This month, Gabonese President Ali Bongo campaigned for re-election in distant parts of the country, aiming to debunk opposition charges that he has the muscle and track record to fulfill generous electoral pledges in a third term.
On August 26, the Central African state will conduct presidential, parliamentary, and local elections. Six of Bongo’s 18 opponents have supported a joint candidacy in an attempt to rally the opposition vote and overthrow his family’s 56-year hold on power.
The vote is a much-anticipated test of support for Bongo. Detractors say he has done too little to funnel Gabon’s oil wealth towards the third of its 2.3 million population living in poverty and question his fitness to govern after a stroke in 2018.
On his wide-ranging campaign trail, the 64-year-old has tried to disprove this image. Wooing voters with promises of higher family subsidies and cuts to public school fees, Bongo has stepped out confidently on stage – a contrast to his rare and frail television appearances in the wake of his illness.
“We will win it, because I have a vision … of what the future of Gabon should be. I heard you. I know where your priorities are. I know where you want us to go all out,” he said at a rally on Monday.
His main challenger is Albert Ondo Ossa. The 69-year-old economics and management professor was picked by an alliance of six main opposition parties’ as their joint candidate last Friday, barely a week before the vote.
His campaign has focused on the need for change and better economic opportunities – a potentially enticing offer in a country where one in three young people are unemployed and the vast majority of the population has only known Bongo rule.
“We have to manage the country differently. Our youth has the right to have something else, especially in this country of such immeasurable wealth,” Ondo Ossa said when he won the joint nomination.
“Gabon is not the property of the Bongos.”