Gabon: Putting The Military Coup Against Ali Bongo Into Perspective

Photos: YouTube Screenshots

The Bongo dynasty has been ruling the mineral-rich nation of Gabon for over fifty (50) years, so much so that when the recent military coup occurred in that country, it caught most of us by surprise, something we had thought was impossible. More so, I had to wipe my eyes to ensure I wasn’t dreaming when President-for-life, Ali Bongo, the “Elect of God” himself, was shown over the television looking disheveled and whimpering like a mouse trapped in a warren of tunnels: “Fellow world leaders! Please make some noise like never before. I have been kept hostage and I fear for my safety.”

I have never been enamored of military coups, no matter how they brand themselves: Saviors-in-uniform, emerging messiahs, provisional interveners, short-term coupists, and so on and so forth. In fact, I am diametrically opposed to their incursions into African politics, as they are not trained in the art of governance, but to defend our territorial waters from external attack or aggression. That’s why when they overthrow an elected government and begin to pollute our nation’s airwaves with preposterous statements, some of which are mere hoary chestnut and recycled clichés, I just laugh.

When one of Nigeria’s most corrupt heads of State, General Ibrahim Babangida came in on 27 August 1985, he classed his team “revolutionary” or “Young Turks” (I can’t remember which one). But they were soon to bare their fangs in less than two years by their financial shenanigans, which bled my dear country dry. Corruption ascended Olympian heights and his team of high-ranking officers became obscenely rich from the “misappropriation,” “misapplication” – or put succinctly, thievery of the billions of dollars we had realized from the sale of crude oil, especially during the Gulf War of the 90s. The now retired billionaire-General is widely regarded as one whose regime democratized corruption and corrupted democracy in Nigeria.

The military coup in Gabon, I think, is a wake-up call to elected officials to engage in things that are right while in office: to provide infrastructural facilities for the people – potable water, electricity, affordable healthcare, security and an enabling environment where local businesses can thrive. In any case, these are what African leaders swear allegiances to, but hardly any of them care about satisfying these when they ascend the high office.

The family of the ex-president, Ali Bongo, is intensely corrupt and rumored to own some of the biggest boutiques and perfumeries in Paris, employing thousands of French citizens while his own fellow Gabonese are wallowing in abject poverty, living in filth and degeneracy and surviving on less than a dollar a day.

What kind of people are we, really? Are our so-called “leaders” cursed that they can be so generous to outsiders and miserly to their own people?

With the overthrow of Ali Bongo, any tyrannical leader carried away with the arrogance of power should now know that they can be forced out of power, no matter the length of time they have occupied that throne. This is a message to Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni who had held Uganda by the jugular for 36 years, refusing to open up the country to real multiparty systems and has instead, forced a ‘multiparty-dictatorship’ on the Ugandan people. A coinage of the cynic, this phrase defines a system of government where a leader hides under the veil of pluralism while at the same time, indulges in all crude and unconventional methods to whittle down opposition parties while maintaining his sole grip on power.

The putsch in Gabon is also a clarion call to Paul Biya, the Cameroonian president who has ruled the country for 40 years amid the constant massacre of the English-speaking regions of the country by their French-speaking counterparts. The president has not allowed for a real separation of powers, as he looms dictatorially over other organs of government. He is also renowned for his crackdown on dissenting voices. It is in the news that, sensing the recent coup in Gabon, he quickly reshuffled his cabinet, which in any case, was a mere rubber stamp for his own policies. What’s the point of reshuffling you might ask when all the cards are jokers?

The leader of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, should also beware. He has been in power now for 43 years and rules the country autocratically with vital government positions given to family members. Like Uganda’s Museveni whose son is head of the army, Teodoro Nguema’s first son is the country’s Vice President. With corruption rife amongst state officials, and gross curtailment of freedom of speech, of the press, and association, my advice to this stone-age dictator and his henchmen is to leave something positive for future generation rather than destroying every facet of the country like a bull in a china shop.

I have often been asked if what happened in Gabon can happen in Nigeria, as we seemed to have kept our military adventurers at bay since 1999. I think it would be certifiably insane to suggest that it can’t happen in our own country, as nothing is set in stone, not even governance. If Nigeria’s current president, Chief Bola Tinubu, does not want to feel the acidic taste of gunpowder or be shown the way out of Aso Rock, Nigeria’s seat of power, then he must address the country’s apparent drift to nowhere and the intensive brain drain and human capital flight of our teeming professionals to the UK, Saudi-Arabia and the US on a daily basis.

Nigerians are tired of being enveloped in utter man-made darkness. They need electricity. A large proportion of the sick and the infirm are currently dying like flies from concoctions prescribed by medical quacks and road-side dispensaries, as there is a dearth of functioning state-run clinics in the country.

Nigerian citizens need water that is pipe-borne and not those stinking sachet-bound liquid they call “pure water.” I still cannot fathom out why we remain castrated in development when our country is blessed with abundant natural resources. This is the time for President Bola Tinubu to put things right and dazzle rather than fizzle out. I fear that if he continues to sustain this business-as-usual form of politics where lootocracy is the order of the day, the military may unleash mayhem on Aso Rock and his administration will be worse for it.

As I write, the new Gabonese military leader, General Brice Nguema has released the ex-president, Ali Bongo, granting him freedom to leave the country to seek medical treatment abroad, a gesture that the ex-president himself, never granted his political adversaries, real and imagined. The new military leader is also on the verge of releasing political detainees and has installed the renowned opposition leader, Raymond Ndong Sima as the new Prime Minister while he, the General, remains the President.

While this is commendable, we need something more substantive: a blueprint for a return to constitutional democracy. This should be next in the new Head of State’s agenda.

Martins Agbonlahor is a trained lawyer, journalist and author. He resides in Greater Manchester, The United Kingdom.   


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