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11 December 2023

Gabon lawmaker declares himself ‘president’


A Gabon opposition leader who declared himself president was holed up in UN offices on Wednesday demanding recognition, as the government dissolved his party and warned he faced treason charges.

Andre Mba Obame’s claim on Tuesday that he was president, and his unveiling of a “government”, prompted the 53-nation African Union to voice concern and call for the Gabon opposition to respect the law.
Hours after the announcement, the interior ministry announced that Mba Obame’s National Unity party was immediately dissolved and he and his supporters were stripped of their official duties and faced treason charges.
But Mba Obame reiterated on Wednesday: “I am the elected president of Gabon.”
In a statement, he called on Gabonese to “overthrow the illegal power” which he said must “cease all functions as head of state”.
The former foreign minister has always claimed he won the August 2009 election which official results gave to Ali Bongo Ondimba, son of Omar Bongo Ondimba who held power for 41 years before his death in June 2009.
“He (Ali Bongo) will leave. He will go like Ben Ali,” he said referring to Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who bowed to mounting protests nearly two weeks ago, escaping to Saudi Arabia and ending 23 years in power.
Mba Obame remained inside the compound of the UN Development Programme Wednesday, after going there the night before to deliver a letter demanding UN recognition of his claim to the presidency.
He said he would not leave until he had a “clear response”.
“The Gabon revolution is under way,” declared Mba Obame, adding the people of the oil-rich African state were encouraged by the courage of the Tunisian protesters.
About 50 of his supporters waited in front of the compound as police kept watch from a distance.
According to final results of the disputed 2009 vote, Bongo won 41.79 percent of the ballot with veteran opposition leader Pierre Mamboundou taking 25.6 percent and Mba Obame 25.3 percent.
The vote was denounced as an “electoral coup” by the opposition and led to rioting in Gabon’s oil capital Port Gentil, a bastion of second-placed Mamboundou, that left several people dead.
Interior Minister Jean-Francois Ndongou issued an order late Tuesday on that dissolved Mba Obame’s National Union party “with immediate effect”, a ministry official said.
It also accused Mba Obame of forming an “insurrectional government” in violation of the constitution, amounting to high treason punishable by law.
And it said it would seek to strip Mba Obame of his parliamentary immunity when the National Assembly meets again, expected on Friday.
Gabon’s communication council also said it would suspend the broadcasting of Mba Obame’s television channel TV+ for three months.
Until Wednesday evening, Mba Obame’s channel ran reruns of his “swearing-in ceremony,” also naming a scholar as “prime minister” and announcing a 18-member cabinet.
The African Union said in a statement it was surprised and concerned.
Pointing out that the 2009 election took place under the watch of international observers, it said the declaration “is likely to damage the integrity of legitimate institutions and to threaten the peace, security and stability of Gabon.”
Opposition leader Mamboundou called on government officials to examine Mba Obame’s declaration “with calm, judgment and clarity,” a statement said.
He also called on the government to immediately put in place a fingerprint identification system to avoid vote-rigging ahead of legislative elections planned for later this year.