Gabonese trade unions begin national strike over constitutional amendments for absent leader

Gabonese trade unions begin national strike over constitutional amendments for absent leader

Gabon’s major trade union coalition will kick off three days of strikes today to protest constitutional changes that are suspected

FILE PHOTO: Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba addresses a meeting on climate change at the 30th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and the Government of the African Union in Addis Ababa

Photo: Reuters/Tiksa Negeri

Gabon’s major trade union coalition will kick off three days of strikes today to protest constitutional changes that are suspected of keeping ailing President Ali Bongo in power. Mr Bongo has spent the last six weeks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco for an undisclosed illness.

The nationwide strike was sparked by the Gabonese Constitutional Court—presided over by Bongo’s mother-in-law—amending the basic law to allow for Bongo’s “temporary incapacity”. Bongo’s family has ruled Gabon for 47 years, with a history of disputed and tainted elections.

The absence risks creating a power vacuum in the oil-rich West African nation. The opposition still disputes the violence-marred 2016 elections won narrowly by Bongo and have been agitating all year against the government.

The longer the president is away, the likelier that protests and violence will increase; the Bongo regime will crack down on political dissent. Bongo’s medical situation remains unclear, but should he die unexpectedly—like his father and predecessor in 2009—opposition leader Jean Ping may be allowed to assume the presidency. But as Ping is closely linked to the Bongo family—he has two children with the president’s sister—very little would change in Gabon.

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