Political Tensions on the Rise in Gabon

Gabon is still dealing with the results of the disputed August 2016 presidential election. Leading opposition candidate Jean Ping accused the ruling party of electoral fraud, while the Constitutional Court approved the results, which showed that President Ali Bongo had won by several thousand votes. Since that time, Bongo has been governing with a focus on progress. His cabinet, which has already had several reshuffles since late 2016, is fairly strong by Gabonese historical standards and is led by a capable prime minister, Emmanuel Issoze-Ngondet. The former minister of petroleum was arrested on charges of corruption and replaced by a figure very close to the president and Port Gentil, the country’s oil capital. The role of former Cabinet Director Maixent Accrombessi has been curtailed after he suffered a health crisis and recuperated in Europe.

On the positive side, Gabon, which by African standards has had a relatively low level of foreign debts, was able to access bond finance to help it through the recent period of low oil prices. That said, budget and fiscal management within the country remains poor, and payments are still often delayed. In time, the slowly rising global price of crude will aid the Gabonese budget, which declined by approximately 5% in the last year. However, Gabon is producing less oil, which – exacerbated by the low prices – has created significant financial stress.

In recent weeks, political tensions have risen again. Jean Ping continues to campaign for regional and international action to overturn the 2016 elections. Although he receives no traction on the issue, his voice is heard, particularly among some groups within Gabon. Meanwhile, global NGO Freedom House announced on 16 January that Gabon “saw the sharpest one-year decline of any in the world on measures of political rights and civil liberties… and Gabon also is one of six African nations appearing among the Top 15 that showed the largest 10-year declines in freedom.” Moreover, Bongo and his ruling party are pushing through constitutional reforms that would remove presidential term limits. The reforms themselves have not yet been transparently issued, and thus add to internal tensions and skeptical reports from external observers.

We advise IOCs and other investors to be prepared for continued delays and inefficiencies in government decision-making on oil licenses and other bureaucratic necessities. In addition, there have been several minor instances of violent urban protests in recent months, and investors should be prepared with contingencies in case this violence spreads.

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