The country has significantly strengthened its hand in diplomatic initiatives throughout Central Africa over the past 50 years. Gabon assumed the 2012/13 presidency of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (Communauté Économique et Monétaire de l’Afrique Centrale, CEMAC), the regional body composed of Chad, Cameroon, Gabon, Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Equatorial Guinea. This has seen Libreville take a lead in the region at a time of tense political and economic challenges. In late 2012 President Ali Bongo Ondimba set up the National Commission on the Agenda of the Gabonese Presidency of CEMAC. The commission’s goal is to ensure that Gabon leave its mark on a regional body that has sometimes been slow in implement long-agreed common goals for integration.

TROUBLE IN BANGUI: One of the hardest issues the country has had to tackle while chairing CEMAC has been unexpected change in the CAR. In March 2013 rebels from the Séléka coalition clashed with government forces in the capital, Bangui, and deposed President François Bozizé. Through his role as the president of the intra-country body, Bongo Ondimba has had to coordinate CEMAC’s response to the crisis. An interim government was set up shortly after the coup and the Economic Community of Central African States, another intra-state grouping, agreed to send 2000 regional troops in an effort to help stabilise the country.

The instability in the CAR has also impacted CEMAC operationally. Long established in Bangui, the CAR’s capital, CEMAC headquarters and staff were affected by the post-coup instability. This has led member states to agree to a temporary transfer of headquarters, and Bongo Ondimba offered temporary refuge for the institution’s operational base in the Gabonese capital. The issue should be settled soon and operations normalised. However, overall Libreville and its regional partners are hoping that the current issue will not further block negotiations for other relevant issues such as the implementation of a region-wide development strategy.

ECONOMIC COORDINATION: Economic integration has been the driving force behind the CEMAC, but difficulties have arisen over the need to integrate the Central African Stock Exchange (Bourse Régionale des Valeurs Mobilières d’Afrique Centrale, BVMAC) and the Douala Stock Exchange (DSX). Gabon and Cameroon have been disputing which country should host the region’s stock exchange. Cameroon opened its stock exchange in 2006, pre-empting Gabon’s creation of the Libreville Securities Exchange of Central Africa in 2008. However, insufficient capital market dynamism in the region has meant the two stock exchanges see barely any activity since their creation, prompting calls for some type of cooperation to boost financial markets. This has become of special importance to Libreville as it saw its first listing in the BVMAC in early 2013 with the inclusion of agro-industrial player SIAT. Authorities hope that other investors will be keen to join.

Gabon’s National Commission on the Agenda of the Gabonese Presidency of CEMAC, led by former minister of finance and current presidential advisor JeanPierre Lemboumba Lepandou, is working to fast-track integration. The commission has three subcommittees working on regional integration and institutional reform, allowing free movement of people and goods, and the creation of several bodies that could impact cooperation, such as the creation of airliner Air CEMAC, which is expected to launch in the coming year.

Libreville will be aiming to leave its mark on the rotating presidency of the CEMAC, but in order to push through a repeatedly stalled agenda, Gabon will have to leverage its influence to build a consensus on a number of pending issues. One of the main challenges will be to maintain a strong focus on traditional challenges, such as economic integration, whilst pressing political crises like the one taking place in the CAR reduce the manoeuvring space of the institution as a whole. With a limited amount of time to make an impact, Gabon will need to use its diplomatic clout to encourage member states to work more closely with each other.