Gabon Paralyzed as Sporadic Gunfire Marks Post-Vote Unrest

  • Protesters torch shopping centers in capital, Libreville
  • President Bongo to take ‘necessary steps’ to restore peace

Shops, schools and businesses were closed for a second day in Gabon’s two main cities as security force members in balaclavas manned checkpoints to deter protesters while the internet remained shut down following disputed presidential elections.

At least two shopping centers and an apartment building in the capital, Libreville, were torched, as well as a villa owned by the chairman of the central African nation’s electoral commission, according to residents. Gunfire was heard in the neighborhoods of Nzeng Ayong, PK5 and PK8. Internet and texting services were suspended throughout the country.

Gabonese police forces patrol the streets of Libreville on Sept. 1.
Gabonese police forces patrol the streets of Libreville on Sept. 1.
Photographer: Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images

In an address on state television Thursday, President Ali Bongo said he would take any decision necessary to guarantee peace in the country, blaming “small groups” that were trying to sow chaos for the unrest. He said he regretted that people had died in the clashes, without giving a death toll.

“Bongo’s remarks didn’t do anything to ease the tension,” Cailin Birch, a political analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said by phone. “People aren’t just out because of the elections, but because they’re fed up, they’re frustrated with the lack of infrastructure, the lack of progress.”

Bongo, 57, also posted a picture of the parliament building on his Twitter account, showing a burnt-out amphitheater reduced to rubble and ashes. 

Closest-Ever Election

The yield on Gabon’s $1.5 billion Eurobond maturing in December 2024, which jumped by the most since February on Thursday, dropped 2 basis points to 8.02 percent by 1:20 p.m. in Libreville.

Bongo narrowly won a second seven-year term in the closest-ever election in the nation’s history on Aug. 27. His father Omar Bongo, who died in office in 2009, clung to power for 42 years.

The protests began after the electoral commission announced Bongo won the election with 49.8 percent of the vote against 48.2 percent for opposition leader Jean Ping, a victory due to the tally in Bongo’s home province, where voter turnout was 99.93 percent. The opposition immediately rejected the result, saying a turnout of more than 99 percent among 71,714 voters isn’t plausible.

The U.S. and the European Union have urged the government to publish the results for each polling station, rather than the results per province.

With fewer than 2 million people in a nation that’s about the size of the U.K., Gabon has Africa’s lowest population density. The country rejoined the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries this year amid a slump in crude revenue.

Map of Gabon
Map of Gabon
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