Text by: Vivian Nilsson – van Iperen
Visual by: Naomi Ndifon

On 30 August 2023, only hours after the incumbent President Ali Bongo Ondimba was declared winner in the Gabonese Republic’s presidential elections, a group of Gabonese military officers, calling themselves Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions (CTRI), seized power and placed President Ali Bongo was temporarily placed under house arrest. The African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) condemned the coup, and Gabon’s membership in the two organisations was suspended. In denouncing the coup, the AU Commission President Moussa Faki said it violated the AU’s norms on elections, democracy, and governance. Days later, on 4 September, General Brice Oligui Nguema was sworn in as the Transitional President and presented his government., which included seven female ministers.

2023 general elections

On 26 August 2023, the presidential and parliamentary elections were held in Gabon. Among the 19 presidential candidates were two women: Ms Paulette Missambo, President of the Union Nationale, and Victoire Lasseni Duboze, President of the Union des Alliances pour une Nouvelle Afrique (UANA). Ms Lasseni Duboze first participated in the Gabonese presidential elections in 2009 and served as a minister under President Omar Bongo. Four days later, on 30 August 2023, the Gabonese Election Commission announced that President Ali Bongo Ondimba had received 64.27% of the votes, securing a third term in office. Mr Albert Ondo Ossa of the Alternance 2023 Coalition, who received 30.77% of the votes, rejected the results. 

During the 2023 presidential elections, there were allegations of delays, irregularities and fraud. Before the polls, the opposition parties criticised the government for changing the electoral rules and restricting access to information by cutting major internet service providers. No international observers were present, and the polls reportedly lacked transparency and legitimacy. As the voting was coming to an end on election day, the government imposed a curfew to prevent violence and cut off internet access, citing threats of disinformation.

The Gabonese Republic has experienced political instability and unrest and faces economic challenges. Many expressed frustrations with unfair elections. Since 2009, the elections have been disputed. In 2016, violent protests broke out after the elections. In 2019, there was a foiled coup attempt. Despite being the third-richest African country in terms of per-capita GDP owing to natural resources such as oil and gas, Gabon has high levels of poverty, unemployment and income inequality. One in three persons lives under the poverty line in the country. Reports suggest that the convergence of political, economic and social factors created an environment of social unrest and discontent and provided conditions for an unconstitutional regime change

The CTRI ousted President Ali Bongo, cancelled the results of the elections, suspended all state institutions and closed the country's borders on 30 August 2023. The coup ended the more than 50-year rule of the Bongo family. The leaders of the coup said that grossly rigged elections, irresponsible governance and allegations of corruption among the President, his family and close associates were among the reasons for their actions. Moreover, according to the CTRI, Gabon faced "a severe institutional, political, economic, and social crisis". It said the recently held elections were not credible.

The new leader said that corruption would no longer be tolerated, promising to deliver actual development, national health care, improved education and environmental policy, better infrastructure and a return to civilian rule by organising free, transparent and credible elections following a transition period. The Transitional Government has also pledged to hold a referendum on a proposed new Constitution and introduce a new Electoral Code. 

The military coup received support from all political parties, including President Bongo’s, as well as many civil society organisations and among the Gabonese people. Some did not see the events as a military coup but rather an “act of liberation.” When asked, some students expressed hope and belief that the regime change would result in a better way of life. Others hope the Transitional Government will fulfil its promises.

The Transitional Government

On 4 September 2023, the Transitional Charter was published in the Official Journal No. 225 Bis. The Charter lays out the functions of the transitional government but does not explicitly specify the duration of the transition; instead, it states that the next presidential elections will be held at the end of the transition period. Under the Charter, the President of the Transition serves as Head of State and has the authority to appoint a Vice-President. A National Transition Council, composed of defence and security forces members, assists the Transition President. 

Furthermore, the Transitional Charter establishes a bicameral parliament. The lower house, the Transitional National Assembly, consists of 98 members appointed by decree of the Transitional President. Of the members, 67 come from legally recognized political parties or were chosen from among leading political figures, 25 from civil society and six from defence and security forces. The upper house, the Transitional Senate, consists of 70 members appointed by the Transitional President's decree. Of the members, 37 are from political parties, 27 are from civil society, and six are from defence and security forces. 

While the Transitional Charter remains silent on when the next presidential elections will be held, it excludes some from standing as presidential candidates while leaving the door potentially open for others. Under the Charter, members of the Transitional Government and the presiding officers of both chambers of the Transitional Parliament will not be eligible to stand in the next presidential election. No ineligibility is mentioned for the Transitional President.

Women’s political participation and representation in the Transitional Government

Like the Gabonese Constitution of 1991 (rev. 2011), the Transitional Charter does not establish a quota for women’s presentation (elected and appointed positions). Instead, the Transitional Charter specifies that “women’s access to elected and nominated offices may be promoted by specific measures provided for under the law.” Furthermore, it calls for gender to be considered in the composition of various transitional bodies. Previously, Gabon had adopted Law n°9/2016, which provides a quota whereby at least 30% of the candidates on party lists for the National Assembly elections must be women. The Law also imposed a quota for women to senior state positions. At the time of writing, it is unclear what role quotas may play in Gabon’s future.

Women make up 25.51% (25 out of the 98 ) of the members in the Transitional National Assembly compared to 74.49% (73 out of 98) men. In the Transitional Senate, women comprise 24.29% (17 out of 70) of the seats compared to 75.71% (53 out of 70) men. On 11 September 2023, the Transitional President appointed Ms Paulette Missambo as President of the Transitional Senate. As the CTRI cancelled the elections, no results other than in the parliamentary elections were published by Gabon’s Electoral Commission. 

In September 2023, the new Transitional government was announced, comprised of former adversaries, former ministers in President Ali Bongo’s government and civil society representatives. Seven women (26.9%) were among the 26 ministers appointed by presidential decree. They are:

  • Minister for Institutional Reform : Murielle Minkoué
  • Minister of National Education, responsible for civic education : Camélia Ntoutoume Le Clercq
  • Minister for Labor and Unemployment. : Solange Nguiake
  • Minister for Trade, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises : Patricia Djipano
  • Minister for New Information and Communication Technologies, Government Spokesperson:  Laurence Mengue Nezogho
  • Minister Delegate to the Presidency, in charge of National Defense: General Brigitte Onganoa
  • Minister Delegate to the Minister of Health and Social Affairs: Françoise Makaya

Conclusion: What is next?

Four days after the contentious 2023 presidential and parliamentary in Gabon, the re-elected President Ali Bongo was ousted by a group of military leaders. The coup took place at a time when the Central African region experienced political instability and governance challenges. General Brice Oligui Nguema was sworn in as the Transitional President and the Transitional government, of which women make up 26.9% of the ministers presented. General Brigitte Onganoa, responsible for national defence, was one of the first ministers to be appointed. The Transitional Charter establishes a bicameral Transitional Parliament but does not establish a quota for women. Women comprise around a quarter of the Transitional National Assembly and the Transitional Senate members. Notably, Ms Paulette Missambo serves as the President of the Transitional Senate.

The AU and ECCAS responded by condemning the coup and suspending Gabon's membership in the respective organisations. In December 2023, ECCAS issued a statement saying that although it recognised the "peaceful and inclusive nature" of the Gabonese transition, ECCAS "has decided to maintain the decision to suspend Gabon's participation in Community activities until constitutional order is restored." The suspension by the AU also remains in effect. 

The military coup leaders received broad support for the actions from political parties and numerous civil society organisations. Many Gabonese expressed hope for a better life following the coup and expected the Transitional Government to fulfil its promises. The Transitional Government has promised significant changes, including a return to civilian rule, presenting a new Electoral Code and holding a constitutional referendum and accessible, transparent and credible elections. While the date for the constitutional reform has not been announced, the next elections are expected to take place in August 2025. As per the Transitional Charter, no member of the current government may be a candidate in the next presidential election. However, it is unclear if Transitional President Brice Oligui Nguema will be among the presidential candidates. 

The Transitional Charter does not contain a quota or explicitly mention women’s rights or gender equality. At the time of writing, it is unknown what provisions, if any, related to gender equality and women’s rights, such as a quota, may be included in the proposed new Constitution and Electoral Code. Nevertheless, the transitional period offers an opportunity to implement quotas for elected offices and appointed positions, ensure gender equality and guarantee and strengthen women’s rights in Gabon.

Women representation Transitional Government and Parliament Gabon

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