- Mbiané, an islet measuring thirty hectares and disputed between Gabon and Equatorial Guinea since 1972, may cost the Gabonese government its position. Media reports that Interior Minister André Mba Obame was to sell the oil rich islet to Equatorial Guinea have caused public outrage and demands for the government to resign.
The small islands of Corisco, Mbanié and Cocotiers, uninhabited strips of land in the brackish water between the two states, were so insignificant that the Spanish and French colonial masters of the territories never really bothered to define a border. Mostly, they did not even appear on colonial maps. All this changed when oil discoveries in Gabon made it probable that the islands were oil rich as well.
A neighbour conflict of more than thirty years looked like coming to an end as Gabon and Equatorial Guinea asked the UN to mediate a few years ago, and Gabonese President Omar Bongo steadily has told of progress in negotiations. According to Gabonese press reports, however unconventional solutions have been on the table.
It was the newspaper 'L'Echo du Nord' that on 25 September broke the news about the "triviality" and "recklessness" of Gabonese authorities in the settlement of the dispute. Press reports have since then accused Interior Minister Obame of treason after he proposed, along with a foreign lawyer, that Mbianié islet be sold to Equatorial Guinea. 'L'Echo du Nord' has since been suspended for publishing "malicious insinuations" and "speculation on unverified facts."
The government of Gabon however has been unable or unwilling to deny the accusations that it plans to sell Mbiané to Equatorial Guinea - a move that would be unconstitutional if Mbiané is part of Gabon's national territory as always held by President Bongo. In a country where the press normally is tightly controlled and censored, the government now faces "treason" accusation in most media.
This week, also Gabon's fragmented and poorly organised opposition has gotten loud on the issue. Three opposition parties and trade unions this week demanded the immediate resignation of the Libreville government. Union leaders and opposition party leaders at a joint press conference in Libreville said Minister Obame was in breach of the Gabonese constitution, which says the country is "indivisible".
Trade union leader François Ebanet said there was a popular demand for the government to step down. This was agreed to by opposition leaders Pierre Mamboundou and Zacharie Myboto. Mr Mamboundou noted that "treason" already had "been committed" by offering to sell the small island. He called for parliament to lift the immunity of the ministers so that they could be formally charged with treason.
As national media and the opposition keep on accusing the government of treason, popular outrage is also increasing in Gabon. President Bongo, for the first time since he came to power in 1967, sees his position threatened by a popular movement, which could soon force him to dismiss his government.
Given the national scandal and outrage over the "sale" of Mbanié island, negotiations with Equatorial Guinea have now been put on hold. The so far successful UN-mediated talks between President Bongo and Equatoguinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema - initiated by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in February - were supposed to be continued at a summit in Geneva yesterday. The Gabonese leader recently had indicated he would go to the Swiss city if there had been progress in the negotiations, which he indicated there was.
President Bongo however suddenly cancelled his trip to Geneva, the Gabonese government saying it could not be fitted into his schedule. President Obiang of Equatorial Guinea however pointed to internal problems in Gabon, indicated a deal had widely been reached before the popular outrage in his neighbouring country.
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