Both Gabon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo witnessed severe – perhaps critical – problems in their respective power-structures over the past week. The recent incidents are familiar to the African continent.
In Gabon, eight soldiers attempted a military coup against the rule of current president Ali Bongo, who has been in Morocco for medical reasons since October. The eight officers seized the radio tower on the morning of January 7th, but would soon be defeated after a security team stormed the tower. While not much is known about the attempted coup, the coup does seem highly unusual. With only eight men, it would have been extremely unlikely to control any significant territory. This is likely why the coup-plotters seized the radio tower in order to broadcast a call for Gabonese citizens to take to the streets and empower a new democratic regime. Gabon has historically been a stable nation – only a single coup had previously occurred in Gabon, in 1964.
The neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo faces turmoil as it attempts to orchestrate its first peaceful transfer of power since 1960. Incumbent President Joseph Kabila, who succeeded his father after he was assassinated by his own bodyguard, finally stepped down two years after his term limit expired. Twelve days after ballots were cast, the Congolese government announced that Felix Tshisekedi, head of the Congo’s largest opposition party, had won the election. However, the delay in releasing electoral results, along with the Roman Catholic Church’s questioning of the results and runner-up Martin Fayulu’s allegations of voting fraud, does not bode well for political stability in the region. Already, demonstrations in the country have left four people dead.
The Congo also faces a severe Ebola outbreak in the eastern portion of the country. Over 300 people have died in the outbreak, which has occurred in an active warzone that has seen conflict between the Congolese Army, Rwandan-backed rebels, Hutu genocidaires, and Mai-Mai militiamen. While there has been a vaccination campaign underway, there simply are not enough vaccines for all who are threatened by the current Ebola outbreak. The impacted region – North Kivu – lies near the borders of South Sudan, Rwanda, and Uganda. Rwanda and Uganda are two of the most densely populated nations in Africa, while South Sudan is mired in a bloody civil war which makes medical aid in the nation a logistical nightmare.
The worst case possible, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is a civil war. Election-related clashes have already occurred in the eastern Congo, and historically, both Congo wars have occurred due to rebellions in the eastern Congo. The combination of a civil war and an Ebola outbreak cannot possibly end well, and could potentially result in the Congo completely disintegrating (as it did in the early 2000s) and an Ebola outbreak spreading throughout East Africa. The United States must do everything in its power to prevent a calamity on this scale from happening. The US, along with other powers, must demand transparency from the Congolese government and ensure that Eastern Congo remains stable. The risk is simply too great to ignore.