Gabon’s post-coup reform efforts under fireThu, 28 Mar 2024 06:54:34 GMT

Seven months after bringing the curtain down on the 55-year Bongo dynasty, Gabon’s transitional president launches a national dialogue Tuesday touted as paving the way for elections next year.General Brice Oligui Nguema, who was swiftly sworn in after the August 30 coup, pledged to hand back the oil-rich central African country to civilian rule after a transitional period.The international community has welcomed the steps taken so far and many Gabonese still regard Oligui as a saviour.Nevertheless some criticise what they say amounts to a dialogue “between oneself” that lays the path towards the general’s candidacy for president.Mounting calls for the dialogue to be postponed or reorganised have been heard from a part of the former opposition which has not rallied behind the military regime, as well as in the independent media.Authorities said the Inclusive National Dialogue would be made up of all the country’s “vital actors”.But critics point to the number of participants from the military and other institutions — and all 580 taking part were chosen by Oligui.”The criteria for participation must be reviewed,” Lionel Giovanni Boulingui, an official from the opposition REAGIR party, said.”They aren’t inclusive.”- Hope and scepticism – According to a list published on Wednesday, 104 of the 580 participants are from the military.Another 199 are members of the transitional government and parliament.Independent website said this month that the military authorities could also count on a further 100 participants from local and regional entities set up since the coup.In PK 10, a poor neighbourhood in the capital Libreville, residents were divided over the consultation.”Our hope is that it changes something,” said Serge Zoghe Ename, 32, who is unemployed.Retired policeman Firmin said it had been a long time coming. “Each will give their opinion. We’ve waited for that for a long time,” he said.But 50-year-old Tristan Gelaz was sceptical.”We wonder if it’s not going to draw a blank,” he said, adding: “The actors of the transition are the same ones who yesterday defiled the country.”The coup took place moments after Ali Bongo was declared winner of a presidential election which the army and opposition declared fraudulent.Bongo took office on the death of his father Omar, who had ruled with an iron fist for more than 41 years.As well as branding the election result a fraud, the opposition and the military coup leaders accused Ali Bongo’s regime of widespread corruption and bad governance.- Run for president? – For the other dialogue participants, the 104 “legally recognised” parties — most of which support the general since the coup — put forward four people, one of whom was selected.”It’s not respectful of the parties’ internal democracy,” Anges Kevin Nzigou of the Party for Change told AFP.Civil society representatives, including from employers’ organisations, unions, youth and pensioner groups as well as NGOs will make up the rest.The military regime “is demonstrating its desire to control the debate from start to finish”, Nzigou complained.”Organising a dialogue and choosing who comes is a bit like having defined what will be said,” said Guy Pambo Mihindou, a Libreville University researcher in political science.The opposition also complains about a lack of information on how the consultation will be handled.”The organisation of the IND is being done in total opacity,” Joachim Mbatchi Pambou from the Forum for the Defence of the Republic said.Under the transition timetable, the Gabonese people were invited to submit suggestions to be presented to the national dialogue.Minister for the Reform of Insitutions Murielle Minkoue said that 38,000 complaints and proposals were received at offices or online.Five days before the dialogue was due to begin however, no summary of those proposals had been made public.Detractors say resolutions from the national dialogue will not be binding, including on the future constitution which authorities say will be put to a referendum.The opposition also fears the conference will not question Oligui being allowed to run for the presidency in 2025.Although a post-coup charter barred all leading figures in transitional bodies from the race, it made an exception for the general.