Gabon: Opposition wants to ‘turn the page on the Bongos’ in Aug 26 vote

Ossa, a former minister under Omar Bongo, says the country wants to ‘regain their dignity’ in August 26 election.

Albert Ondo Ossa, nominated candidate for the Alternance 2023 opposition grouping in Gabon speaks to the media in Libreville
Albert Ondo Ossa, nominated candidate for the Alternance 2023 opposition grouping in Gabon speaks to the media in Libreville on August 18, 2023 [Steve Jordan/AFP]

On August 26, Gabon’s Ali Bongo will be standing for a third term in office as president of the Central African country.

Bongo has been in office since his father died in 2009.

Six of the country’s biggest opposition parties have coalesced into the coalition movement Alternance 2023 to challenge the incumbent. The platform’s consensus candidate is Albert Ondo Ossa, a 69-year-old economics professor and cabinet minister under the older Bongo.

Ossa, who also ran in the 2009 presidential election, spoke to Al Jazeera about his chances this Saturday and his plans for Gabon.

Al Jazeera: The Alternance 2023 platform brought together six of the presidential candidates. Why were you chosen as the consensus candidate?

Ossa: I was chosen because the platform felt that I was the best person to represent their interests. Gabonese people were asking for a consensual candidate to put an end to the hegemony of the Bongo dynasty. It was essential that we put up a united front, and that’s what we did. Each candidate has shown his or her determination to put aside personal interests or those of their political family in order to bring about the changeover that the people of Gabon are calling for. I was appointed in the best interests of the nation. It’s very exciting, but at the same time, I feel the weight of responsibility. I will do my utmost to live up to the expectations of the Gabonese people.

Al Jazeera: What do you think Gabonese people expect from you? How do you plan to meet their expectations?

Ossa: First and foremost, the Gabonese people want to turn the page on the Bongos. We’ve had three presidents since independence, and two of them were called Bongo. They’ve been in office for 60 years and that’s too much, far too much. Things have got to change. But more than political change, Gabonese people also want a better life. Gabon is a rich country, from its soil and subsoil, and the Gabonese people don’t feel they are benefitting from this wealth, the population is getting poorer. I’m going to implement rational management of the country’s resources. I’m going to eradicate mismanagement and embezzlement so that the Gabonese people finally get their due.

Al Jazeera: Can you give a summary of your plans in the short to medium term, if elected?

Ossa: By the end of my five-year term, I want Gabon to have all the infrastructure it needs to recover and take off. First of all, we need to reduce energy problems. I want to build power stations and ensure that Gabon is self-sufficient in energy. I also want to put people at the heart of development, ie, ensure that all Gabonese can find housing, study, healthcare and employment. I want the Gabonese people to regain their dignity and I want all Gabonese people to benefit from the fruits of growth.

Al Jazeera: This year, there will be a single ballot paper for the presidential and parliamentary candidates to be voted for. You are an independent candidate, without an elected representative on your side, which means that by voting for you, people will likely abstain from the legislative election.  Do you think this is a handicap?

Ossa: Not at all. The Alternance 2023 platform and I are boycotting this legislative election. The single ballot paper was introduced unilaterally by the ruling party a month before the election and it gives an advantage to those who are best rooted on the ground, in their constituency, and therefore in the rearguard of the Bongo system. I don’t have any party or elected representative following me. But if I’m elected, I’m committed to rerunning legislative elections that are representative of the Gabonese people, so that everyone, whether a party candidate or an independent, has a chance.

Al Jazeera: There have been concerns about the transparency of previous polls. Do you think this election will be free and fair?

Ossa: When one is faced with a dictatorship, one adapts to its traps. Bongo can feel his defeat and is multiplying a series of acts to maintain himself in office ad vitam aeternam. This electoral law is a trap, but we are going to foil it. The first way is for the people to give their vote. The second way is the international community.

No African power can function without the international community. Previously, Ali Bongo lost the elections but he was able to run the country because the international community recognised his position. This year, we have been working to raise awareness among the international community and if he cheats again, this time the international community will not be on his side.

If he is defeated, he must leave without a fuss, without any deaths. We are going to give him the status of former president in conformity with the regulations in force. As president of the Republic, I will defend his interests and his integrity.

Al Jazeera: You ran against President Bongo in 2009 and lost. Do you think you have a chance this time?

Ossa: In 2009, I warned everyone about the danger Ali Bongo represented for Gabon. I had met him when we were both members of the government.  At the time, nobody listened to me. Today people realise that he has impoverished the country, so it’s different. It’s only been a few days since I became the consensus candidate, but judging by the popular fervour and the way I’ve been welcomed at each of my rallies, I’m sure I’ll be victorious from this election.

Al Jazeera: There are concerns about the president’s health issues since his stroke in 2018. Do you think he is fit to lead the country?

Ossa: I’m a Christian, a practising Catholic, and I’m not talking about Ali Bongo’s health. The arguments I develop against him are political arguments. I never refer to his health. What happened to him can happen to anyone. I pray that he will regain his strength.

Al Jazeera: You were a minister under Omar Bongo and that has led to speculation that you benefitted from the networks you are now speaking against. What is your response to this?

Ossa: I didn’t take advantage of the system, the system took advantage of me. I was part of Omar Bongo’s government for three years and I say it loud and clear: I never killed or stole. I have nothing to be ashamed of. That’s why I’m looking Ali Bongo straight in the eye today. Those in power have no leverage over me because I’ve always done everything by the book, I’ve never done anything that went against my convictions, and people know that. Those three years in government have been years of learning to better understand the country’s problems.

Source: Al Jazeera