Patronage – Gabon

The current political climate of Gabon was shaped by remnants of French influence during and after colonialization, customary rules, and the will of its leader. The Gabonese government is comprised of the president, a national assembly, and a senate that is mainly guided by French civil law and largely influenced by patronage. The days since independence have been clouded by neo-patirmonialism. The first Gabonese president was imposed to the people by France which resulted in a failed military coup. His death in 1967 and the election of his prime minister, Omar Bongo, gave way to the formation of a regime sustained directed by the whim of one “Big Man.” He was able to sustain his regime with France’s help in exchange of business favors and by changing the constitution multiple times. He repealed the limit of presidential terms in 2003, thirty-six years after his first election. Bongo died in 2009, which changed the course of Gabon’s international relations and foreign policy because they were largely influence by his character and his relationship with leaders of foreign states.

First relations with France began to fade when his son Ali Bongo was first elected president in 2009 and sought to move away from his father’s regime. He also increased trades relations with China. Ali Bongo started to crack down on corruption by firing many government officials who worked under his father’s regime. Many of these officials joined opposing political parties. He also eliminated the quarterly bonuses given to civil servants simply for their allegiance. France has also been conducting corruption investigations into the Bongo’s family assets since Ali Bongo came to power. In spite of his efforts to move away from his father’s regime, Ali Bongo has kept a patronage system in Gabon. Much of the system favors people from his ethnic group, his friends, and people who have given allegiance to the PDG (political party founded by Omar Bongo).

Even though it is not a free country because of the lack of civil liberty and as defined by Freedom House, Gabon has been able to contribute its army to peace keeping missions to stabilize the Central African region. It has also been working with the U.S. to help regulate environmental standards in the region.

The political system in Gabon has not prevented it from having a positive impact in the Central African region. However, it has been under duress recently with the re-election of Ali Bongo in August 31st. Ping, a member of an opposing party, declared himself president and vowed to free Gabon. Ping’s stance is ironic because he served under Omar Bongo’s regime and resigned in 2014 after participating in the patronage system for much of the country’s life. The constitutional court recounted presidential vote after civil unrest, but gave the same results. Ali Bongo was officially sworn as the Gabonese president in September 27 2016. Riots have stopped in Libreville, the capital of Gabon and other provinces. Gabon’s future in international relations and its foreign policy moving forward are unknown. Nevertheless, one can predict that they will be shaped after Ali Bongo’s character similarly to the past seven years.

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