I was still in Poland when on 8 June 2009 Jandro skyped me at an unusal hour, long before our regular chat time. He told me not to be worried or afraid. Very much worried and afraid, I asked what was wrong. It turned out that the borders of the country had been sealed and curfew had been introduced. Omar Bongo Ondimba, Gabon's president and until that day world's longest serving head of government, died in Barcelona at the age of 73 (if interested, click here).
The country remained calm but the situation seemed rather tense. Well into July the election day was finally chosen. On 30 August Gabon was going to choose its brand new future. Two weeks before this day and two days after I came here the campaign started.
The most visible candidate was Omar Bongo's son, Ali Bongo. "Ali'9" is omnipresent (see article from Reuters), be it a T-shirt, a hoarding-board or a street lamp. Whole villages are turned into Ali camps, with people dressed from head to toe in "Ali'9" free gadgets. He's got the money. He's got the marketing specialists. He's got his dad's experience.
Even though there are 23 candidates altogether, only three of them are said to stand a chance. The first one is of course Ali Bongo. The other two are Andre Mba Obame (or AMO, as he called himself for campaign purposes, which also stands for his slogan: Action, Modernity, Openness), interior minister until July and an important piece in the Omar Bongo mechanism. The third one is Pierre Mamboundou, an oppositionist, who has no links to Omar Bongo's government and whose campaign, due to the lack of money, consisted in covering the country in red flags, his trademark. Apparently, all three of them can boast substantial support (more on the candidates here).
We decided that it would be better to just stay at home on the election day. Our Gabonese friends told us to keep low profile - in the end, the French are not very popular nowadays, being seen as the ones who want to impose their will when it comes to the presidential election. And what are we if not French? Thus we spent a quiet day at home, preparing our just-in-case-we-need-to-run-away backpacks and watching the strangely calm street from our terrace. No results were made public yesterday, land and see borders were sealed. It rained heavily for the first time since the wet season ended in June.
Today we've found out that all three main candidates proclaimed themselves winners (see here). The official results will be available in a few days (!). Since there are none yet, people suspect that Ali might have lost. There is talk of riots or even a coup but people are not very serious about any of that yet.
Before the elections one of our friends told us: "On the 30th Gabon will give you a lesson of democracy". Let's hope he knew what he was talking about.
PS. As I am no political analyst and my knowledge of Gabon is still scarce this is all I can offer you on the topic. However, I know a certain Galician guy who knows much more and will answer all the questions on ethnic vote and oil you might have. ;)