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ECCAS Mediation in Gabon and Role of External Powers

Avit A. Chami is Visiting Fellow, The India–Africa Security Fellowship Programme at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), New Delhi.Click here for detailed profile
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  • September 29, 2023

    Following the coup in Gabon on 30 August 2023, General Brice Oligui Nguema was sworn in as the interim President of the Republic of Gabon on 3 September. This was the eighth coup in the West and Central Africa region in three years. The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) sent the President of the Central African Republic (CAR), Faustin-Archange Touadera to Libreville as a mediator.

    The ECCAS suspended Gabon from the 11-nation group on 1 September and moved ECCAS headquarters from Gabonese capital Libreville to Equatorial Guinea’s capital Malabo. The military regime was urged to return the West African resource-rich state to constitutional order and given a deadline of one year to organise democratic elections.1

    The ECCAS measure came after heavy condemnation by the African Union (AU) through 1172nd Communique of the Peace and Security Council meeting held on 31 August 2023.2 The AU decided to suspend immediately the participation of the Republic of Gabon in all activities of the AU and its organs and institutions until the restoration of constitutional order in the country. The AU Peace and Security Council strongly demanded the immediate restoration of constitutional order through the conduct of free, fair, credible and transparent elections that would be observed by the AU Election Observer Mission.

    The ECCAS mediator, CAR President Faustin Touadera, landed in Libreville on 5 September and held closed-door talks with Gabon’s junta-appointed leader. No statements were made to the press after Touadera’s private audience with the junta’s General Nguema at the Gabonese presidential palace.3 In his swearing-in speech on 3 September, General Nguema promised to oversee free and fair elections, although he has not given a time frame for the transition to democracy.

    It is pertinent to note that the ECCAS’s envoy to the Gabon turmoil is the President of the CAR, a country that has experienced decades of violence and instability, including six coups to-date. CAR has a population of approximately 4.8 million people and gained independence from France in 1960, with the northern areas controlled by rebels for a long time. The prevalent violence and instability in the country has brought a number of UN peacekeeping missions. The UN Security Council established a peacekeeping force in April 2014 that incorporated AU and French forces that had previously deployed to CAR to protect civilians and dismantle armed militia groups.4

    The long-standing unrest has brought many global players to the country, including Russia, China, the US, among others. The prevailing chaos and the fragile political environment in CAR has forced President Touadera to seek protection of private Russian mercenary group Wagner in CAR since in 2018.5 The interplay of global players in African regional economic, political, security and stability facets bring to question the issue of maintaining neutrality in the current Gabon crisis.

    Russian influence in the political structures of majority of West African countries is as high as that of China.6 President Touadera has previously hailed his country's strong relations with Russia, and openly claimed that Russian help has been instrumental in saving democracy in CAR and controlling civil wars through Wagner mercenaries since 2018.7

    Russia has steadily become the main security, economic and political partner of the CAR government since 2017. President Touadera turned to the Kremlin for supply of light weaponry to help his country’s shambolic military in the fight against rebel groups. Russians not only advise Touadera but also operate commercial businesses and concessions in brewery, forestry and mining.

    Pro-Kremlin and anti-Western views are commonly aired in public platforms. Russian activities in the country have exacerbated long-running lawlessness, corruption, violence, and human rights abuses with total impunity. The CAR has undergone endless cycles of dictatorship, coups, rebellions and civil wars fuelled by power struggles and an appetite for looting mineral wealth in the central African fragile state.8

    Russian influence and interest in CAR, therefore, poses questions on the ECCAS’s mediation mission to Gabon, led by the President of CAR. Analysts note that President Touadera may not exhibit independence and autonomy in his mediation efforts, given the internal political instability in his own country. The Russian influence in CAR affairs could entangle the ECCAS’s intention to mediate the fragile Libreville transition.

    There is a need for a more neutral and independent intervention to secure the Gabon mediation process. This again brings into focus the need to effectively apply African solutions to African problems independently of all forms of external influence.9 The interplay between external influence and political ambitions of leaders of many African countries has led to several coups in Africa.

    As other countries around the globe are marching towards human-centred development, military governments in Africa should understand that they cannot guarantee all-round development while becoming ‘puppets’ of foreign powers—be it the US, Russia, France or China. These major powers will have their own interests in mind while extending political, economic or military support.

    The AU Agenda 2030 has a vision of an ‘integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens’. The military intervention of Gabon should be made the starting point for the country’s departure towards full-fledged development rather the starting point for unending uncertainties. The AU and ECCAS should collaborate with Gabon on a humanitarian basis to advance the all-round development of Gabon, with African solutions.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.