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Experts: Democracy Failing in Africa Due to Poor Governance


This image from video shows the spokesperson for Gabon's mutinous soldiers speaking on state television as he announces that the military had seized power in Libreville, Aug. 30, 2023. (GABON 24 via AP)

As Nigeria joined a growing number of nations criticizing Africa's latest coup, this time in Gabon, experts said Thursday that democracy is endangered on the continent because elected leaders are failing to deliver.

Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who also is chair of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, is monitoring the development in Gabon with deep concern, presidential spokesman Ajuri Ngelale said.

Tinubu is worried about the seeming “autocratic contagion” spreading in Africa and is working with world leaders and the African Union to resolve it, Ngelale said.

Senior military men on Wednesday ousted Gabonese leader Ali Bongo Ondimba shortly after he was declared the winner of last week's controversial presidential election. He is now under house arrest. In a video on social media, Bongo asked his allies to “make some noise” about his removal.

The junta also annulled the elections, dissolved state institutions and closed the country's borders.

"Power belongs in the hands of Africa's great people and not in the barrels of a loaded gun,” Ngelale said. “The president affirms that the rule of law … must not at any time be allowed to perish from our great continent."

Gabon's coup d'etat is the eighth in Africa since August 2020 and comes one month after a military standoff in Niger that regional bloc ECOWAS is struggling to resolve.

The latest coup, which the African Union condemned, raises concerns about the fading of the rule of law in Africa.

Coups are becoming more rampant because African leaders have failed to deliver quality democratic leadership, said Rotimi Olawale, an Abuja-based political affairs analyst.

"While ECOWAS and the African Union have a standing reaction on the coup in the continent,” Olawale said, “what the bodies need to do beyond response to coups is also to sort of subject the democratic credentials of its member states to a peer review mechanism. If democracy is not working for the people, they will seek alternative means of governance that will deliver for them. And many are not delivering."

Emmanuel Njoku, director of democracy and governance at Connected Development, a nonprofit civil society group based in Abuja, predicted more coups in the coming months.

"Democracy globally is being threatened,” he said. “But for Africa in particular, the kind of democracy we see in Africa, cases where you see dictatorial democrats in power, I'm not very surprised that these things are happening. I don't think this is the end to it. We should be expecting more."

In 2009, Ali Bongo took over the reins of power from his father, who had ruled the country for 42 years before his death. Bongo also amended the country's constitution to allow himself a third term in office.

On Wednesday, hundreds of people marched in Gabon's capital, Libreville, celebrating the coup and saying they have been liberated from Bongo's dynasty.

"This is an oil-producing country, yet the people are so poor,” said Connected Development’s Njoku. “If you look at it realistically, it is actually liberation for the people of Gabon [after] having one family at the helm of affairs for so long. And we understand that this president was already preparing his son to take over from him when he gets old."

Amid global condemnation, Gabon's junta named General Brice Nguema as the country’s transitional leader. The French news agency reported he will be sworn in on Monday.

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