Accountability forms a central pillar of democratic governance. While free and fair elections help promote government of, by, and for the people, what happens between election days can be equally important. Respect for the rule of law and other government branches are as essential in the day-to-day business of governing as they are for ensuring high-quality elections.
In Gabon, a highly personalized executive around President Ali Bongo Ondimba and flawed electoral processes undermine both horizontal and vertical accountability. In rating Gabon as “not free,” Freedom House (2019) cites shortcomings on several dimensions of accountability, such as independence of branches of government, transparency of government work, and equal treatment of people under the law.
Ali Bongo has been in power since 2009 following the death of his father, Omar Bongo, who ruled Gabon for 42 years. Ali Bongo claimed a second seven-year term after a 2016 election marred by violence and charges of fraud, and in 2018 pushed through constitutional amendments further expanding executive powers (Hoije & Batassi, 2018). Legislative elections scheduled for late 2016 were repeatedly postponed, then disputed by opposition parties when they finally took place – resulting in a victory for the ruling party – in late 2018 (eNCA, 2018a, 2018b; Reuters, 2018; Freedom House, 2019).
How do ordinary Gabonese see government accountability in their country? Based on the most recent national Afrobarometer survey, conducted in 2017, most Gabonese value accountability even more highly than efficiency. Strong majorities say the president must obey the courts and laws and justify government expenditures to Parliament. But increasingly, Gabonese say their president commonly ignores both the judiciary and the legislature.