INTERVIEW WITH DANIEL MENGARA
By Franck Felix Gutenberg, US Africa News. Updated 2015-02-19
Usafrica NEWS went to Montclair State University in New Jersey to meet the Gabonese opposition leader, where he currently teaches French and Francophone Studies.
USAfrica NEWS: Would say that the next Gabonese presidential election is already being entirely stage managed?
Daniel Mengara: Yes and no. It will obviously be played to the advantage of [current Gabon President] Ali Bongo Ondimba only if the opposition, first, allows Ali Bongo, who is at this point stained by absolute illegitimacy, to represent himself, and second, goes into this election on terms that are decided and dictated unilaterally by the Bongo regime. In other words, Ali Bongo will automatically win if the opposition cannot impose a vigorous pre-election debate, which, at a minimum, would lead to effective and immediate constitutional reform in order to bring our country, by national consensus to: a two-round election; a maximum limit of two consecutive terms; establishment of a reliable biometric electoral register based on a reliable census of the of voting age population; proven independence of the Commission election; the presence of independent international observers at each polling station; and finally, a reform of the structure, status, and prerogatives of the Constitutional Court, which means not only its independence but also the resignation of its current members.
USAfrica NEWS: What is your assessment of Ali Bongo’s first term? No doubt you are among those who wonder what Ali Bongo and other African presidents were doing at what the media refer to as the “historic march” in Paris?
Daniel Mengara: These are two questions that must be separated. It seems obvious that the presence of Ali Bongo and other African dictators, who attack freedom of speech in their own countries, at a supposed demonstration to defend this freedom is an unsustainable paradox. This obviously involved their desire to give themselves some credibility, even though they are ridiculous in the eyes of the world. Instead, they look like little black boys trying to fit in in front of the Whites, not understanding that everyone around looks at them with contempt. As for the record of Ali Bongo, what do you want me to say? It is a true national debacle, a massacre. When someone has spent all his life behind his father’s skirts, when one learns from Papa so much that is immoral, criminal, and finally achieves power because Papa set up a political system guaranteeing his son easy access to power, the result can only be disastrous. Men have certainly changed, but the system of incompetence in which Bongo's father was not able to do anything positive in 42 years in power is the same in which Ali Bongo does nothing positive. The Bongos are just a curse for Gabon. Five years is an eternity and yet, consider; Ali Bongo had promised during his campaign in 2009 to raise the minimum wage to 150,000 CFA francs, and the Gabonese are still waiting. Worse, he is now promising a minimum wage of 300,000 francs even as Gabon’s revenues will be halved by the fall in oil prices. Do you think he’s serious? He also promised 5,000 social housing units per year, but Gabonese are, once again, waiting. Instead of improving, the economic climate has worsened, with the State now unable to pay its foreign and domestic debt, which is leading to the failure of a lot of businesses because of the State’s unpaid obligations. Since 2009, he promised, and I quote, "thousands of jobs for the Gabonese"; however, unemployment today affects between 30 and 35% of young people. Hospitals are still not rehabilitated and remain the same deathtraps they were under Bongo’s father. Gabonese children still study today sitting on the floor, a phenomenon we find even in some schools in Libreville. In August 2013, he had promised, I quote again, "400 classrooms offering 20,000 seats for the start of October 2013.” None of these classes have been built to date. And one wonders how Ali Bongo pissed away 5 years in power! Even the roads, which he said were capable of being developed have remained veritable quagmires. Gabon, has currently 9170 km of roads, of which only 10 % were paved as of June 2013--approximately 1055 km of roads in total. Of these 1,055 km of paved roads, Bongo had put down 900 km of asphalt, which means that Ali Bongo as of June 30, 2013--that is to say four years after coming to power—had paved 155 km of new roads, a pitiful average of 38 km of roads per year!
Basically, the record and the regime of Ali Bongo is a true national fraud. Fraud in the way in which he came to power, not on the basis of competence recognized in him freely by the Gabonese, but on the basis of his alleged affiliation with a dictator; fraud in a social project which was only a fantasy and a lie sold in Gabon, and a fraud based on his origins, according to Pierre Pean’s book released in 2014, which which says he is originally a native of Biafra, and thus adopted son of Omar Bongo, which on the basis of Article 10 of our constitution, means he is not eligible for this position. The very fact that he refused to submit to a DNA test is independently verified evidence that there is something fishy. But this is the only thing that would satisfy the Gabonese, as it is the only thing capable of scientifically establishing affiliation with his supposedly still-living mother. The presentation of a birth certificate is not enough, especially when we know that he has already presented two false birth certificates that contradict, and even throw doubt on the year of birth of his own "father" Omar Bongo, who has two different ages recorded on the two documents. We have truly reached a situation where only immediate resignation of Ali Bongo would be likely to satisfy the Gabonese.
USAfrica NEWS: So far we have not heard your support for Jean Ping. Do you doubt whether he is the new major figure of the Gabonese opposition?
Daniel Mengara: Support? For what? To my knowledge, Mr. Ping, who declared his opposition less than a year ago, has not implied that he was a candidate in any election. The issue of support is badly put. Nowadays, it is not about whom one is supporting, but for us to show solidarity within the opposition for the common goal we are pursuing--that is to say, I hope, forcing the immediate departure of Ali Bongo and his regime by all means, because we can never expect this dictator to accept democratic reforms that will make Gabonese feel confident that their vote really reflects the choice they made at the polls. For me, it is more urgent now that the opposition stands in solidarity with the common goal to remove the Bongo regime from power and establish in its place a state built on strong democratic institutions. The questions of who supports who, you know, would become completely secondary in a country where the principles of democracy prevail, to allow each Gabonese who feels the urge to run unimpeded in the election of his choosing. It is for the absolute affirmation of this fundamental freedom that we are all fighting, I believe.
USAfrica NEWS: We remember that at one time you led protests outside the White House, in front of the US Secretary of State, and in other places in the US, in order to denounce Bongo and the "Biafrarian” Ali Bongo. Why is your movement absent now?
Daniel Mengara: Absent? No. We have never been away. In fact, since 1998, the “Bongo Must Go" movement has remained resolutely focused like a homing missile towards the same goal, that declares that nothing good can happen while a Bongo is in power in Gabon, and therefore Bongo must leave. It is simply that since 2012 we have decided to prepare a political comeback in Gabon that would get us out of what the Gabonese like to call "virtuality"; to directly engage ourselves, to bring our message of hope, renewal and immediate change to the field. Marches and meetings in Washington, Paris, Dakar and other cities where the Gabonese diaspora is active, is one thing. But that’s not how we will bring down the regime. We really have to get our message to the Gabonese on our own, and start a generational transition to a different way of doing things, a different way of fighting. Because change in Gabon will come neither under cover nor by proxy, we just decided to go to Gabon to bring our insurrectionary speech to the realities on the ground, especially those of us who have been saying since 1998 that Bongo must be forced out of power. Our return policy for Gabon is being prepared with some confidence, and when we are ready we will announce it.
USAfrica NEWS: As for yourself, will you still attempt to run as a candidate in the next presidential election? And what would be your proposals for Gabon?
Daniel Mengara: It’s possible. In fact, I already have, symbolically, suggested that I put myself forward in 2016 if the election takes place, and my political site, mengara.com, lays out my entire platform for Gabon. But, when you consider the insurrectionary ideology that animates me and animates the "Bongo Must Go" movement, it would be a contradiction if I said I would run with the expectation of winning. As I always say, it is impossible for the opposition to win an election in Gabon through the ballot box, because the Gabonese electoral system is set up to ensure Bongo’s perpetual victory. This is an unavoidable reality. Any serious opposition candidate should know that it is in the street that he will win this victory, not at the polls. In this context, my candidacy should be immediately understood as an insurgent bid to strike a blow for the democratic way, on the road to change, something the Gabonese will never win at the ballot box. But consider this; in order to gain power in the streets does not mean that I will necessarily wait for the election to be held or, if held, that I will become president of Gabon! If by the grace of God I become the architect of a successful insurrectional movement before or after the election, I would rather put in place a transition team that would be led by one of our elders, such as Bengono Nsi or Luc Benoit Joseph Mouity Nzamba, among others, to provide a smooth transition to a political and constitutional system of the country in accordance with the democratic wishes of the Gabonese, and then hold new elections within 12 months to elect the man or woman who will become the legitimate president of the country. In the same way that there is no legitimacy in taking power by electoral fraud, there is no legitimacy in becoming president on the basis of an insurgency. The insurgency will simply mark the return of power and sovereignty to the Gabonese people and, during the transition, the people themsleves will set the goals that will bring about the Gabon we have waited for, for the last half -century again. Before talking about proposals to rid Gabon of its economic and human suffering, you must first talk about getting rid of mention of its political suffering. It suffices to say here that a Mengara in power would be able to do in five years what the Bongos, father and son, have not been able to do in 47 years of unchallenged power.
USAfrica NEWS: At this point, with the war raging in Cameroon and CAR, how do you judge the attitude of the Gabonese government towards its neighbors in trouble?
Daniel Mengara: It's a scandal. Cameroon is a neighboring country of Gabon. A Cameroon in trouble with Boko Haram at its northern border means that sooner or later this war will eventually spill over into Gabon. Rather than wait, the Central African countries have an interest in planning and helping to curb this menace together, while it is confined in northern Cameroon. If Cameroon is destabilized by this threat, Gabon will be.
USAfrica NEWS: Do you also see the hand of France in this conflagration in Central Africa?
Daniel Mengara: The hand of France is not what worries me. I believe that since colonial times, as in all human relationships, the reality is that it is a matter of survival of the fittest. Once we Africans realize that the question of relations between France, China, USA, India, us, and all other people who interact today in the context of globalization, is primarily a question of self-interest where everyone is fighting for their own survival, then I think we will have made a big step. I think that what we need to do today is not whining about whether France has a hand in our conflicts or not, or if France is there to exploit us or not, but rather to ask what we ourselves, especially our leaders are doing to reduce these interferences you speak of, and to affirm the African identity inside and outside our borders. I am encouraged to see what happened in Burkina Faso with the popular uprising that toppled Blaise Compaoré against all odds. And I hope that other African countries will follow this example of sovereign affirmation of the will of the people facing a dictator who we know had all the support of France. In other words, it is for us Africans ourselves to change these old equations, these old paradigms. The world is changing. Let's move with it.
USAfrica NEWS: Should we regret the absence of Omar Bongo in the sub-region, given that in his time there were never such alarming security issues?
Daniel Mengara: Uh ... no. Security issues can not depend on one man, especially someone who has never been an example in its own country. Gabon has neither military capacity, nor a real capacity to influence phenomena that have their origins elsewhere. Certainly, these security issues are worth studying objectively. First, internally in our countries, there is much that needs to be done to ensure the political and economic security of our people. Everyone knows that extreme poverty and the loss of moral bearings, resulting from the bruising people experienced under the dictatorship, are the fodder which has always fed extremism of all kinds. Our first line of defense against all that is, above all, democracy, and its corollaries, which are effective management and accountability, and equitable redistribution of our national resources. When the people feel well and confident, they become themselves the first secure rampart. The second is, unfortunately, an international axis. The global political situation, especially since the fall of Gaddafi and the war in Syria, is such that the security threat has become multipolar, global, and highly asymmetric. Extremism mainly feeds popular discontent in countries most affected by dictatorship, gaining the sympathy of disaffected youth and the unemployed, who thus become easy prey for recruitment. Let us quickly commit Africa to the path to democracy and sustainable human development if we want to limit and reduce these security threats. This is the only way. No war cannot be won against extremism as long as willing recruits exist in countries with strong dictatorships where whole peoples find themselves crushed by the lust for power and dehumanizing kleptomania of incompetent leaders.