The West African nation of Gabon receives a dubious distinction in the new Freedom in the World 2018 report, released Tuesday by the Freedom House organization in the United States.
The country led by President Ali Bongo saw the sharpest one-year decline of any in the world on measures of political rights and civil liberties. The annual report evaluates 195 countries and 14 territories on the basis of 25 indicators tied to the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Gabon also is one of six African nations appearing among the Top 15 that showed the largest 10-year declines in freedom, a troubling trend the report authors document across cultures and continents.
“Democracy is in crisis,” says Michael Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “The values it embodies—particularly the right to choose leaders in free and fair elections, freedom of the press, and the rule of law— are under assault and in retreat globally.”
Gabon’s low “not free” score on political rights for its 1.8 million people is tied to Bongo’s “dominance of the political and electoral systems,” the report said, citing the postponement of legislative elections for a second time in 2017.
That dominance has only increased in recent weeks, as Gabon moves forward with constitutional changes that opponents say will create a de facto monarchy. The parliament last week approved changes including the removal of term limits that would allow Bongo to remain in power indefinitely, concentrate his presidential power, and provide immunity from prosecution during and after his time in office.
Bongo narrowly defeated Jean Ping in an August 2016 presidential election marred by voting irregularities and electoral violence. Gabon’s Constitutional Court upheld the challenged results but Ping has refused to accept them, and continues along with his supporters to claim he is the real president. The opposition leader is – and not for the first time – currently under a newly imposed travel ban.