Gabon: Election Preparedness Emergency Plan of Action n° MDRGA007 Final Report

Situation Report
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  • On 15 July 2016, with a DREF allocation of CHF 41,854, the Gabonese Red Cross started to train and equip its emergency teams as part of its contingency plan for election preparedness.

  • The initial DREF was set to end on 21 September 2016. Expenses were at 90 percent and the remaining activities were as follows: (1) A lessons learnt exercise; and (2) Finance control and closure exercise by Central Africa Country Cluster office in Yaoundé.

  • On 19 September 2016, Operations Update 1 was issued, following developments on the ground and additional needs expressed by the Gabonese Red Cross - assessed by ICRC and IFRC.

  • The DREF revision extended the operation timeframe by an additional two months (New end date: 21 November 2016, with a Final Report due by 21 February 2017).

  • The DREF revision also revised the Plan of Action (PoA) and budget. The revised PoA included activities in the sectors of non-food items distribution, psychosocial support to Gabonese Red Cross volunteers and staff, and logistics. These were added to the lessons learned workshop planned in the initial DREF.

  • The revised DREF also changed the target from an estimated 2,500 to 5,000 people – based on the worst-case scenario designed in the elections contingency plan of the Gabonese Red Cross.

  • The budget of the operation was also revised from CHF 41,854 to CHF 257,240 to reflect the new PoA. With no Participating NS (PNS) in the country, the Gabonese Red Cross could only rely on the ICRC and IFRC as Movement partners for this operation. During several joint Movement meetings, the ICRC identified the areas that they will support (Restoring Family Links, information technology/telecom, medical supplies) of an amount approximately equivalent to the one provided by IFRC. The needs covered by ICRC were not included in this DREF operation.

A. Situation analysis

Description of the disaster

Since the 1990 National Conference, which saw the establishment of a multi-party political system, the electoral process in Gabon has always been contested. In some instances, this has led to violence between security forces and supporters of parties opposing the election results. In August 2009, the results of the presidential election, led to demonstrations, destruction of property and loss of life in the cities of Libreville, Orem and Port-Gentile. Since 2009, the political situation in Gabon has remained highly volatile, and was exacerbated by the death of a leading member of the opposition, resignations from the ruling party, as well as resistance to the candidature of the incumbent President for re-election in 2016. In Libreville, the capital, reports of demonstrations and destruction of property in connection with the elections was signalled.

Learning from this troubled election history, the Gabonese Red Cross anticipated social unrest associated with the 2016 presidential elections – skirmishes between opposition supporters and those of the incumbent President started occurring in July 2016 during the electoral campaign. In June 2016, two months before the elections, the National Society (NS) started working on a contingency plan with support from ICRC and coordination with IFRC. A CHF 41,854 DREF allocation and IFRC’s Yaoundé Central Africa Country Cluster Office technical support, enabled the NS to train and equip its emergency teams.

Two simulation exercises - one in Libreville and the other in Port-Gentil – were conducted. The funds also facilitated the purchase and dispatching of first aid kits from Yaoundé, Cameroon to Libreville, Gabon by road. In addition, Gabonese Red Cross volunteers were trained on first aid techniques, which they started using on 31 August 2016 when the provisional results of the elections were announced and the violence erupted.

The presidential elections in Gabon took place on 27 August 2016. The provisional results of the elections were announced by the Interior Minister on 31 August around 16h00 local time, presenting the incumbent President as the winner. This announcement was followed by heated debates at the national electoral commission (CENAP), in particular about suspicious results from the Haut-Ogoué province where turnout was allegedly 99.93 percent and the incumbent President receiving 95.3 percent of the votes. Claiming fraud, the Vice-President of the electoral commission, who represents the opposition, resigned shortly before the announcement of the provisional results.

Representatives of the opposition in the electoral commission abstained from voting during the secret ballot to validate the results. Immediately after this announcement, the main opposition leader, who had claimed victory before the announcement, rejected the results. Shortly after, violent clashes were reported in the cities of Libreville and Port-Gentil with opposition members seen marching in protest in the cities of Mouila, Lambarene, Koula-Moutou and Oyem. Besides clashes with police forces, angry protesters looted, destroyed and burned both private and public houses and buildings, including those hosting the National Assembly, the Senate, and the headquarters of the National health and social insurance fund of the Estuaire province. In addition, there was looting and burning of vehicles and several commercial places in Libreville and Port-Gentil.

Disorder and social unrest continued until 6 September in many places in the country, resulting in at least 15 deaths as reported by several sources, including authorities, UN agencies and Gabonese Red Cross.

On day four following the announcement of the results, the main market of the Bitam Prefecture, a locality close to the border with Cameroon, was burned down by protesters. On 8 September the main opposition leader submitted an appeal to the Constitutional Court, requesting a polling stationlevel recount of all votes in the contested Haut-Ogoué province. He also requested the presence of international observers during the recounting of votes. The ruling by the Constitutional Court – accused of serving the incumbent - should not last more than two weeks. In parallel, the Gabonese Minister of Foreign Affairs announced the indefinite postponement of the previously planned visit of an African Union (AU) high-level mission. These two decisions were causing the possibility of further frustration among a significant percentage of the Gabonese population and fuelled further violence. Given the situation and the risks associated with it, a high alert level was maintained by Gabonese Red Cross as well as ICRC and IFRC.

The crisis began to quell down in early October 2016 but, the NS continued with the active watch on the ground. Depending on information on the evolution of the situation on the ground from the deployed military teams, the NS developed a plan for active watch (deployment of teams on the field and at national headquarters) and passive watch (teams remained on alert but in their homes). As time went by, the NS also reduced the number of volunteers deployed and by 15 November 2016, the contingency plan mechanisms were completely lifted.

Since November 2016, there have been no major demonstrations in the country. However, it is important to note that to date, things have not really returned to normal in Gabon. Indeed, there have been no protests because of the presence of the military personnel on the streets but, the crisis remains silent and could re-escalate at any moment. Had the DREF funds not been earmarked, it would have been very important to use part of the balance to further strengthen the National Society's operational capacities in terms of response (training / retraining, NDRT, pre-positioning, etc.).