is a sad example of what has occurred throughout much of Africa, in particular Francophone Africa. Moreover, Gabon also has large oil reserves, but its people are poor, and the country has one of the world's highest infant mortality rates.

No matter what occurs, France will always be the main problem. Although it says politically it has attempted and desires to dismantle the incessant caricature of Françafrique, it has supported and continues to maintain a perceived invaluable yet operose relationship with the only family that has ruled the nation since its quasi-independence from France. The question is if Bongo is removed from office by whatever means, what would fill the vacuum? When France has tried to play the “I’m objective card” itself, it can't. Not to mention that France has to keep on propping up the governments of Mali and Chad as well because if they don’t, like in every other place, radical Islamist movements would create terrorist safe havens and likely fill the void (something the Obama Administration has yet to learn).

But this is what history has shown us what France does.  For example, after supporting a war in Biafra, overthrowing several presidents, collapsing Guinea’s economy and bribing leaders to support its interests, France started to lose the control that it once exercised in Africa. This is probably why France uses extortion to make many African countries continue to pay colonialtax to France since their independence still today.

Anti-Bongo protests haven't let up and have been continuous and gaining momentum over the years, in particular from the younger generation of the Nation. Regardless of the opposition, all say Ali Bongo has not let go of the corrupt practices of his father, who amassed huge personal wealth and lived like a boss during his decades in power. Gabon has one of the highest per capita incomes in Africa, largely because of its oil reserves, but as mentioned previously, at least a third of the country lives in poverty.

So what's next for Gabon? Civil war is definitely a petrifying prospect. So is a crackdown that keeps the Bongo’s in power. At some point, France will probably try to broker an outcome, but the situation may get out of hand. Omar Bongo ruled Gabon, now the continent’s fourth-largest oil producer, for 41 years until his death in 2009. Add this to what all African leaders as well as the European political establishment are very much cognizant of (that nations like France need for their countries' resources); it is very likely that the sleight of hand European manipulation game of passing the buck, turning away the eyes and pretending to be objective will only continue.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Bongo even adopted the same manipulation tactics once used on them by France. Take the example of Total, the third largest European Oil company based in France. Total is the oldest foreign petroleum company in Gabon and owns 58.28 percent of Total Gabon, with the Gabonese government holding 25 percent and if estimates are correct, it produces between 200,00 to output to 500,000 barrels per day. This is a major card to play to maintain French support regardless of how oppressive the Bongo regime is toward its citizenry.

France will not consider past practices, especially in the age of social media. History has shown that when in trouble previously, France will do anything to make sure it has access to natural resources in Africa. When Africans under colonial rule were fighting to liberate themselves from European colonization, France would frequently use the French Foreign Legion to orchestrate military coups against presidents actually represented and selected by the people of those countries. In fact two such efforts were successfully implemented against the First Presidents of theCentral African Republic and the Republic of Upper Volta  (Burkina Faso). In total since independence from France, Coups have occurred more than 15 times in former French colonies.

But propping up Bongo and his lineage for the purpose of access to natural resources isn’t anything new for France.  The question is how will the everyday citizens of Gabon end this deadly infection?

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