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Focus on Africa: 23 November 2018

Constitutional crisis looms in Gabon as cronies manoevre to shield President Ali Bongo’s "temporary incapacity", one month after falling critically ill in Saudi Arabia.


The 59-year-old president has been undergoing treatment at a hospital in the Saudi capital Riyadh, where he reportedly suffered a stroke on October 24.

The influential African weekly Jeune Afrique claimed on its website that Ali was due to be transferred to a specialist hospital in the UK where he would continue recovering.

The publication reported this week that the President of the constitutional court, Marie-Madeleine Mborantsuo unleashed a storm of criticism after modifying the basic law to address Ali Bongo’s alleged "temporary incapacity". The court amended a key article to enable the Vice President, Pierre-Claver Maganga Moussavou to chair cabinet meetings.

Before its modification by the court, the basic law stipulated that only the president had the right to authorise the vice president to convene a gathering of the ministerial council.

Political Uncertainty

Experts say Bongo is very likely to miss the 45-day deadline stipulated in the basic law for the authorised absence from office. Gabon’s constitution provides for the President of the Senate to act as President and organize fresh elections in 60 days.

The Constitutional Court’s President Marie-Madeleine Mborantsuo - a close ally of Ali's father Omar Bongo, who ruled the country for nearly 42 years until his death in 2009.

Opposition figures such as Paul-Marie Gondjout of the National Union as well as civil society groups reacted furiously to the court's move, accusing Mboransou of opening up a new front in Gabon's deep political crisis sparked by the disputed 2016 Presidential election in which Ali Bongo defeated his challenger Jean Ping by just 5,000 votes.

Read my lips

Gabon is just the tip of the iceberg of tricky political conflicts taking place in Africa. Togo is also in also crisis over the lifting of the constitutional clause on term limits.

In Côte d’Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara sparked a split in the ruling alliance with the PDCI of ex-President Konan Bedie, after shelving plans to step down after two terms and make room for a candidate fielded by ex-President Bedie’s party, come the 2020 elections.

More countries are struggling with conflict over their constitutions even in countries where presidents did succeed in getting their parliaments to lift the two term limits, such as Uganda.

The constitutions of some African countries are problematic in the sense that the amendments needed to promote governance are not close to being made, especially in nations under autocratic rule such as Swaziland and Lesotho.

Bouteflika syndrome

In a new report, the International Crisis Group warns about a looming economic struggle on the horizon in Algeria where President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who suffered a stroke that left him wheelchair-bound and out of the public eye since 2013, has announced plans to run for a 5th term in 2019.

And finally in Nigeria, a clamour is rising for stricter constitutional provisions pertaining to the health of the president after the ailing incumbent Muhammadu Buhari, who spent weeks in a British hospital, won the ruling party’s endorsement to seek a new 4-year term in office.

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