Libreville: Gabon‘s opposition leader appealed on Monday for a general strike in response to what he said was a fraudulent re-election of President Ali Bongo, while the justice minister resigned over the government’s failure to organise a recount.
Their protests undermined Bongo’s attempts to project stability following the election‘s violent aftermath, though few citizens in the capital Libreville appeared to heed his defeated rival Jean Ping’s strike call as economic activity picked back up.
Ping, a former African Union Commission chairman who declared himself Gabon‘s leader, said his fight was not over.
“I ask you from today onward not to use violence but to resist by blocking the country’s economy,” he said in a statement to all Gabonese. “I propose to cease all activity and begin a general strike.”
At least six people were killed and more than 1,000 arrested in violence after Wednesday’s announcement of a slim victory for Bongo. His family has run the oil-producing central African country – where the only refinery resumed operations on Monday – for half a century.
An adviser to the interior minister told Reuters on Sunday that several dozen people had been released, but several Libreville residents said that they had not seen or heard from family members since the riots.
Former colonial power France also expressed concern about the safety of several of its nationals whom, foreign affairs minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said in a statement, French authorities have not had news of in recent days.
Home to around 14,000 French citizens and a military base with 450 French troops, Gabon is statistically one of Africa’s richest countries with a GDP per capita of $10,000 a year.
But oil wealth has flowed mostly to the elite, breeding widespread discontent.
The Bongos have long relied on patronage to buy off dissent. But falling oil prices and production, dominated by Total and Shell, have led to budget cuts.
The US, EU and France last week urged the government to release polling station results for greater transparency and its refusal to do so on Monday led justice minister Seraphin Moundounga to resign.
“In the absence of (a recount), the country has swung into violence,” Moundounga, who also served as second vice-prime minister, told Radio France Internationale. “Peace is gravely threatened in our country.”
In the main cities, life showed signs of returning to normal. Traffic in Libreville resumed along the main boulevards as many people returned to work, though some stayed home for fear of renewed violence.
“Jean Ping doesn’t have to tell me (not to go to work). While the situation is sensitive I’ll stay home,” said Hortense Toulangoye, a state worker. Another employee said he had not heard about the strike.
The internet was operational again, five days after it was shut down in an apparent bid by the government to quell unrest, but access to social media was still limited.
The oil refinery in the economic capital Port Gentil resumed operations after a five-day outage because of the post-electoral violence, Sylvain Mayabi, secretary-general of the National Organization of Petrol Employees, told Reuters.
Total owns a 43.8% stake in the refinery, which processes 21,000 barrels of oil per day.
Gabon produces 200,000 barrels per day, according to the International Energy Agency, and its output is in decline. It rejoined OPEC in July after two decades.
During more than four decades in power, late president Omar Bongo cultivated close relations with a succession of French presidents, but his son’s ties to Paris have been more tenuous.
Gabon recalled its ambassador to Paris in January after France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls appeared to question the legitimacy of Ali Bongo’s 2009 election.