For some weeks now the Central African state of Gabon has been making headline news. It started some months ago when opposition party members protested against Ali Bongo’s presidential candidature on the grounds that he was not born on Gabonese soil. Even though the judiciary never gave into their demands, turbulence continued throughout the electoral process leading to scores of people being declared dead and property looted. The partisans of the main opposition candidate Jean Ping took to the streets, venting their frustration against an electoral process deemed full of irregularities.
However, an incumbent Bongo still sailed through and last Tuesday, September 27, 2016, in the presence of a few African leaders was sworn in for his second mandate as President of the Republic of Gabon. This is the latest negative news that has been emanating from the Central Africa Sub-region which has become the sick man of Africa. At every electoral rendez-vous there is always trouble, bloodshed and properties destroyed. It is a region where incumbents have never been defeated in any elections and most often they win by a landslide majority. Their departure from the throne is always through coups or sudden death to the extent that many ask whether the sub-region is ready for an election; whether the sub-region is ready for change; or whether the sub-region has become a curse land where transition can never be celebrated like it was done in Nigeria in 2015 or South Africa in 1994.
The Case Against the Central Africa Sub-region.
The Central Africa sub-region has about 11 countries including Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Gabon, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, DR Congo, Burundi, Rwanda and Sao Tome and Principe. These countries, in 1981 formed the Economic Community of Central Africa States (ECCAS) which now has a Council for Peace and Security known by its French acronym as COPAX. However, peace is still a scarce commodity in member states while security remains farce.
Just days after gaining independence in 1975, a civil war began in Angola that only ended in 2002. Since independence in 1960, the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire as it was then known) has never enjoyed a season of stability and the country has never seen a peaceful transition from one president to another. Chad’s former President, Hissein Habré was the first former African leader to be tried and sentenced because of crimes against humanity that he committed during his 8 year term of office. His term ended in 1990 following an uprising by Lt. Col. Idriss Deby who also survived many attempted coups and won every election organized. When we talk of families taking nations hostage, this sub-region is a perfect example. Since 1967, Gabon has been under the stewardship of the Bongo family while José Eduardo do Santos has been President of Angola since the death of the independent leader Agostinho Neto in 1979 in which his family members occupied the most important positions. Prior to this, next door Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo was busy ousting his own uncle in a military uprising and he finally became President in August of the same year.
The worst conflicts in Africa have taken place in this sub-region; Rwanda and Burundi became harbors of a genocide that some estimated killed close to 2 million people. Between 1998 and 2003, Congo fought a war that caused the death of about 2 million people and Denis Sassou Ngeusso, current President was himself part of the conflict. The country that is named after the sub-region, the Central African Republic is standing on the shoulders of United Nations forces because of years of violence. Cameroon has somehow been spared all this bloodshed but is now facing the turmoil of Boko Haram.
All these problems emanate from the fact that the Central Africa sub-region is suffering from weak leadership which concentrates more on self-aggrandizement rather than enhancing development and promoting democratic mutations. In these countries, the military and the police are not just trained to keep rogue elements out of the way but they pounce on anyone trying to challenge the reigning ‘monarchs’. Moreover, in most, if not all of these situations there is always the hand of a foreign nation which intervenes not to manage the conflict but to protect its interests. The Central Africa sub-region is a fertile ground for Western powers because it is home to most of Africa’s wealth; gold, crude oil, aluminum, copper, bauxite, diamond and a host of food crops that western industries and markets depend on. That is why Dr Didier Djoumessi questions whether these resources have become a curse to the very people.
Can the Sick Man Ever Be Treated?
It is a difficult question to know whether the countries of the Central Africa sub-region can one day move from turbulence to stability; whether one day, an incumbent will organize and lose elections like Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria. Or whether the opposition candidate would congratulate the incumbent like the then main opposition party leader in Ghana, Professor John Atta Mills who congratulated incumbent John Kufuor for winning the election in 2004. Or whether opposition party members can freely demonstrate without the muscular intervention of the military like in South Africa.
As we announced above, Africa is suffering from a leadership diarrhea and the situation of Central Africa is acute. In all these countries, we have enumerated above, no leader has ever relinquished power or organized elections to ensure a peaceful transition from one candidate to another. It is in this region that we find the longest serving leaders in the world and in Africa in particular. Power has been reserved for a few even though the majority of the population is also thirsty for power and transition. Since these countries are centered on one reigning leader, very weak institutions are in place in a cosmetic show of democracy. The country is led by one person, and this explains why former President of Cameroon, Ahmadou Ahidjo was highly reverenced and called ‘father of the nation’. In most of these countries the judiciary is full of members hand-picked by the President and for this reason; they can never investigate or try him while the legislature is virtually filled by the President’s cohorts. With weak institutions in place, the lacuna is filled by strong people who cluster around the President of the Republic. In most cases, there are ‘mini presidents’ within the state declaring allegiance to the overall presidents and not to republican institutions. As Barack Obama said in 2009, Africa needs strong institutions because with weak institutions, there is always room for manipulation from outside interests.
Even though most African countries were declared independent in the 1960s, they still remained under the claws of the former colonial masters. Most notably amongst them is France which has maintained an imposing presence in Africa and especially the Central Africa sub-region. Former French President confirmed this by saying that without Africa, France will become a third world country. France has its biggest military base in Gabon and it was the French Air force that saved Deby’s government from successful rebel incursions in 2006, 2008 and 2009. Francois Xavier Verschave detailed in his book, France Afrique: le crime that France manipulates most African regimes and was heavily involved in the Rwandan genocide. Moreover, France only protects leaders that serve its interests and not the people.
The world is a place full of interests and no country would do something against its interests. Africa should not wait for answers from Western countries or solutions from the United Nations which has always been ill-prepared and unaware of the reality, culture and mind-set of African people. Africans need to look upon their ancestors’ way of leadership and management which represent them more than imported practices that do not serve their interests. Since we are in the world where nothing is impossible, we believe that the miracle that happened in South Africa leading to the fall of the apartheid system and the accession to the throne of Nelson Mandela in 1994 can find a place in Central Africa.
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