Credible elections are the surest path to power

While we condemn in the strongest terms the foiled military coup in Gabon, the outcome of the presidential election in the Democratic Republic of Congo offers a glimmer of hope. What both events underscore is that political leaders in Africa must begin to understand that in the age that we are in, the peace and stability of any country can only be assured by a strict adherence to the rule of law and constitutionalism. The military, as has been demonstrated again and again in several African countries, offers no solution to the problems that plague the people.

Estimated to be the fourth-richest nation in Africa, Gabon is a tragic story that is not about to end soon. The small country with a population of about two million people has since 1967 been held down by one family. After the death of his father, Omar Bongo in 2009, the current president, Ali Bongo took over power and was re-elected in 2016 in a poll marred by widespread malpractices and violence. But having suffered a stroke last October, Bongo has been holed up in Morocco while the actual state of his health remains a matter of conjecture in his country.

This unknown health status was indeed the reason cited by some soldiers who took over the state radio and called on the people to “rise up” as they announced that a “national restoration council” would be formed to run the country in place of the ailing Bongo. Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang who identified himself as the deputy commander of the Republican Guard called on “all young people from forces for the defence and security and Gabonese young people to join us,” announcing that a “national restoration council” would be formed. “The eagerly awaited day has arrived when the army has decided to put itself on the side of the people in order to save Gabon from chaos. If you are eating, stop; if you are having a drink, stop; if you are sleeping, wake up. Wake up your neighbours… rise up as one and take control of the street,” he said.

It is noteworthy that the coup failed within hours amid global condemnations, including from the African Union (AU). But uncertainties remain in Gabon with Bongo still in Morocco. “While Mr Bongo is unpopular, and there are reasons to think his removal would be justified, any incoming government would face the same fiscal pressures as his,” said Francois Conradie, head of research at NKC African Economics, following the announcement of the coup. It is an apt summation of the situation in the oil-rich country where a tiny elite controls all the resources.

Meanwhile, the story from the Democratic Republic of Congo is also not too reassuring. Last Thursday, opposition candidate, Felix Tshisekedi was declared winner of the 30th December 2018 presidential election. Martin Faluyu, another opposition candidate who was generally expected to win, has rejected the outcome and so has The Congo’s Catholic Church. “We take note of the publication of the provisional results of the presidential election which, for the first time in the recent history of our country, opens the way to change at the top of the state,” said a statement by the Catholic group before adding, “However, from the analysis of the elements observed by this mission, we find that the results of the presidential election do not correspond to the data collected by our observation mission from the polling and counting stations.”

While we urge the aggrieved parties in Congo to seek legal redress, the lesson from the election and the abortive coup in Gabon is that democracy remains the only pathway to power without violence.

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